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Privacy: “A Necessity Not A Luxury”

by Jeff Corbett

“There was of course, no way of knowing, whether you were being watched at any given moment.  How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire, was guesswork.  It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.  But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.  You had to live, did live, from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized” – George Orwell, 1984

The year was 1917 and the location was Latvia. A poor and mostly agrarian country in Northern Europe’s Baltic region bordered to the north by Estonia and to the south by Lithuania. My grandparents were children at the time. As the saying goes; “timing is everything,” and theirs could not have been much worse.  The Bolshevik Revolution began in October of that year starting in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). It was quickly followed by another civil war – later to be coined the Russian Revolution – and spread throughout the various countries doomed to become possessions of the Soviet Union. It would be bloody and last until 1922. My great-grandfather became a casualty when a local preacher turned him in as a dissident and he was shot. Having personally witnessed the coldblooded murder of his father, my grandfather would flee to the United States, leaving behind a world and relatives he would never see again. He met a woman, also of Latvian heritage, and together they started a new life in Western Pennsylvania.

Vladimir Lenin got his wish and rose to prominence, becoming Russia’s most powerful figure. Although Lenin’s post-revolutionary Soviet Union would forge much advancement – most notably education and industrial development – the cost would be enormous. The State was to become godlike. Human rights and the individual spirit were quashed. Citizens feared to even whisper a word of opposition for Siberia or worse would be a likely sentence. The seeds of the KGB had been sown, and privacy was altogether nonexistent.

[An individual’s right to privacy equates to civil liberties]

History teaches us many lessons if we are only willing to pay attention. Perhaps none as profound and recurring as the importance of protecting an individual’s right to privacy which equates to civil liberties.  It is impossible to live in peace and obtain true prosperity without privacy.  And while the right to privacy is not completely lost, it should give one pause that history is full of examples wherein these privileges become reduced under the guise of “national security.”

Without question the tragic events of 9/11/01 changed the landscape of human rights in the United States and throughout the world.  As a result, the inception of the Patriot Act became a watershed moment granting law enforcement agencies more authority than ever before to search phone, email and financial records of citizens while wiretaps and searches of homes and businesses have become more frequent. Throughout the world it is now common to for hidden cameras & microphones to be placed in public transportation areas like taxis and subway stations.  In 2006, USA Today reported that The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. The database is currently the largest ever collected, and, while it focuses mostly on international calls, either those ending or originating outside the U.S., it does keep track of domestically placed calls as well.  Former Presidential candidate and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched upon this issued again back in 2006 when she called for a comprehensive privacy agenda including the need for a “privacy bill of rights.”  Clinton expressed her perspective on privacy stating, “At all levels, the privacy protections for ordinary Americans are broken, inadequate and out of date. It’s time for a new comprehensive look at privacy. We need consumer protections that are up to date with the technological and national security needs of our time, for a world in which we can be confident that our security and our privacy are both protected.”  Nothing, however, of any substance has ever been accomplished on this issue.  It is now estimated that the US Government maintains 16 files for every man, woman and child living in the United States


Freedom is the ability to live life in peace without undo intrusions.  Times have obviously changed and now more than ever there exists a need to protect society from those who would harm it.  But have we gone too far? As Ben Franklin once said, “let every man know thee, but let no man know thee thoroughly.”

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