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Privacy R.I.P.

BEWARE: LAWMAKERS ARE COOKING UP A BACKDOOR PLOY TO IMPLEMENT A NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM.

by Nat Hentoff

While the media and even Congress were outraged about the Obama Administration’s eavesdropping on the personal phone calls of Associated Press reporters and editors, I’m also outraged about We the People’s apathy. Most of us have become so conditioned to the government and corporations databasing our personal communications, I expect there will be little commotion about what could be in store for our privacy as revealed by Wired.com.

In “Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform,” senior staff writer David Kravets foretells the ultimate demise of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “unreasonable” government searches: “The immigration reform measure [being debated in the Senate] would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S. in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiqui tous national identification system.”

Kravets adds: “Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously named ‘photo tool,’ a massive federal data base administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.”

Keep in mind all the “proofs of self” that are continually being added to the USA PATRIOT Act. Nearly every new doctor I go to now requires I bring a photo ID. Never had to when I was a kid.

Says ACLU Congressional lobbyist Chris Calabrese: “It could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”

Why not? Our Founders had no premonition of biometric and other forms of increasingly sophisticated technology. Once in power, all governments are insatiable in demanding more and more information about their subjects— from the New Deal to the FBI and CIA.

Kravets, who’s hip enough to use the chilling term “inevitable mission creep” in his article, notes: “For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.”

And a lot of other things. To be paid for writing this column, I have to provide HUSTLER my Social Security number.

David Bier, an analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says the “photo tool” is “like a national ID system without the card.” And any of us anytime can be “a person of interest” without our knowing we’ve been targeted until we feel the hit.

How much do you want to bet that this “photo tool” will be ignored in the 2014 and 2016 elections? And who knows what will be in our grandchildren’s databases? Or that of anyone who has publicly commented on reading this column. So how many Americans—now and in coming generations—will identify themselves as members of a self-governing republic?

This is why I keep commenting on the growing number of public-school classrooms in which students are learning how to be the kind of Americans for whom the Bill of Rights was intended.

In her book No Citizen Left Behind, Meira Levinson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education writes: “We were able, in our classes, to use something students actually cared about to explore federalism, the rule of law, separation of powers, individual versus collective responsibility…and critical analysis of public rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, in my book Living the Bill of Rights, I quoted scholar John A. Howard’s essay “On Freedom”: “We have in the U.S. produced several generations of cultural orphans who have little knowledge and even less appreciation of their heritage of freedom, or the struggles and sacrifices which produced it. … We have inadvertently engaged in a kind of unilateral intellectual disarmament which could well prove more devastating to the cause of liberty than would be the destruction of our defense arsenals.”

That’s how Barack Obama was reelected and why his opponent Mitt Romney said that if he’d been in Congress, he would have voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. Jefferson and Madison warned that only an informed citizenry would make the revolution work. What’s going on in the schools where you are? Education is the key.

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