A blast from the past

This was the column I wrote the day after 9/11 that launched my recently concluded op/ed career as well as this blog.  It has its flaws, but in light of the references to the NSA and even Syria, it is a fairly prescient warning of the events of the subsequent twelve years, as well as of the freedoms we have lost during that time.

Yield no more freedom
September 14, 2001

In response to a number of questions inspired by last week’s column, we were working on a piece related to PC security, specifically the sort offered to one’s e-mail communications by various encryption technologies, when we were interrupted by the horrifying events of Tuesday. The fatal hijackings and subsequent media response has been difficult to dismiss from our mind, so we have tabled the usual technology review for a week in favor of some reflections on these recent events.

One of the many troubling aspects of the hijackings is the brutal demonstration that we, as a people, have received very little of the security we were promised in return for the many violations of personal freedom and civil liberties that have been enacted over the past decade. We would go so far as to raise the question if this had not been a fool’s bargain, wherein we have given up something of precious value in return for … arguably, nothing. It is bad enough that we allow the FBI to filter our e-mails and record our keystrokes, that we permit the National Security Agency to intercept every electronic communication floating through the aether, but it is even worse that we have done so without realizing that which we hoped to gain.

Just as the drug war has not reduced the amount of illegal drugs used in this country, the sacrifice of our civil liberties on the altar of national security has not brought us security. Keep this in mind, as the inevitable drumbeat begins for more sacrifices, as the calls begin for Americans to give up even more of their hard-won freedoms. National security cannot seriously be cited any longer in the attempts to ban personal encryption technology, not when, as WorldNetDaily reported yesterday, far better forms of communications encryption have already been delivered to terrorist-sponsoring states like Syria with the full approval of the previous administration.

It is said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, but that vigilance must be applied within as well as without. A thousand suicide bombers could not destroy America, but America is quite capable of destroying itself in the pursuit of any number of false idols, among them wrongheaded and illusory notions of security at any price. Individual privacy, like private property, is one of the foundations of our freedom, and it must not be thrown away out of fear. Anonymous cell phones or encrypted e-mail missives could be used by a terrorist, true, but the same is also true of a razor blade or a flight simulator.

What our leaders must realize is that personal technology is not a foe, but a powerful ally. The enemy we face can be subdued and contained by soldiers, bombs and a strong national will, but it cannot be ultimately defeated through conventional war. But satellite transmissions and the Internet know no borders, nor does the concept of freedom. Our enemies recognize this, which is why they fearfully denounce every sign of American influence as decadence, because they well know that they cannot raise another generation of suicide warriors if that generation is allowed to partake of the dangerous and forbidden fruit of freedom.

Some have protested that America must not strike back, that doing so will only perpetuate the “cycle of violence,” that others will only rise up to replace those we strike down. But this is demonstrably untrue, as no German ever rose up to replace Hitler, nor does a Japanese war party trouble us today. It is appropriate for a nation to fight a war in its own defense, especially when war has been openly declared upon it. But in doing so, we must resolutely resist the call to sacrifice that which makes the United States of America a country worth defending – our inalienable rights and our individual freedom.