Friday, January 20, 2006

If you don't do anything wrong, what have you got to hide?

I often hear these words from people who wholeheartedly support this administration's charge to snoop on an unsuspecting American public. The recent case of the subpoena served last summer on Google to relinquish information on patterns of searches by people during a given period is precisely what this is all about. It is my understanding that all other search engines have complied with the White House subpoenas to hand over this information. This administration depicts the information as very important in its effort to restore online child protection laws that have been struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States. This "would assist the government in its efforts to understand the behavior of current Web users, (and) to estimate how often Web users encounter harmful-to-minors material in the course of their searches," the Justice Department wrote in a brief filed Wednesday.

Personally, I see no problem with this request, assuming their intention is to strictly view patterns of searches and nothing else, but, we all know how the government works. Ineptitude aside, the problem I see in the future is where the government will take it other than just trying to restore online child protection laws. How much information will be garnered? Everywhere you go on the internet, you leave an electronic trail. Will the government gain access to this information as well? To me, it is not just about child porn issues. Suppose I do a search online for Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda? What happens with this information the Justice Department now has?

As an example, I go to the Department of Homeland Security's interest in finding out what types of material we take from our public libraries. Suppose a college student is writing a thesis on Jihad or something else of that nature. The student takes out all sorts of literature on this and related subject matter over the course of several months. Suppose the student, to further complete this thesis, also reads up on suicide explosive devices. The appropriate authorites may access your library account. All sorts of whistles and bells go off. You become the target of a massive investigation. You are investigated. You are scrutinized. You are followed by federal agents. Your neighbors and co-workers are interviewed. Unbeknownst to you, you are found to be a harmless student. The government has now spent tens of thousands of our hard earned tax dollars to go barking up the wrong tree. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the government always investigates the wrong people, I just don't think your average terrorist is trained by taking books out of the public library. Consequently, I don't think all requests for information from search engines and the information gathered could ever be construed as an exact science. That would be like inferring that we all intend to do harm if our searches are deemed that way. Hmm. Why is a 53 year old man looking up Pampers on the internet?

For a political party that stands for "less government interference," I am witnessing my rights slowly being whittled away, at least, according to the books I've recently taken out of the public library. But, what would I know? They've all been about American history.

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