I’m trying to sort out my thoughts and feelings about the recently revealed NSA data dragnet, in which millions of Americans’ phone and internet records are being monitored and saved in a huge data-storage facility. One thing that disturbs me is that, in a recent poll, a majority of respondents didn’t think the whole thing was a big deal. The thinking goes, apparently, that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about when the government traces your phone records, email correspondence, Google searches and the like.
To that line of thinking, I must say: Tell that to the Jews, the gypsies, the homosexuals, the Tutsis, the Native Americans, the Armenians, the African-Americans, and all of the other minorities who, throughout history, have been rounded up, jailed, persecuted and even killed–not for doing anything wrong, but simply for being who they were.
It seems to me that, throughout history, “doing something wrong” has often been a matter of definition. It was “wrong” to be Jew in Germany and Poland in the 1930s and 1940s. Or to help a Jew escape. It was “wrong” to be Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1990s. It was “wrong” to be a black person in America’s South, and in many northern cities, it’s still “wrong” to drive while being black. It was “wrong” to be a Native American in the 1880s, when white people wanted the land.
No, I don’t think we’re living in a neo-Nazi America, and I don’t think President Obama or the NSA are planning anything like those horrors. But you can’t deny history. Injustices occur regularly. And having this gigantic database of information about American citizens strikes me as a way to enable nefarious actors to do bad things–even to people who aren’t doing anything wrong. It might not happen next week, or even next year. But it’s just too frightening to imagine how that ever-growing mountain of information in a data-storage facility in Utah might be used someday in the future, when “doing something wrong” is redefined yet again.