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Oh, how the meaning has changed!

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By Mike Forster

    “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
    When in Washington, D.C. recently, I saw those words on a statue which stands outside of the National Archives.
    My wife, upon reading the phrase, commented, “Boy, has the meaning of THAT changed.”
    Indeed it has.
    There exists some confusion regarding who it was who made that quote in the first place.  Some say it was Thomas Jefferson.  Others insist it was Wendell Phillips.
    There is little doubt, however, that the original intent was to encourage the American people to remain vigilant against the encroachment of tyranny.
    That the quote sits on a statue outside the National Archives is particularly ironic.
    In our Post-9/11 world, it is now the government that is eternally vigilant. And its vigilance is directed toward its people. That is, my wife correctly ascertained that the very saying has been turned on its head.
    It seems that we are learning of new and nefarious ways by which our government is keeping tabs on its bosses:  you, me and the other 360 million citizens.
    A good example comes out of Hampton, where the Feds paid for a van for that city.
    Said van was intended to scan license plates to identify cars owned by bad guys.  Well, the fishing wasn’t great, so they now use the van to identify tax delinquents, boot their cars and collect their taxes. 
    You can bet more uses are on the way.
    As far as I can tell, some variant of the government is collecting data on:
    -With whom we speak
    -When we speak with them
    -How long we chat
    -To whom we mail things
    -From whom we receive mailings
    -Our emails
    -Our Skype discussions
    -Where our cars go (via license plate imaging and E-Z Pass usage)
    -Where we fly
    -Where we live
    -Where we bank
    -Who is our family
    -Who are our friends
    -What we read
    Additionally, while there is no proof that the government has collected the following, it would only take a bit of squeezing of some private entities for the government to get its hands on:
    -Our financial data
    -A record of our physical locations over time (via cell phone tower tracking)
    -Our customer loyalty transactions.
    -Our health records
    -Where our cell phones go (via GPS tracking)
    So, with little difficulty and with a few compliant judges, our government (the one whose paychecks WE pay) might soon be able to pretty much know everything about us.
    There are three reactions to this development:
    1.  It’s needed to get “the bad guys.”
    2.  As I’m not doing anything wrong, so what?
    3.  Holy mackerel.  This has GOT to end.
    The first two reactions are invalid.  The first comes from a place of fear.  You want to give up liberty for safety?  You think it wise to lose all of your privacy in order to (potentially) save a few lives?  Hmm.
    The second comes from ignorance.    Guess what?  You don’t get to decide what’s wrong and what isn’t.
    The shame of it is that the first two reactions are predicated on an assumption that collecting all of this data works.  That is, that we have competent people handling it.
    I’d bet cash money that there will be a significant data breach before this program stops a significant terrorist attack.
    The government gets hacked or loses its data all the time.  As a veteran, I’ve experienced it first-hand, as the VA continues to display a clumsiness reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.
    Fortunately, there are some in this very government who are troubled by this relentless hunger for data to track its citizens.  Some actually did something about it.
    Last week, the House of Representatives had a vote on a bill to challenge the National Security Agency’s secret collection of hundred of millions of Americans’ phone records.
    Unfortunately, the legislation was defeated (217-205).
    Even more unfortunate was the voting by those that represent Bedford County.
    Both Robert Hurt and Bob Goodlatte voted against the measure.
    If you’re OK with that, then fine.  If not, please let them know, as their bosses, of your displeasure.