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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Good, The Bad & The NSA Shuffle

I heard my younger brother (& talk radio fan) ramble about "fascism" due to the recently disclosed National Security Agency's (NSA) data gathering program.  He also added an "Obama is a Fascist Dictator"in for good measure.

Let's stop there for a moment, take a deep breath, and think.

First, is this truly a concoction of President Obama?  Hyper partisans such as my brother forget that it was former President George W. Bush who pushed through, with a fair degree of Democratic support, the marketing department named Patriot Act.  You know, the same act that wanted the government to be able to track what books you borrowed from the library.  Oh how soon they forget!  Bottom line?  This isn't a product of Democratic or Republican party policy; rather, this is a product of a bunch of people in Washington DC who seem to think that as long as bad laws have cool names ("The Patriot Act!") they are somehow okay.

Second, what does collecting this data really mean?  In going through my mother's documents, I've discovered that she kept mortgage payment receipts for about 5 years.  Lots of data there.  Was it useful?  Did she have the ability to somehow analyze and use this data for some meaningful purpose?  I suspect that something is similarly true with the government:  there is a lot of data out there and the government is collecting it, but having it is different than actually using it.

Third, people put tons of stuff out there in cyber space.  Really personal stuff.  And then some of these same people get upset when the government and Facebook mine this same stuff?  Hypocrisy anyone?  No one forces anyone to join Facebook or send emails.  Neither are sacred rights.  If you want to have the advantages of modern, technology-driven, communication, then you have to accept some degree uncertainty with regards to confidentiality.  Am I suggesting that people live in caves and become hermits in order to avoid "fascist government"?  Of course not.  I am suggesting though that there are risks associated with just about every endeavor.

Finally we live in a self-correcting society.  Disclosure of programs such as the NSA's is a good thing, proving that the system...and our society...still works.  It is right and proper to have discussions and debates about things that the government does in the name of keeping all of us safe.  Let's just not lose perspective and, along with that, remember that there is a business these days built around blustering in the media...some folks enjoy blowing things out of proportion.  The worst offenders?  Talk radio hosts.

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