“Trust the government” is becoming the functional definition of privacy in America. It’s all a matter of what laws government passes to constrain government activity and what methods government uses to monitor government behavior.
In the old tech days, the government couldn’t follow you around taking notes on your activities and then seal the file until such time you were suspected of being involved in planning a crime. That was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Today’s technology gives government the ability to gather every breadcrumb of your life, every minute of every day.
“Gathering” data, the government tells us, is not the same as “collecting” data. To collect date, i.e., view the details, the government needs a court order. The court is a secret court. Only the government can present an argument. Out of thousands of requests only a handful have been turned down. We don’t know how many warrants actually resulted in capturing criminals or thwarting a crime.
Preventing crime is the new paradigm. Terrorism is the justification. All the information the government gathers is held in massive storage facilities in case the government suspects a particular citizen may be planning a crime—or–an American citizen’s megadata is associated with someone else in the world the government suspects may be planning a crime. A lot of Americans think this is a good thing. It’s the government’s job to protect us, right?
The Founders gave the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce. In the records of the Constitutional Convention the term “commerce” was limited to “trade and exchange”. During the New Deal the meaning of “regulate” and “commerce” began to expand.
In 1990, citing the commerce clause, Congress passed The Gun-free School Zones Act that prohibited any individual from possessing a firearm in a school zone. Alfonzo Lopez, Jr., a 12th grade student in Texas, carried a concealed weapon into a school and was charge with violating the federal law. He argued the law was unconstitutional. The case went to the Supreme Court. The government argued the commerce clause empowered Congress to pass the law. Here’s the reasoning: There was a chance a firearm in a school zone would lead to a violent crime, violent crime would affect the general economy by causing harm, creating expense, raising insurance premiums, inhibiting travel into the area which would be perceived as unsafe. Additionally, students would be fearful, their ability to study and learn would be affected which would weaken the national economy. Pretty far-fetched. The Supreme Court thought so too and decided against the government, saying if Congress could regulate something so disconnected and far removed from commerce, it could regulate anything.
We can trust the government to redefine the Constitution increasing its power and decreasing individual liberty whether it is the commerce clause or the fourth amendment. BTW, that Supreme Court decision—5 to 4. And then came Obamacare.
We must be very cautious that in fighting monsters who will harm us we don’t create one that will devour us.