Illinois Senator Dick Durbin pointed out how radically our concept of civil liberties and privacy has changed over the years at a press conference when he helped unveil the BELIEVE system, another step towards a national ID card. The proposed legislation would require anyone who plans to work in the United States would have to have a biometric ID card which would verify their citizenship and right to work. Durbin said “For a long time it was resisted by many groups, but now we live in a world where we take off our shoes at the airport and pull out our identification…People understand that in this vulnerable world, we have to be able to present identification.”
Alone, such a system is the kind of thing that would make our superfluously referenced founding fathers shudder to their core. Taken together with Senator Joe Lieberman’s proposed TEA (Terrorism Expatriation Act) legislation and Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration legislation, we should feel lucky there aren’t already brownshirts roaming our streets shaking down citizens in the name of “keeping us safe.” Just like when former White House legal adviser Alberto Gonzales called the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” so have so many politicians begun to believe that our cherished civil liberties are “quaint.” The majority of Americans once believed that the right to privacy, due process and other checks against government power were sacrosanct. Since 2001, we’ve capitulated to fear time and time again.
For a country that prides itself on its freedoms, we’ve systematically begun to dismantle them in favor of a perceived sense of safety. We have the largest, most powerful military in the world. Our surveillance systems and police technologies are state of the art. We have more law enforcement agencies than acronyms available. Yet, for all the measures in place to make us feel safe, we live our lives in fear of the next thwarted terrorist attack. To live and believe that we are the most powerful country in the world and simultaneously feel so vulnerable is a mental gymnastics performance that would make Orwell blush.
With all of the shouting in the public square about the constitution and the paranoia some Americans fear over “big government,” how can our elected leaders even begin to fathom, let alone propose and support such draconian and downright dictatorial powers? Yet, millions of Americans justified the PATRIOT ACT when legislators jumped at the chance to sign the bill without reading it. Even though there is hopeful popular and political resistance to Arizona’s immigration bill, millions of Americans support that as well. Now in the face of this “vulnerable world,” we’re supposed to quietly and lovingly accept big brother’s biometric seal of approval and God given right to take it away in secret, without presenting a burden of proof.
This might be a vulnerable world, but there’s a difference between vulnerability to an outside aggressor and letting our fears get the best of us. Right now, we’ve become more vulnerable to our own fears and knee jerk reactions – and the damage from that could be far greater than we realize.