Cumberland Times-News

Editorials

June 17, 2013

It’s not new

You’re already in a computer somewhere

America’s governments have always afforded us what’s called “a double-edged sword” — one that cuts both ways — when it comes to the contrasting ideas of openness and security.

Many people are either outraged or surprised by the sudden revelation that agencies of the government are spying on us or hiding secrets from us.

They probably have not paid attention. This is nothing new, and it involves both the federal and state governments.

A considerable furor arose when it became known that state governments, particularly their departments of motor vehicles, were actually selling their citizens’ personal information to businesses — a practice that now is illegal in many states.

As it has been said, if you’re not already in someone’s computer, you soon will be, and you’re probably in more computers than you could count.

Each time some dirty little government secret is revealed, there is an argument as to whether the person who spills the beans is a traitor or a patriot, whether it’s National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks leakers Julian Assange and Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, or Pentagon Papers author Daniel Ellsberg (who wrote things about the Vietnam War that President Johnson’s administration didn’t want the people to know).

The double-edged sword wielded by Snowden reveals what some see as an infringement on civil liberties on one side of the blade and the idea that NSA surveillance may have halted potential terrorist schemes in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries on the other.

There’s also the idea that this has been going on for some time, but we’ve paid no attention to it.

What’s reassuring is the idea that such things happen now and then in America. It has nothing to do with whether the revelations are beneficial or harmful, but that they can happen and do. Few other countries are as fortunate in this respect.

This has led to our state and federal governments becoming far more open than they once were. Outrage on the part of the citizens often leads to action by the legislatures — not something that happens in places like Iran or North Korea.

It’s true that Big Brother is watching us ... but we’re also watching him.

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