Our freedoms are getting less free


I’m not exactly what you’d consider a conspiracy theorist.

There is no grand search for shadows in the corner when I enter a government building, I’m not very concerned about the FBI tapping my home phone and I’m probably one of the few people in the world who believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. To top it off, I have little to no problems with the Patriot Act, the happenings at Guantanamo Bay or whatever interogation techniques are being used on terrorist suspects around the world.

Maybe I’m naive. Perhaps I’m just callous. Regardless, I just don’t stay awake at night worrying about whether or not “Big Brother” is watching me sleep. Now, I might be startled from a dream because I find our federal government to be somewhat incompetent from time to time, but that’s another story.

By and large, I live by the mantra that if you didn’t do anything wrong, you really have nothing to worry about.

That being said, I am a bit alarmed by a report I stumbled across on CNN.com the other day. According to their story, “The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people’s physical characteristics, all part of an effort, the bureau says, to better identify criminals and terrorists.”

The story goes on to report that the FBI already has 55 million sets of fingerprints at their disposal — and they now want to add palm prints, scars, tattoos, iris patterns and facial shapes to their database.

Am I the only person unnerved by this?

Look, I want to feel safe as much as the next guy. Yes, I’m afraid of terrorists, and I’m afraid of what another big attack on American soil would do to the very soul of this nation, but I’m also more than a little nervous about a government getting a stronger and more permanent grasp on our personal lives.

This is indeed America. We have the right to practice our religion without repercussion, we have the right to speak our mind in a public venue and we have the right to go to a strip club wearing a fake mustache without being noticed by a surveillance camera that identifies us by facial recognition and catalogs what we did with all those $1 bills hidden in our sock drawers.

Sorry. Bob Bertram is my dear friend, and I stand behind his right to do whatever he wants in his free time, as long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights. Well, there is that one weird thing Bob likes to do on Friday nights, but ...

But I digress.

We are in fact a nation that loves to trumpet the basic right that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And so it should be on this issue — if we’ve never done anything wrong, and we’ve never done anything to be considered a risk to national security, then why should we be subjected to around-the-clock surveillance? Isn’t this what we used as ammo in the Cold War — that citizens of the Soviet Union and East Germany didn’t enjoy the same freedoms as us?

I love this nation, but the reasons I love it so much are beginning to be called into question in my mind. I know the argument — we really have no idea who are terrorists and who aren’t, and there’s no guarantee that somebody with an umblemished record won’t eventually go on a killing spree in a mall.

And I agree. But there’s also no guarantee that we will go on that binge — or that we are in sleeper cells waiting to make our move. There has never been a guarantee that some mild-mannered honest citizen won’t snap one night and kill his wife, but we don’t plant cameras in every house to monitor domestic arguments.

At least, I don’t think we do.

Look, if someone gets arrested and charged with a crime, get samples of their fingerprints, DNA, scars, etc. Lock them up in a bamboo box under a hot sun if they’re convicted — personally, I believe prisoners have too many rights, anyway.

But if some young college graduate has to get a background check for a teaching position, that shouldn’t give the government the right to take more than they need to assess the person’s history. They should not be in some secret government file because they wanted to work with kids, if there was no reason in the first place to believe they shouldn’t be trusted with kids.

I fought for this country, as did many of you. We happily risked our lives and offered sacrifice because we believe in the American way of life, and we want to help other people who weren’t as blessed as us to have lived in a nation that allows the freedoms we do.

But I fear that we’re beginning to move away from those inherent rights and freedoms we have enjoyed for so many generations. I fear that as America has grown more and more strong over the years, we are becoming more and more power hungry, and less and less determined to fight for individual’s freedoms. In short, I fear.

Is the next step to implant tiny GPS receivers under all Americans’ flesh to monitor where everyone is at any given time? Are we facing a time where the government automatically scans every e-mail sent back and forth between individuals?

I understand the government’s desire to curb terrorism, and I applaud it. But should we go so far as to take away people’s freedom to protect people’s, well, freedom?

Nope. That cost is too high.