“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
-- Benjamin Franklin
We find ourselves in an uncomfortable position. Just how much freedom are we willing to give up to be secure? That’s the question that had the U.S. House and Senate at odds. Not only were the two houses of Congress at odds, but so were the respective members of both political parties. The question they are trying to answer is how much phone data should the government be allowed to keep on American citizens? Several provisions of the Patriot Act expired at 12:01 a.m. Monday, but if we think for a moment that the activities stopped when authorization ended, we should not be so naive. There is a grandfather clause that allows the National Security Agency to continue gathering data on any investigation that began before the expiration.
And there are other caveats that make one wonder what all the fuss was about. The phone companies still have all the records and if the government needed it could have subpoenad those records -- or it could have gone to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to ask it to reauthorize the bulk phone records program.
It is helpful to remember the mood of the country when the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) was passed in 2001. A month earlier, terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York. Another airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane, thought to be headed for a D.C. target, crashed in a Pennsylvania field. The country was on high alert. Commercial air traffic was grounded and over the next few months many of the freedoms Americans had come to know were willingly discarded in the name of security.
Now our lawmakers are fighting over an idea, because the practice of gathering phone data will continue. Every time we click on a website or buy something on the Internet we leave identifiable tracks that are used by marketers to separate us from our hard-earned dollars. If not for the revelations of Eric Snowden, we might not know about the reach of our country’s surveillance programs at all, but if we are concerned about privacy, that horse left the barn long ago and we can only hope that Franklin’s quote won’t turn into an Orwellian nightmare. The president has said he will sign this latest compromise. Let’s hope it’s not a slippery slope into the future.