He argued that “modest encroachments on privacy” — including keeping records of phone numbers called and the length of calls that can be used to track terrorists, though not listening in to calls — were “worth us doing” to protect the country.
As Barack Obama’s presidency lurched farther down the track of “I Never Thought I’d Be Doing [expletive deleted] Like This,” on Friday he in all seriousness tried to justify what even jaded wire service reporters were calling “sweeping” surveillance of Americans’ private lives.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Mr. Obama said.
Well, probably nobody. And, if they are, it’s under an entirely different part of the program.
For my part, I say, Fine. Have at my phone records. I make so few phone calls that all I would be giving away are the numbers of a few good Thai places near my house and a car service that stubbornly refuses to make reservations more than 15 minutes ahead of time.
The problem here is one of the governing’s oldest: The cat, if it wasn’t already out of the bag, sure as [expletive deleted] is now.
You should not think that recent events will simply cement a previous status quo in place, rather it moves us down a very particular path and probably makes the entire problem worse.
Mr. Obama, again in all seriousness, told reporters that spying on ordinary Americans is “not what this program is about.”
There he is wrong.
The worrisome thing isn’t that the government has gobbled up all those phone records, and whatever else. The worrisome thing is that it did it and no one even burped — not until now, anyway. Seemingly reasonable lawmakers and cabinet chiefs have tried to reassure Americans that, in all this snooping business, the government scrupulously followed the rules. Never mind that these are rules the government made up for itself.
Is it fear-mongering to ask where it will end? Maybe it is, but even the government’s shills, including one writing in The New York Times, couldn’t avoid pointing out the obvious.
On the surface, our system of checks and balances seems to be working. We cannot rule out the possibility that the voluminous records obtained by the government might, some day, be illegally misused. But there is no evidence so far that that has occurred.
In the end, who cares about phone records? As we all know from the First Law of Movie Technology, “Enemy of the State” Clause, any freaky spying technique you can properly portray in a film is probably a generation behind existing technology, anyway. And, I’m asking here, are there any serious criminals hatching schemes over a 4G network?
In his infuriating remarks on Friday, Mr. Obama briefly showed his human side when he, probably reading from a script, told reporters that he had had “a healthy skepticism” about the spying when he first learned of it. But it apparently didn’t last long.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Mr. Obama chirped.
And so here we are, snug up next to 100 percent security.
How does it feel? And, more to the point, was I right to order the chicken panang?