If there’s one thing Americans don’t like historically it’s government intrusion, but where to draw the line gets tricky.
Recent news of the government’s widespread monitoring of communications has colored the meaning of freedom for some area residents this Independence Day.
Freedom may mean different things to different people, but most associate it with rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, including free speech, the right to vote and the right of association.
“Freedom — to me it’s liberty, everything that descends from above that you’re given,” Joe Kelenfy said while visiting the downtown Gainesville square earlier this week.
The word privacy isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, but Americans and the U.S. Supreme Court have supported a broad interpretation of the “liberty” guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment.
“I like what the late great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said when he said the right most valued by civilized man is the right to be left alone,” said Douglas Young, University of North Georgia political science and history professor, referring to a 1928 dissent by Brandeis.
The National Security Agency has been monitoring communications between U.S. and foreign nationals for years, but recent revelations that an NSA program is potentially collecting a large amount of information from Internet giants such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple have stunned many citizens, with several Gainesville residents saying it’s too much. Types of tracked communications are said to include emails, phone calls, Internet chat rooms, videos, photos and file transfers.
“I think (the line) is way too blurred,” resident Robin Horner said. “We no longer have a clear definition of what we as private citizens, what our expectations can be from the government. The government has certainly become ‘Big Brother.’”
President Barack Obama has said nobody is listening to Americans’ phone calls, but some area residents don’t take the Democratic president’s word on it. White House and administration officials have also said that federal data mining looks at limited information, such as call patterns and numbers dialed, and it’s saved lives by preventing terrorist attacks. Former Republican President George W. Bush said this week he put the NSA program in place.
“My guess is that conservatives, tea party folks, are especially worried that the government is monitoring their communications and that’s probably part of a broader distrust of the federal government,” said Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia. “And for conservatives, and again tea party supporters, this is also augmented by the evidence of (Internal Revenue Service) giving extra scrutiny to tax-exempt-status applications from conservative groups.”
Liberal groups have also reported being targeted by the IRS, although the claims didn’t get as much attention. Both groups distrust the government, but conservatives are more likely to distrust the government’s motives than people who lean Democrat or liberal.
“Part of that also plays out in the anti-tax attitudes that many conservatives have,” Bullock said.
Young said that millions participating in social networks and social media indicate that Americans are less worried about privacy than they’ve been in the past. However, David Castaldini, a driving teacher who was on the Gainesville square with his student Matthew McVey, said there should be a probable cause standard before those data are collected.
Bullock said citizens give up freedoms every day in exchange for services from the government or the private sector, or the government regulating the private sector, including privacy when boarding an airplane, or opening a bank account or entering a federal courthouse.