A Chilling Effect: Your Privacy Is Worthless; Obama's Privacy Is Priceless

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Unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, enormous expansion of federal health regulations, indefinite detention, targeted killing of American citizens, bungled government responses to environmental disasters, warrantless surveillance and bailouts galore. Are we sure George W. Bush is no longer president?

Barack Obama’s administration now wants to be able to see the headers on all e-mails that you send, even if there is no probable cause, no warrant, no judicial oversight and no disclosure to you or anyone else that the FBI even peeked. As far as I can tell, Obama’s bill modifying the Electronic Communications Privacy Act would allow the FBI to secretly track information in the from, to, carbon copy and subject fields, among others. The bill would likely also include the history of web sites you visit.

I use terms like “likely” and “as far as I can tell” not only because the language is vague — it would merely insert the four words “electronic communications transactional records” into an ever-growing list of exclusions the FBI can rely on to avoid getting a warrant — but also because there doesn’t seem to be any plausible way to object, review, or punish an overbroad or unnecessary FBI investigation.

Meanwhile, just try and find the analogous records between people who communicated with Bush and those who communicated with Obama. Why is it that the two administrations are so similar? Who is pulling the strings? What information could possibly be more important to American security than knowing why two seemingly different individuals continue to pursue the same big-government policies?

Yeah, good luck with that. The law is intended as a one-way peep show only, and we are the ones on a stage with a pole.

One often hears claims that this law or that law will have a “chilling effect” on free speech. The term was part of a 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down an odd postal service law requiring anybody receiving communist political propaganda to specifically authorize receipt before the post office would deliver it. Speech was iced: people could not say what they wanted to say. In a sense, the law was a kind of prior restraint on speech, which is unconstitutional.

How does effectively cc-ing your emails to the FBI and letting them snoop around your browsing history cause a chilling effect? Here’s one example. Try to fact check the assertion in the first sentence that Obama continues to approve the “targeted kill” program to authorize an assassination of anybody on earth, including an American citizen like you, at any point in time, even using an unmanned drone, if he decides you are an imminent threat.

Perhaps you might resort to Google, but with what search term? Bear in mind that your search is part of the web address. If you search for “Obama,” your address bar will say “q=OBAMA” somewhere in there. That information is likely part of your electronic communications transactional records. Say hi to your local federal agent. How comfortable would you feel searching for the term “Obama target kill?” The FBI may decide to share your name with the Secret Service, under their “better safe than sorry” doctrine.

And when the president also claims the right to assassinate anyone without due process, you may not even have time to regret the loss of your judicial rights if you are deemed an imminent threat.

This article originally appeared in the Fairfield Weekly.

Dr. Phil Maymin [send him mail] is an Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free Your Inner Yankee and Yankee Wake Up.

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