Monday, June 1, 2015
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
On October 26, 2001, just over a month after the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into the law The Patriot Act. It was designed to help law enforcement have the tools to identify and track terrorists. Key tenets of the 2001 Patriot Act included allowing government the authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to terrorism. It also allowed law enforcement to wiretap suspected terrorists with no court order. It also required that banks report to the government any large withdrawals from bank accounts. Perhaps the most controversial part of the Patriot Act was the bulk data (cell phone/computer usage) the NSA was authorized to collect from the general public and hold it for five years.
Most of the general public was unaware of just how extensive the collecting was until former CIA computer worker Edward Snowden leaked classified documents to the main stream media. Snowden has been charged with violation of the Espionage Act, but he considers himself a whistle-blower. He has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Some have hailed Snowden as a hero, others a traitor, but whatever your opinion, it is for certain, the government was collecting massive amount of personal information on innocent citizens without their knowledge and we might not have known if Snowden hadn’t ratted on his former employer.
On Sunday night, the U.S. Senate voted allowed the Patriot Act to expire. The U.S. House has already passed a bill- USA Freedom Act- that would shift the data collection from the government to the service providers. The Senate voted 77-17 to take up the House bill this week. The National Security Agency supposedly shut down the bulk metadata collection program officially at 7:44 p.m. Three observations about the debate:
First, the nature of human government is to grow in scope and power. Throughout history, government, including our own, has effectively used fear to keep the folks in line. Fear works best in wartime. In the midst of the war with France, in 1798, the Alien & Sedition Act was passed which increased the residency requirements for American citizenship from five to fourteen years. Designed by Federalists to limit the power of their political opponents, the enforcement ended after Jefferson was elected president in 1800. President Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus, the legal procedure that prevents the government from holding you indefinitely without showing cause, in the midst of the Civil War. President Roosevelt sent 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps after Pearl Harbor, because the general public was scared. This coming from the president who said Americans ‘had nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Government uses fear to increase their power.
Second, government isn’t the only group to use fear as a tool. Politicians use it- on both sides of the aisle. Conservative politicos tell citizens to fear the government's overreaching authority. Liberals say citizens should fear the conservatives. Debates on issues have evolved into carefully rehearsed speeches pandering to a political base, used to position for re-election or higher office. During the recent debate on the Patriot Act, both sides of the political spectrum used fear as the primary point in their argument. And using fear works. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, teens between 13-17 were asked what they feared most and the top ten in order were: terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being a failure, war, crime or gang violence, being alone, the future, and nuclear war.
Third, what and who should we fear? Should we fear those who can kill us? That would make sense. We should have the God given right to defend ourselves and our loved ones against anyone who wants to kill us. Should we fear those who can disrupt our way of life- hurt us economically? That also seems to make sense, but how do we deal with dishonest merchants and overreaching government? How do we identify those economic enemies? Fear is a human mechanism that can protect us or debilitate us, depending on how we respond to it.It is clear from scripture that government is given the ‘power of the sword,(Romans 13)’ to provide citizens some measure of security, but no government, politician or man can give us true security. Security comes only from God. Jesus said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, not the fear of government or terrorists.