In the debate over national id cards (REAL ID), I often hear people say, “Well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, what does it matter if the government knows everything about you?”
The underlying assumption for saying such a thing is twofold:
1) The Individual Should Be Distrusted.
2) The Government Should Be Trusted.
The question really is “Where do you place your distrust?”
Secretaries and Bureaucrats have the job of wielding government power. It is a necessary job because government is needed. It’s a fallen world after all. So Secretaries and Bureaucrats (and Presidents and Congresses) ask themselves, “How Can I Make My Job Easier?” It is human nature to ask, and it is usually a good question.
But when Secretaries and Bureaucrats want to expand their space, they must contract the individual’s space. That’s just the way the world works. So government officials have to “sell” their increased powers to the voters by telling the voters how good (convenient) the expansion of government power will be for them.
And here’s the rub.
The Framers of the Constitution had an up-close-and-personal understanding of tyranny. They knew that government power must be minimized and individual freedom must be maximized. To achieve this, they separated the powers of government into three branches and into a federal system. They also shackled the government with checks and balances. The whole Constitution screams, “Limited Government!”
The Framers placed their distrust in government. It’s the American way.
But modern day leaders distrust the individual, disregard the Constitution, and love government. And Secretaries and Bureaucrats chafe under limitations. Their easy way out is to override the individual.
With the rise of technology and the war on terrorism, we can easily forget the threat of tyranny. National ID Cards (i.e. REAL ID) enable the government to track individuals through their daily lives. Secretary Chertoff has already talked about “countless other uses” for REAL ID. So the citizen is subject to being conveniently scanned for “countless other uses” by “machine readable technology.”
Knowledge is power. If the government knows everything, it has all the power. To digitally track the individual in real-time makes the 4th Amendment obsolete and grants the government massive power. It’s a zero-sum game.
One might say, “The government knows everything about you anyway. What’s it matter?” It matters for two reasons:
1) Such talk says, “Let’s capitulate.” It is a fallacy that says, “It’s already bad, so let’s make it worse.” Hope for reform withers under that kind of resignation.
2) REAL ID layers on more real-time capability of surveillance. If it weren’t a significant change that increased government’s power, the government wouldn’t be pushing for it.
The proliferation of scanners will have the citizen scanning-in with the government every time he turns around. Mr. Chertoff has already mentioned using REAL ID to buy cold medicine!
Instead of asking the individual, “What do you have to hide?” we should be asking bureaucrats, secretaries, Presidents and Congresses “Why do you want so much power at my expense?”
Where should we place our distrust?
I stand with the Constitution’s Framers. The threat of tyranny has never gone away. I simply can’t believe our only choices are statism or terrorism.
If we sell out our freedoms in order to fight terrorism (which we should fight hammer-and-tong) how can we say “We are defending America?”
Surely we can do better.