By now, you’re probably aware of the super secret PRISM program that collects towering amounts of metadata from phone companies. Some people are blase about the revelation and some people are apoplectic about it. Most, it appears, fall into the blase category.
Many people seem to laugh at people being concerned about the government collecting so much data about its citizens when companies like Google and Facebook and every place with a rewards card collects this same data all the time. Those people are missing the point. Google has zero authority in limiting your autonomy. Facebook can’t detain you. The Federal Government can. This is the difference.
Another canard that I’ve been reading is that law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from this data collection. This is true. But guess how many law-abiding citizens there are? Zero. (Well, maybe babies.) There are so many Federal laws that it guarantees you break unknown laws with some regularity. Think you haven’t unknowingly cheated on your taxes?
And that’s the problem. You’re a law abiding citizen until your neighbor who you’ve had over to your house or is in the same dojo as you or has a kid on the same soccer team as your kid commits a Federal crime. Then, suddenly, you’re being shown in the exact same place as him when he made a phone call to set off a bomb and all those meaningless pieces of data are no longer so meaningless to the FBI as they rip your life apart trying to tie you to the criminal to coerce you to cooperate with them. This has been a common occurrence in the Muslim community. But no one cares when it happens to Muslims.
All of that is really besides the point, though. PRISM is wrong because no matter how minor the violation of our privacy, the raison d’etre for the program is a completely misguided endeavor.
Terrorism. We spend billions of dollars a month to protect ourselves from terrorism. Let’s be generous and say that we have lost 4,000 Americans to terrorism since 9/11. To date, we have lost over 6,000 servicemen to the fight against terror. This number pales in comparison to the amount of lost limbs and lost minds, not to mention the number of suicides. And don’t forget the countless and forgotten innocents who were casualties of our wars. We are spending billions of dollars a month to sacrifice more lives than we would if terrorism just occurred every once in a while as it will no matter how much we spend. This is an absolutely bizarre state of affairs.
Why do we spend so much money and effort protecting ourselves from death by terrorism when that money could be spent much more wisely against things that cause countless more American deaths? Over 500,000 people die from cancer every year. Over 32,000 traffic deaths happen every year. Both would likely shrink greatly if we were willing to put even a sliver of the billions of dollars a month into basic R&D or even subsidized treatments. There are plenty of other examples that I can cite as I’m sure you could as well.
We have much less to fear from terrorism than we do from getting in our car every day and yet the former causes us to throw away our soldiers’ lives and our fortunes away while the latter is just accepted as a thing that may happen to us. Our citizens care so much about freedom until it’s threatened by a terrorist and then they’re willing to throw away the freedom away to protect themselves from terrorists. Alanis Morrisette would actually be correct about irony if she sung about this.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do anything to protect ourselves from terrorism, but we had a pretty good mechanism in place prior to the Patriot Act and other laws that erode our autonomy. The only thing that 9/11 actually changed is America’s psyche. We suffer from a national PTSD as a result. Instead of the therapy that we so desperately needed, we were fed a constant diet of fear from our President and our Congress and our media and PRISM is the result.
All of this needs to stop. We need to accept that, sometimes, terrorism will happen just like we accept that a car accident may happen every time we get behind the wheel. The sole purpose of terrorism is to cause fear, to bypass our logical brains and force us to react emotionally. In that, the terrorists have succeeded far better than they could possibly have imagined. We have the ability to change that. Now, all we need is the will.