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U.S. Citizens Prefer to Play It Safe

June 7th, 2013 · 1 Comment · Abu Dhabi, Journalism, UAE

A bit of a fuss was raised this week over the revelations that the U.S. government can keep records of every phone call made by every U.S. citizen, as well as read their email and internet chats.

The New York Times weighed in with an editorial critical of this broad federal power, and some people concerned with the control the feds now have over our lives raised some racket.

But it comes down to this:

Our government has made the correct assessment that the majority of its citizens would rather have perceived security from terror threats … than palpable privacy from prying authorities.

This all goes back to September 11, 2001, of course.

The day the Twin Towers came down is when everything changed. The erosion of privacy that had been going on for decades accelerated into overdrive, and the Patriot Act pretty much allows the feds to do anything they want to American citizens.

(Can you imagine any of the original patriots, signers of the Declaration of Independence and framers of the constitution, stripping so many rights from citizens?)

The Patriot Act was, originally, a Republican concept: 9/11 came on George W. Bush’s watch and I believe he decided that batch of laws was the best way to assure nothing like it would happen again.

Barack Obama seemed to be opposed to the Patriot Act when he ran in 2008, but once he entered the Oval Office he embraced it — and perhaps has taken it forward a bit more.

And I don’t blame either president/politician.

They know their countrymen, circa 21st century. And they would rather try to rationalize how snooping on citizens is not all that bad a thing … than to explain away a terror attack.

(I am convinced that nearly everything Bush did, the final seven years of his presidency, was because of — or related to — 9/11. Iraq and Afghanistan, and striking out at someone, were a part of it. And the parallel notion that the U.S. could topple a dictator or religious zealots and representative democracy would follow … was, of course, ridiculous.)

Obama has picked up on this. Consider what he said today:

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

I appreciate his candor. There it is.

Politicians can count noses. They do polling constantly. And the numbers are telling them that most of us are OK with the government reading our mail if it, perhaps, reduces the terror threat.

And the Boston Marathon bombing certainly would not have encouraged Obama to change his mind, especially in the wake of the “who failed to catch those two guys?” blame-fixing that has gone on since.

The U.S., as a populace, has traded a bunch of rights for what it perceives to be protection. We think we are tough, resilient, all that, but in fact we are as soft as any country on the planet.

In Iraq, in Syria, people are killed by war or terror every day, and they get on with their lives. Two idiots set off a bomb in Boston and a whole city is shut down for days. Millions of Americans, with their curtains drawn and the door locked.

U.S. citizens need more privacy, not less. But at the end of the day, we are more worried about the 0.1 percent chance we will ever deal with domestic terrorism than we are with the 100 percent certainty that our privacy is gone.

Our politicians have read the situation correctly.

An American I know, who works in Abu Dhabi, recently said that the concept of a national identity card, which is required of everyone who lives in the UAE, as well as collected biometric data like retina scans … could never happen in the U.S.

That person said recently: “I was wrong. I can’t criticize anything done here because it has been done at home, or will be soon.”


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