The housing market is in the tank. The dollar is on the verge of collapse. The situation in Afghanistan has gotten significantly worse. Pakistan is in turmoil after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The leading GOP contender is an ex-mayor who believes that "freedom" is about submitting yourself to government authority. Sure, there seems to be some good news in Iraq, but only because we've further entrenched ourselves there with more troops, with no apparent plan on how to get out without the country erupting into civil war. Oh yes, Osama Bin Laden is still at large.
Worse of all, our civil liberties are under attack like never before.
The government has already blessed us with the "Patriot Act", which among other things expanded the government's ability to spy on our electronic communications, as well as on our medical and financial records.
Together, these acts present the greatest danger to liberty in our history.
Yeah, sure, George Bush and Dick Cheney are honorable men who are only trying to protect us from the terrorists, drug dealers, and whatever bogie man comes up next. Right? Even if you believe that, these guys are only going to be in office another year and those laws will still be on the books when they leave. What happens when President Clinton declares that we need her protection from the "vast right-wing conspiracy"???
This is the land of the free and the home of the brave so it can't happen here, right? Well, during the presidency of John Adams, the "Alien and Sedition Act" was passed, which made it a criminal offense, punishable by two years in jail, to criticize the government. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus so that he could jail his critics. Woodrow Wilson feared widespread dissent against his plans to get America involved in the Great War, so he passed the "Espionage Act" and the "Sedition Act" and used them to silence his critics. During WWII, Franklin Roosevelt locked up natural born American citizens of Japanese and Italian ancestry.
Here's what is really disturbing this time: Information technology has become a means for government to target average citizens who dissent, rather than just people who are in visible, public opposition.
We all know that the National Security Agency has been snooping on electronic communications coming in and out of the country for years. Now, they are working with all of the major telcos to snoop on communications within the country, without court orders. The administration is currently pushing legislation to protect companies from lawsuits who help the NSA spy on you.
The "Real ID Act" morphs state drivers licenses into a national id card. Starting in January 2010, employers won't be able to hire you, financial institutions won't be allowed to do business with you, and you won't be able to do anything involving the federal government, including boarding an airplane, unless you have a compliant id.
A few years ago, the administration proposed their "Total Information Awareness" program, which among other things used data mining and social network analysis to discover, extract and link sparse information across databases to analyze your behavior. After a huge outcry the original program was defunded by Congress, but many of its original projects have quietly continued under other funding.
Despite these and other misuses of information technology to violate our civil liberties, I am absolutely certain that such technology will turn out to be the great enabler of positive change for our world. After all, who would have guessed even six months ago that a group of political neophytes could have harnessed the power of the Internet to propel the presidential candidacy of a mild mannered Texas OBGYN to national prominence? Hopefully, the government is not testing their data mining and social network analysis on Ron Paul’s 50,000 Facebook friends!
There is little doubt that 2008 will be a critical juncture in our history. Thomas Jefferson told us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We must decide whether we will allow the government to use technology to restrain us or whether we will use technology to restrain the government.