Oh sure, I suppose we have to feign surprise and even outrage, demand investigations and new oversight (yet another layer of watchers - but who will watch those watchers?), and wring our hands and wail about how it should never have happened. As least some of us have to perform this charade to maybe slow it down a little. But realistically, it won't slow down and will get ever worse because such activities are inherently part of the system and amplified by the huge size.
I do have to laugh at some of the justifications put forth by some of the citizenry to defend the government. There's of course the somewhat boring and silly "I have nothing to hide, why should I care?" (if you have nothing to hide, can I put a webcam in your bedroom and broadcast to the web? No? Well maybe privacy does have some subjective value to most people then).
But my favorite so far is a friend who points out that grocery stores have a great deal of private information about you. They know when your period is (for fertile females), they know when you're sick, they know when there's a new baby in the family, etc. They know all this from your buying patterns coupled with that discount card that you swipe at the cash register. So, my friend asks, "where's the outrage there?"
Ummm. Oh, I don't know. I guess I'm just not terribly worried about the grocery store sending in a SWAT team to haul me off to jail for not conforming to their cherished notions about correct buying patterns.
But the government can do exactly that. Some call me paranoid (actually, I'm not terribly worried, but rather see a distinction between the grocery store and the government), but the possibility of being personally harassed by the government isn't all that far fetched. Economist Alex Tabbarok writes:
I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that I have broken some laws, rules, or regulations recently because its hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law. Doubt me? Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that came to your house but was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Harvey Silverglate argues that a typical American commits three felonies a day.So we're all felons.
Glenn Reynolds adds:
Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process -- the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what -- is almost entirely discretionary. Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today's society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in.So we're all potential targets of government and the recent IRS scandal shows that discretionary targeting of individuals and entities is a very real possibility. One thing that gave us some protection from such discretionary, arbitrary, and capricious prosecution was the huge cost of collecting evidence on a significant percentage of us. Now however, as Tabarrok concludes:
...the NSA spying machine has reduced the cost of evidence so that today our freedom - or our independence - is to a large extent at the discretion of those in control of the panopticon.
reduced the cost of evidence so that today our freedom–or our independence–is to a large extent at the discretion of those in control of the panopticon. - See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/06/no-one-is-innocent.html#sthash.WUrCJMcQ.dpufAnd that's the difference between the grocery store and the government.