What’s Wrong With the NSA Collecting Your Phone Records?

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Verizon is being forced by the government to disclose telephone records of all of its customers. Those of us who want our call records to be private are being forced to reveal them to the government. We can’t keep them private even if we want to. What is wrong with the government spying on us in this way?

Murray Rothbard has made a clear and correct libertarian case against any compulsory speech. As I understand this, our thoughts are our own. They are private. Our imaginings are our own. Our fantasies are our own. We can imagine the most heinous crimes and plan them out in our minds if we wish. We can have any sexual fantasies we wish to have. We can indulge in as many hateful, malevolent and spiteful thoughts as we wish. We can have private saintly wishes, fond hopes, mistaken views, ill-formed ideas, flashes of genius, communications with God or with the devil, atheistic thoughts, artistic ideas, or superstitions. I hardly scratch the range of what we can think. It is that vast. If it is illegitimate, in the libertarian world explained by Rothbard, to use force against a non-aggressor, then no one has a right to make us talk or to make us reveal our thoughts because our thoughts are not aggressions. That’s one argument.

Here’s a second argument. If force is allowable to be used on people’s thoughts, two kinds of results will rise in frequency. First, people will be forced to reveal thoughts that they don’t want revealed because they consider them damaging to themselves or others. People simply could not get along with one another if what people thought of each other or knew about each other were revealed or could be revealed or were made to be revealed. Society would break down. Second, people will be forced not to reveal thoughts that they want to be revealed, such as new ideas that go against conventional wisdom. Think of the suppression and persecution of Galileo. Both kinds of results cause costs to the person and society. The right to think and speak and the concomitant right to think and not speak limit these two costs.

Free speech extends to related activities. If you have a right to speak or not to speak, then you have a right to commit your thoughts to paper and keep the paper private. You have a right to communicate your thoughts to others and keep that contact private. Speech extends to joint communications with others and to the making of joint plans. It extends to using various means of communication, such as paper and electronic devices. These actions are natural extensions of free speech and the same libertarian-law reasoning applies.

You can privately conspire by yourself or with others (plan) to build the most marvelous energy-saving device, or you can privately conspire (plan) to dope a horse in a horse race. The latter cannot be a crime because you haven’t actually doped the horse. Furthermore, you can change your mind and not dope that horse. Neither one of these private plans, for good or ill, invades the rights of others. Both are exercises of one’s rights. Yes, it is no crime to plan a crime, by this reasoning. To say otherwise opens up the Pandora’s Box of controlling all speech (and associated behavior) in the name of preventing crime and of finding people guilty of thought crimes, as opposed to actual crimes. This is rank totalitarianism. The government engages in this via conspiracy laws.

Verizon is an intermediary. The government is essentially making you and me send them a record of our calls. I’ve made three arguments against this, all of them viewing this as going against free speech and as an invasion of privacy.

First, under libertarian law reasoning, making you reveal your records when you have committed no crime is an aggression and illegitimate. Second, if such aggression is permitted, it results in two serious costs, which are associated with revealing speech that people want kept private and suppressing speech that people want made widely known. Third, such aggression is part and parcel of a totalitarian mindset that, by extension, attempts to control speech as a preventive measure and find people guilty of thought crimes that have aggressed against nobody.

What the government is doing to Verizon’s customers is wrong for these reasons.

The government argues that it’s going to use the data to catch terrorists or potential terrorists who intend to violate rights of innocent people. The government is for sure invading our free speech rights against the slim possibility that terrorists will invade our lives. Which of these is a greater threat to us? Our own government’s totalitarian moves in the past 10 years or potential terrorists who are being encouraged by our own government’s activities overseas?

Can any rights ever be secured by a government that believes it is proper for it to invade some or many rights in order to secure others? Isn’t this yet another Pandora’s Box? Isn’t a government with this kind of power wide open to invading any rights it pleases?

The Best of Michael S. Rozeff

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