Friday, December 20, 2002

Oh look, and here's more good news:

U.S. to propose Net monitor system

NEW YORK, Dec. 20 — The White House wants Internet service providers to help create a system to monitor Internet use, the New York Times reported on Friday.
The system could be potentially be used for surveillance of Internet users, the Times said.

The Bush administration plans to submit the proposal in a report, “The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace,” which will be released early next year, the newspaper said, citing several people who have been briefed on the report.

The plan is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to intensify national security following the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The report will suggest options for public and private cooperation to defend computer networks from viruses as well as malicious attacks, the Times said.
Now, I'm not going to pin this solely on the Bush administration by any means; it was the Clinton administration that first proposed the Clipper chip, and that was and is one of the biggest problems I had with the Clintonites (although they do deserve credit for backing off when the cries of outrage started). What's different now is that the same people who would have normally yelled the loudest about the implementation of an idea like this are the ones that are involved in the same administration that is pushing it, and (in the case of many of the pseudo-libertarians out there) are probably too protective of the promise of tax cuts to actually raise a hue and cry about this. This is their guy after all. Plus, of course, there's the perception that one's privacy is unimportant compared to the collective security of the country as a whole.

It does make me wonder, though. Most of the somewhat-repressive actions that the U.S. government has been engaged in have happened in the wake of the first real territorial threat to the United States since the Civil War. The idea of trading freedom for safety isn't exactly a new one outside the United States, and I think it's only within the North American continent that such an idea became unacceptable. How much of that, however, had to do with the fact that the security of the United States from any real external threat was protected by friendly nations on two sides, and bloody big oceans on the other two? How many of the vaunted ideals of the Revolution were kept safe and protected not due to the vigilance of those that succeeded them, but the simple luck of geostrategic positioning?

Honestly, I'd love for that to be wrong. I'd be happier than a pig in mud (so to speak) if this long-term territorial threat was not reflected by long-term abrogation of freedoms, liberties, and civil rights. I'm sure that the people of the United States would be better off as well. I'm with Principal Skinner: "Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong!"

More important, though, is the fact that any removal of civil rights in the United States will have repercussions all over the world. American exceptionalism is a double-edged sword; although it does mean that the United States can hold itself high as (what it considers to be) the best, freeest, and most prosperous country in the world, it means that any movement away from freedom will inevitably prompt similar movements from countries around the world. All the governments need to do is point to the United States and say "see? Even the Americans are cracking down, and they value freedom above everything else and are protected from threats on all sides! We've got to act to protect the security of the state or we'll be doomed!" So they do crack down, much harder than the United States ever did, and all of a sudden the case for freedom around the world becomes a little weaker, one step at a time.

That's why attempts by the United States to curtail freedom is more important than the United States, more important than terrorism, and more important than the Bush administration and its satellites and hangers-on. Whether the United States likes it or not, its insistence of exceptionalism means that its lead will be followed, and any abandonment of civil rights by its government and its citizenry here will have enormous effects around the globe. It sucks, and the United States shouldn't really be in this position as it's really just another state like any other, but regardless of that the responsibility exists.

The only real question is what's to be done with it.

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