By Bob Bauman, JD
Privacy is an inherent human right.
Most of us accept the obligation to report certain designated information to the government, and we will abide by those rules in the understanding that this is essential to the orderly management of our society, and thus to our own prosperity. That concession emphatically does not mean we have surrendered our right to privacy.
For that reason, all of us should champion privacy, both personal and financial, even when we have nothing to hide. All of us should be appalled and angry at the current behavior of the U.S. government, regardless of our political leanings. Consider some of this “official” behavior:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) routinely abuses laws designed for immigration enforcement purposes to extract private information, including passwords, from U.S. residents before they have officially crossed into U.S. soil at airports and land borders.
Customs and Border Protection, part of the DHS, conducted electronic media searches on 4,957 people from October 1, 2012, through August 31, 2013—15 a day—close to the average for the previous two years. Ominously, U.S. lawyers, journalists and political activists who support the right to personal privacy and political dissent have been deliberately targeted for border searches and seizures of electronic information.
The NSA has worked for years to force purveyors of cryptographic software to build, in secret, “backdoor” keyholes that allow it to access encrypted data. Almost all of the major encryption products developed and produced in the U.S. should now be assumed unsafe.
According to the German daily, Der Speigel, the NSA developed a system called TRACFIN to hack into VISA’s credit-card transaction network to target customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and has also hacked into the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) system, which I have exposed in the past.
Although there are no reports—so far—that this TRACFIN system has been deployed inside the U.S., there is no reason to think it hasn’t been.
A serious commitment to liberty requires us to dispense with the notion that we have nothing to worry about if we have nothing to hide. Even if you’re personally willing to allow the government to rifle through your finances, communications and personal records, you should care that it is doing this to people who do mind and are protected by the Fourth Amendment.
But the U.S. government is completely out of control when it comes to respecting the right to individual privacy.
Both parties are guilty of supporting abominations such as the 2001 PATRIOT Act, and of neglecting Congress’ core oversight duties in respect of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty in the destruction of our constitutional liberties, and have applied their energies to bait-and-switch tactics designed to get Americans to vote for party “brands,” rather than for what is right.
Sadly, no matter how unhappy we may be at these violations of our constitutional liberties, there is little prospect that they will be addressed politically anytime soon.
And then there’s the horrendous Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)—a way for the government to invade U.S.-held bank accounts across the world. This attack on personal and financial privacy was, in part, a smoke screen for more state taxes.
But for these anti-freedom ideologues, abolishing privacy is only the start. They also want to end lawyer-client privilege, expose all forms of private-property ownership and they are well along in imposing a global system of automatic tax information exchange among all nations.
Under the unconstitutional PATRIOT Act, financial privacy in America is already dead. The government has the power to obtain financial information in secret about anyone and to confiscate your wealth. The real choices in this debate are personal freedom, liberty versus government control of our lives and our fortunes.
Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of terrorist attack, solutions to alleged tax evasion or under any form of unrelenting domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny.
Widespread surveillance, whether by police or bureaucrats, in whatever form it takes, is the very definition of a police state. It’s time to start protecting your privacy in the ways that are still possible.