The great Swedish actress Greta Garbo didn’t like her privacy invaded. She protected it so well that the Hollywood press of her time linked her to a now famous line from the film “Grand Hotel” – “I want to be alone.” Upon her retirement, Garbo claimed she’d actually said, “I want to be let alone.” That one added word, she said, “made a world of difference.”
Garbo was absolutely right!
A couple of weeks ago I expressed my displeasure with what I see as the dangerous possibility of government bureaucrats electronically snooping around in my house without my permission and without cause. The Attorney General gave them permission to do it, but I didn’t. I believe in the old adage that a man’s home is his castle. I was so frustrated that I penned a couple of complaints to Senator Jerry Moran and Representative Tim Huelskamp. I’m hoping they agree with me.
Earlier that same morning I had the opportunity to express my feelings on C-Span’s “Washington Journal.” At about 7:25 I spilled my guts to Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University. I went through my list of complaints, then closed with a crescendo. “I just want my government to leave me alone.”
I wasn’t sure how Professor Turley would respond. He’s politically liberal and I had told him that I I’m conservative in my approach to life. I was pleasantly surprised. “You’re quite right to be concerned,” he said. “It’s also interesting that you said that you wanted to be left alone. In the 1928 Olmstead v. United States case, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, unequivocally, that you had the right ‘to be left alone.’”
Unfortunately, Justice Brandeis was relegated to writing the dissenting opinion in the Olmstead case. But, his dissenting words proved to be prophetic – “The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred against the government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” In 1942, Justice Frank Murphy, citing James Madison, John Adams, and Brandeis’s dissent, took up the mantle and argued that the right of privacy is “second to none in our Bill of Rights.”
But, Constitutional rights don’t seem to matter! The snooping is going on. Furthermore, the National Security Agency is building a million square foot facility in Utah to gather and store all the data, yours, mine, our neighbors’. When the facility is completed in September of this year it will have what has been described as a sea of routers and servers capable of storing anything we communicate, including private e-mails, Google searches, cell phone calls, and other sorts of data, like parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, or anything else we either receive or disseminate.
The fact the Government is spending at least two billion dollars on this facility underscores the seriousness with which they are approaching this task.
I believe we need to express our displeasure with this madness in an equally serious manner.
I’m a loyal American. I served in our military for over eight years. I spent a year of that time in harm’s way. I don’t say that to boast. A lot of Americans have done far more than me in their service to the nation. Many have given their lives in defense of freedom and our basic Constitutional rights. None of us, living or dead, served so that a fundamental freedom could be taken away from us with the stroke of the Attorney General’s pen or the all-seeing eye of a massive security apparatus.
I understand my obligations as a citizen as well as anyone. I take them seriously. My eyes get moist when I hear our national anthem. I do my best to serve the community where I live. I pay my taxes. I admit that I don’t tap dance up to the County Courthouse when I pay them, but I do pay them. I’m loyal to this country and always will be.
I also know we’re living in very dangerous times, but I think our government would do well to spend more time attending to Al Qaeda and less time on you, me, and millions upon millions of loyal citizens. I may be a fool, but I believe our government can deal effectively with our enemies without stripping us of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
I hope you feel as strongly about this as I do. If so, express your outrage to our elected leaders.