Surveillance Skeptics/Debunkers Get Rude Awakening

By:  Beverly K. Eakman
11/16/2011
       
Surveillance Skeptics/Debunkers Get Rude Awakening

Not long ago, factions on both sides of the political aisle — from Republican Senator Charles Grassley in 1994, to liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in 2008 — viewed allegations of massive prying by government agencies, which purportedly tracked the personal information and activities of private citizens, as lunatic-fringe alarmism. But in the aftermath of United States v. Jones last week, even former skeptics are worried that the proverbial boat has sailed.

 

Not long ago, factions on both sides of the political aisle — from Republican Senator Charles Grassley in 1994, to liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in 2008 — viewed allegations of massive prying by government agencies, which purportedly tracked the personal information and activities of private citizens, as lunatic-fringe alarmism. But in the aftermath of United States v. Jones last week, even former skeptics are worried that the proverbial boat has sailed.

Over the Veterans Day weekend — which some might view as ironic — three articles appeared simultaneously in the Washington Post outlining the extent to which tracking, monitoring, data collection, and surveillance have merged to impact both the way folks conduct their lives and, more importantly, the very notion of “privacy” — leading some to question whether anybody should even have it. Two of the Post articles — one by Jonathan Turley, a professor of public-interest law at George Washington University, “Are you being watched? It’s your fault," and another by David Cole, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, “Big Brother is here” — were particularly insightful. Jonathan Turley cut to the chase when he wrote that “[c]itizens have largely accepted the false premise that privacy is the enemy of security and have supported ever-widening surveillance powers.” In other words, there appears to be a general public endorsement of intrusive government.

The essence of the Supreme Court case United States v. Jones was whether the Constitution allows police to put a tracking device on a car without either a warrant or the owner's permission, leading to the more important question of whether Fourth Amendment rights are violated when government uses any sort of tracking method that monitors either a person’s whereabouts, beliefs, or activities.

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