Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

The Eisenhower Inheritance

Throughout the term so far as we have discussed the implications of the Internet Age on the US Constitution Eben has constantly reminded us that we are currently living in an age and time that is “beyond forgetting.” All of our e-mails, our Google searches, our online browsing and shopping habits, and even our movements in the real, physical world are being stored, and even more worryingly, analyzed. However, what strikes me as so ridiculously odd about all of this is that at the same time that people are getting in an uproar about [[][behaviorally targeting advertising by companies such as Phorm and NebuAd? ] the vast majority of the internet using population seems to be blindly going about their business happily giving away tons of personal information without knowing or caring about what they are doing.

When the question was brought up in class why more people do not seem to care about how much personal information they have already given away or how ludicrously simple it is for the government to subpoena this information from companies like Google the answer was that most people do not care because the vast majority of us are safe in the knowledge that it is not us who are being investigated or are going to be sent to Guantanamo Bay. My question then is where did this begin? When did this social heuristic of passively allowing and accepting this sort of invasion into and control over our personal lives begin to take over American society; and, were we ever really warned?

This is too broad a question to be completely addressed and answered in a paper of this length. However, given the recent inauguration of President Obama, it seems fitting to turn back to the [[][farewell speech to the Nation given by President Eisenhower on January 17, 1961]. This speech which would become known as the “Military-Industrial Complex Speech” conveyed to the nation a worried warning by arguably America’s last great Cincinnatus that, “Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”

In regards to this Military-Industrial Complex, Eisenhower told “his fellow Americans” that, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Where then is this same alert and knowledgeable citizenry today? Is an age that is beyond forgetting somehow unable to have liberty and security prosper side by side?

Part of the problem is that the conventional history teaches that the Military-Industrial Complex invoked by Eisenhower and ramped up to full speed by Reagan helped us win the Cold War, and Eisenhower certainly believed that this would be the case. The excessive level of military spending and fanciful projects like Star Wars bankrupted the Russians and forced Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that Wall. Today, the United States is still responsible for 45% of the world’s military spending, with the next four countries each accounting for only 4-5%. The Military-Industrial Complex we were supposed to question and keep in check—so that we might eventually disarm peacefully—has continued unabated even after its original goal has been accomplished. However, the issue today is not so much the lingering existence of the Military-Industrial Complex, as its closely related cousin the National Security State.

Today, we are constantly told to fear terrorism and now, cyber attacks as well. Just last year, Michael McConnell? —the US Director of National Intelligence—said that the, “threat of cyberarmageddon is so great that the U.S. government should have unfettered and warrantless access to U.S. citizens' Google search histories, private e-mails and file transfers, in order to spot the cyberterrorists in our midst.” Though the term “Cyberamageddon” seems more like something out of Die Hard 4 than a term one of our Nation’s top intelligence officials would use, it is perhaps the beginning of a new age and a new 21st century manifestation of the National Security State.

We have discussed in class the brewing storm as the NSA attempts to take over cyber security responsibilities from the DHS, and have read about the Obama administration trying to kill a lawsuit to recover millions of missing email records from the Bush administration’s time in office (thereby holding the government to a different standard in terms of the invasion of their online privacy than the rest of us civilians). The end result it seems is the creation of a Technology-Political Complex within the National Security State for the 21st century that we are not being warned about and are not being told to question and monitor.

For the past 40 to 50 years our society has been on edge and scared. Yes, we have been the “most powerful nation on Earth” and a “Super Power” but we have also had an enemy that we were supposed to be afraid of. At first it was Communism and the USSR; then it was Terrorism and Al Qaeda; and now it is also Cyber Terrorism. Though the “online 9/11” that we have been warned about and that we are supposed to be scared of has not yet arrived, we, as a society, have gotten so used to living in fear, so used to putting our faith and our personal lives passively in the hands of the government and its associated “States” and “Complexes” as a sort of protective sigil and representation of the puissance of the American Way, that this new 21st century version of the National Security State seems like a natural next step. For many people, especially the generations that have not grown up with computers, the internet seemed like a fun and safe place. A place where you can find anything you wanted to buy, the answer to any question, and where you were free to roam unfettered. Now though we are being told that we face a thousand cyber enemies “global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.” And so, as we let slip our duty to watch and police the first Military-Industrial Complex it has become a lot easier to continue doing so in the new cyber frontiers of the present.

-- AlexLawrence - 24 May 2009



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r4 - 05 Jan 2010 - 22:29:54 - IanSullivan
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