Preserving both safety and liberty

Column by Andrea Doray
Posted 10/3/18

I grew up in Monte Vista, a small town in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. In my memory, there were two stoplights, although there may be more now. I remember once when my mother was stopped …

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Preserving both safety and liberty

Posted

I grew up in Monte Vista, a small town in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. In my memory, there were two stoplights, although there may be more now. I remember once when my mother was stopped while driving by a member of the local police force. No doubt this man played gin rummy with my dad at the American Legion, and his wife probably chatted with Mom in the grocery store.

Nevertheless, he was all business when he approached her driver's side window. "Rosemary," he said, "you were speeding." She pointed out that she was actually well within the speed limit, but apparently, in those days, automobiles emitted a small puff from their tail pipes when drivers let up on the gas. What my mom replied when that policeman told her that he'd seen that telltale puff has stayed with me. "I don't care if I'm going 5 miles an hour," she said. "If I see your lights in my rear-view mirror, I'm going to take my foot off the gas."

Perhaps you followed the standoff between the federal government and Apple over its iPhone encryption. The government wanted Apple to develop a "back door" that would allow the FBI to unlock a phone used by one of the San Bernardino killers. Apple, which has built much of its business on assuring privacy for the people who use its devices, servers and cloud, refused to create a way to crack this encryption and thus potentially expose everything its users had entrusted to the company.

Ultimately, the government used - most likely, hired - hackers to unlock the phone. I understand that the phone didn't yield any usable information but I'm sure I don't have all the facts, and that's beside the point, anyway.

What stood out for me in this situation is not whether the government could - or should be able to - force a business to deliberately debilitate a proprietary process. Even a privacy advocate like me has mixed emotions about the cost of giving up civil liberties for the potential of crucial information.

No, what raised its head again was the notion that anyone who has nothing to hide would be the least bit concerned about his or her private and personal information being "unlocked" by the very company that promised to protect it. Or, for that matter, by a government that is clearly struggling to balance citizens' rights guaranteed by the Constitution with the need for national security.

Basically, if you aren't speeding, why would you need to take your foot off the gas?

However, as my mother unintentionally taught me so long ago, you can be doing everything right and still be the subject of scrutiny. So when the NSA surveils my communication, and the FBI unlocks my phone, don't tell me I shouldn't worry if I have nothing to hide.

My real worry is that of Benjamin Franklin's around the time of the birth of our nation: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Whether we are residents of small-town rural America or part of the larger global society, as U.S. citizens, we need to preserve both.

Andrea Doray is a writer who believes in balance, and is desperately seeking some sort of balance in the presidential campaigns. Contact her at a.doray@andreadoray.com.

Andrea Doray

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