Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 1, 2014

Uncle Sam’s long surveillance arm reaching deeper into our private lives

— — University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds notes that growing numbers of Americans must still believe in the Bill of Rights, as evidenced by their recent protest toward the Department of Homeland Security and its original plan to build a nationwide license plate database.

Reynolds says that even though the DHS already tracks data on virtually every phone call in the United States, someone in authority must have recognized that now is not the time to pursue yet another surveillance option while public opinion is boiling over with “spying” concerns.

Connecticut residents are up in arms, so to speak, about state efforts there regarding gun registration. Apparently, in 2011 the state estimated that some 372,000 rifles within its borders might be classified as ‘assault weapons’ and so began to require that these be listed with authorities. Since then, only around 50,000 permits have been requested.

Some officials are calling for background check records to prosecute individuals who have not registered but others say the resources do not exist to make that happen. In addition, many feel that judges and juries will not prosecute ordinary, law-abiding citizens for failure to produce paperwork.

Government intervention, of course, is not new in the course of American history. It is common knowledge that Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, for instance, during the Civil War, had many officials illegally detained at times, and even considered tossing a few of the Supreme Court justices in jail. All of this was done in the name of preserving the Union. It may have been a good idea but was not legal, in most cases.

During another crisis, scores of Japanese Americans were confined to internment camps, the closest thing we have ever had to concentration camps on U.S. soil, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Their homes had to vacated or sold, often within hours of notification, and their families were uprooted from businesses and communities virtually overnight. This was done during the Roosevelt administration upon advice from many military leaders, despite having no legal precedent for such a move and no reported illegal activities for nearly everyone forced to move.

Within the next generation, the McCarthy era and its Communist “witch hunts’ of the 1950s proved yet another nightmare for many otherwise law-abiding citizens who may have had at some time a connection with a questionable organization. Many officials, entertainers, musicians, and Hollywood celebrities were tainted by the blacklist activities which ruined careers, often for years.

Not until Sen. Joseph McCarthy attacked the United States Army was he finally discredited, censured by the Senate, and forced to give up the plan.

More recently, since the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, during the Clinton years, security has been tightened across the land. The 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 intensified the government surveillance. Beginning with the George W. Bush administration and continuing through the Obama era, patrols and controls in virtually every aspect of daily living has tightened. Metal detectors dominate many public buildings.

Airports are now under new regulations and passengers are severely limited to what they can carry, down to sizes of toothpaste tubes and other items that might be considered tools to build weapons of destruction. Public employees can no longer carry nail clippers or little Swiss Army knife-style items for fear of arrest and/or dismissal. The days of leaving a deer rifle or similar hunting gun in the truck and going to work have disappeared in the new day of suspicion of any such activity. In fact, an employee found to have such a weapon in a personal vehicle on company grounds while on the job is most likely to be strictly disciplined, and perhaps even dismissed from employment.

Uncle Sam’s long arm is reaching ever farther in pursuit of personal reconnaissance and various kinds of freedoms are under siege. There has been significant justification for tighter security in the modern world but the natural American tendency to embrace liberty is beginning to stir.

Reynolds points out that in nations around the globe, from Egypt to Thailand, citizens have taken to the streets to protest policies.  He feels similar backlash is already beginning in the land of the free, a.k.a. the United States of America.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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