"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Carpe diem, Rand Paul!

The NSA scandal highlights the onrushing nature of the Brave New World we're entering.   It is inevitable (see Moore's law) that computers will be more and more able to identify patterns in the metadata of individual citizens' online activity -- emailing, googling, shopping, surfing the Web, etc. -- and use that knowledge for various purposes.   I've noticed (was I the last one to do so?) that, once I make a purchase, for the next few days every web page I go to has ads for the company I just bought from.   I have become a targeted customer for them, and they use the power of computing to bombard me with knew sales opportunities.   This has happened with Joseph A. Bank clothiers, with Anthropologie women's clothes (for the Regular Wife), and others.  Does someone out there know I'm a conservative by what web sites I visit?   I would assume so -- I certainly get enough unsolicited email traffic from conservative media.  

In short, this is happening.   And we're not ready for it, not at all.   We're scared of the invasion of privacy, we don't know what to do about it, and we're mad about all of it.   Collectively, we're getting figurative (and literal) robo calls from telemarketers during dinner time, and we're pissed about it.  

That's why a libertarian who speaks to the desire to be free of government intrusion -- a charismatic figure like Rand Paul -- might just find his moment in 2016.   Paul is writing today in the WSJ on the NSA scandal:
How many records did the NSA seize from Verizon? Hundreds of millions. We are now learning about more potential mass data collections by the government from other communications and online companies....  
These activities violate the Fourth Amendment, which says warrants must be specific—"particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." And what is the government doing with these records? The president assures us that the government is simply monitoring the origin and length of phone calls, not eavesdropping on their contents. Is this administration seriously asking us to trust the same government that admittedly targets political dissidents through the Internal Revenue Service and journalists through the Justice Department? 
No one objects to balancing security against liberty. No one objects to seeking warrants for targeted monitoring based on probable cause. We've always done this.  
What is objectionable is a system in which government has unlimited and privileged access to the details of our private affairs, and citizens are simply supposed to trust that there won't be any abuse of power. This is an absurd expectation.... 
Monitoring the records of as many as a billion phone calls, as some news reports have suggested, is no modest invasion of privacy. It is an extraordinary invasion of privacy. We fought a revolution over issues like generalized warrants, where soldiers would go from house to house, searching anything they liked. Our lives are now so digitized that the government going from computer to computer or phone to phone is the modern equivalent of the same type of tyranny that our Founders rebelled against.

Opportunistic?   Probably.   Ambitious men are always men whose motto is carpe diem, seize the day.   Rand Paul is no different in this than Barack Obama was in 2008:   a man for the moment.

But in this case, where Obama was seizing the day to offer us more and more government, Paul may be the man for a moment where Americans say: Enough.

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