Thomas Friedman’s Dog Whistle

Thomas Friedman seems a fool, nay, worse than a fool. He argues in Tuesday’s column that it is necessary for the government to be able to data-mine all of our digital information in order to prevent terrorism. The alternative to this, he says, would be to “give government a license to look at anyone, any e-mail, any phone call, anywhere, anytime.” Now this is a bit of misdirection, since these things are precisely what NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden claims that he, as an agent of the government, had the ability to do. We recognize that there is a technical distinction between these two approaches to surveillance, namely, that data mining all of your electronic activities with fast computers is much more efficient and comprehensive than having human operators reading every damn email you send. What both of these surveillance methods have in common is that the government has the ability to access your electronic activities routinely, without a warrant, giving the lie to any notion of privacy or Fourth Amendment rights.

There apparently does not exist, for Mr. Friedman, any third alternative of the government not being able to stick its nose in your business without a warrant.

Mr. Snowden has done us a favor in telling us what government officials, who are accountable to us, had failed to disclose: that (1) this is already happening, and (2) it is massively mismanaged, so that people like Mr. Snowden can (if they want) access all your personal data.

Mr. Snowden has been called a traitor by Mr. Friedman, David Brooks, and other apologists of the totalitarian surveillance state, not for endangering American agents or selling weapons to our enemies, but for revealing the mere fact that the government has been spying on U.S. citizens without their knowledge or consent.

Omniscience is a god-power. To argue that a government ought to have omniscience within its grasp is necessarily to presume that said government is also omni-benevolent and wise–or else to support tyranny. Not even the best government is incorrupt. Mr. Friedman, incredibly, seems to argue that an omniscient government would be able to leverage its vast knowledge to prevent attacks. Yet the Boston Marathon bombing, which he gives as an example, was perpetrated under this very information-saturated regime. No technology will completely protect us.

Thus, the evidence chosen to show the need for a surveillance state invalidates the proposition. The discerning reader may discover the real message of Friedman’s column in its carefully-worded closing:

“Imagine how many real restrictions to our beautiful open society we would tolerate if there were another attack on the scale of 9/11. Pardon me if I blow that whistle.”

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THOMAS HOLGRAVE is a conservative but not necessarily a hipster. He is the publisher of The Hipster Conservative. He has never read a comic book he liked. He is an occasional theologian who has been known to become quite exercised over questions of Puritan doctrine and practice. Not much else is known about him.

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