From Marketplace.org: I was at a dinner table about a year ago, right after the first Edward Snowden leaks, when I heard for the first time an argument I’ve heard many times since.
“Why should I care? I’m not doing anything wrong.” This appears to be the opinion of the majority when it comes to the idea of the government using surveillance to fight terrorism. By Pew Research’s estimates, 56 percent of Americans support the government listening in while it fights the “bad guys.” And it has been this way for something like 12 years — right after the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the war on terror.
All of this thinking about surveillance, government, and legislation has also reminded me of a chapter in my own history that I haven’t thought of in a while. During my junior year of college in 2003, I worked in the D.C. office of a moderate Republican Congressman. My main job was to answer constituent correspondence with letters that represented the Congressman’s policy positions, which he would then sign. One day near the end of my spring semester, I had an assignment I couldn’t complete: I was supposed to answer a constituent letter about a proposed expansion of the Patriot Act. The letter had been sent, and signed, by librarians throughout the Congressman’s home state who were opposed to the Patriot Act’s allowance of officials to access library records. They were asking the Congressman to oppose any extension or expansion of the legislation, and really to roll it back entirely. As I was preparing to tell the librarians that the congressman fully supported the legislation, I made a discovery. One of the librarian signatures on the constituent letter was familiar to me. It belonged to my mother.