A government agency goes after enemies of the president’s policies. Covert operations kill civilians abroad. Phone records are seized and reporters’ privacy at home and at work is invaded. We’re not talking about Watergate, Laos or Cambodia — this is about current events.
It’s 2013 and a new century, so why does it feel like the Nixon Administration is in the White House? The stakes are high today where government intrusion is concerned. The recent covert and unprecedented grab of Associated Press phone records by the U.S. Department of Justice must be the proverbial line in the sand against the complete abrogation of personal privacy at home and at work.
Incidents are piling up that demonstrate abuse under the Obama Administration of government agencies, and the very powers granted after the 9-11 attacks. IRS audits targeted conservative political groups until the practice was exposed. Many accept the killing of Americans and foreign nationals abroad with unmanned drones — no trial, not even a Sarah Palin-style “Death Panel.” Our people in the Benghazi embassy died without adequate security after pleas for help went unheeded, and the public was misdirected and told that event was not a terrorist attack.
Emboldened, or out of control, our government has reached into the AP’s newsroom and is, in essence, trying to read reporters’ notes. They grabbed the business and personal phone records of 20 Associated Press journalists. It’s a fishing expedition, apparently to plug a news leak.
In the days of the Cold War, journalists working sensitive stories expected a knock on the door from a federal agent if their inquiries gained the attention of the late FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. Members of the media working under the Nixon Administration likely joked about the size of their FBI files compared to rising stars Woodward and Bernstein.
Journalists today expect to be able to put the government under scrutiny using government sources, blog and Tweet about it and not become the object of a federal inquest. In this case, the government is investigating how a news organization actually does its job, reverse-engineering the news processes most likely in an effort to find a news source.
They also won’t tell AP what they’re looking for, and why. That information is private.
In Alaska we tend to value our privacy. Some of us move into the woods or onto large patches of land off the grid. Some are on the grid, Facebooking away and living in cities like Juneau. Almost all of us would agree that we value our freedoms and admire those who uphold them.
Since Sept. 11, 2001 there has been a steady erosion of privacy. Many Americans now take it for granted that in large cities or small they may often be on camera. Traveling by commercial air is a security ordeal; we’re scanned and poked and our bags are X-rayed and often searched.
In the pursuit of keeping our collective freedoms the American people, through the Patriot Act and acceptance of increased security systems, have given away much. We must be alert about what the Justice Department — and other agencies that are there to protect us — try to take from us, and we must stop these intrusions.