Live free or live under observation

There’s a certain déja vu that comes as a result of tragedies like the Boston bombing. Whenever an act of terrorism occurs, there is a tremendous sense of community that rises from the ashes of despair. People express their solidarity in a multitude of creative ways; charity events, signs, Facebook statuses and letter writing campaigns are just a few of the vehicles of comfort and support. Emotional reactions are natural, and when an incident of national attention occurs, such as Newtown, 9/11 or Aurora, devastation and grief are a part of the process of recovery.

However, reactions to tragedy can also be extremely visceral and lead to knee-jerk public policy reforms. After the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary, gun control legislation became a primary concern of the public, despite how little it would have helped to avoid a similar situation and would probably have led to severe Second Amendment infringements. In the post-9/11 period of fear and panic, the PATRIOT Act was put in place to deprive the American people of their right to privacy under the guise of greater protection from terrorism. Time and time again, tragedy has been used as a justification for depriving people of their freedoms and to create a Doppler effect of fear.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York reacted to the Boston bombings by proposing increased security measures, he put it under the umbrella of a need to reinterpret the Constitution. Essentially, the protections of the Fourth Amendment for average citizens are up for re-evaluation as a result of the misdeeds of a few evil people. This could mean more surveillance, more searches, more of whatever the government deems will keep us safer.

Unrelated to the Boston bombing yet still on a similar note, a measure of freedom deprivation is currently going through the Senate that will definitely affect U.S. citizens all the way from Boston, to New York, to here in Reno: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, more casually known as CISPA. The proposed law would allow the U.S. government to monitor and collect information from internet users for the purpose of “cybersecurity” with or without the users’ permission. Some big players in the world of the internet, including—but not limited to—Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have given their support to CISPA as protection against cyber threats and “bad actors” such as malicious hackers.

What CISPA will ultimately come down to, however, is a group of corporations aiding the government in collecting intelligence on the public without our permission and without a warrant. The internet is open-source collaboration and education, and it’s perhaps the greatest frontier of freedom of speech that the human race has yet created. CISPA is tantamount to an Orwellian Big Brother or perhaps a Foucauldian panopticon, where unlimited surveillance trains people to police themselves. It’s an act that, like many instruments of supposed protection, breeds anxiety and fear.

Benjamin Franklin famously once said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” If the proposed restrictions are taken lying down, then Mr. Franklin’s prophetic words will ring true.

We live in troubled times, when boarding a plane, running a marathon or going to school or a movie theater have all been shown to be risky behaviors, and, in fact, it seems that even staying at home browsing online at a computer is becoming a more dangerous activity. But the key is vigilance. By remaining aware of the encroachments on freedom that creep closer every day, it is possible to fight tooth and nail against them. The Constitution may have been written in a time before airplanes, before the internet and before security cameras, but the rights that it guarantees with the First and Fourth Amendments are inviolable.