My waking thought on Christmas Day was that George Orwell's vision of Big Brother was no longer a hypothetical possibility but an actual near-term threat. That realization was synthesized from two news events, one here and one in Britain.
In Britain, the government recently decided to deploy global positioning system (GPS) technology to track every vehicle in the U.K. every minute of the day. Just as GPS sensors are mandated for use in every cell phone in the near future in the United States (for our safety, of course), Britain will mandate the use of a GPS sensor in every car. ``Has Reginald White arrived at the grocery store yet?'' will become a question answerable by the security division of Britain's DMV.
The British government promises safeguards to prevent spying on ordinary citizens, but who will follow up on those promises?
In the United States, President Bush is acting under apparently self-granted powers to ``authorize'' the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans -- of course, only on Americans threatening terrorist acts.
In an act of high integrity, one of the judges of the secret court that grants Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act search warrants resigned, citing the fact that Bush was now bypassing even that minimal civil rights guarantee by directly authorizing NSA spying on U.S. citizens. One can only imagine that this troublesome judge will be replaced with one more friendly to the administration.
With only the need to combine two real-world technologies for spying and tracking, the vision of 1984 -- once just a dark philosophical concept -- becomes an engineering project.
The president and those to whom he delegates his authority can now authorize government spooks to listen to us in our homes and on our cell phones. When we are not home, they can track us in our automobiles. The system could be airtight and could be used to control our actions.
It's simple enough for most Silicon Valley companies to create a chip to detect a valid GPS signal and disable an automobile's ignition system to prevent citizens from the ``unauthorized use'' of their own vehicles.
The final move into the totality of 1984 requires only a bit of philosophical drift, as exemplified by J. Edgar Hoover's directive to spy on the Rev. Martin Luther King because he was a subversive. If Bush's latest acts are left unchallenged, the government will become bolder at spying on whomever it wants and secretly jailing those it deems a threat to national security -- all with no troublesome warrants or messy public trials.
In this environment, acts other than terrorism will certainly be put on the subversive activities list, all in the name of protecting our freedom.
Why should law-abiding citizens fear these trends? Because the government cannot be trusted. I don't trust President Bush to honor my rights, nor did I trust President Clinton, who was caught with secret FBI files on his political enemies.
It's not that I'm unpatriotic. The founders of our country did not trust any government -- either that of George III or an uncontrolled democracy. That's why we have the Bill of Rights to protect American citizens from their own government -- by demanding, for example, that ``Congress shall make no law abridging the right of free speech.''
Our property is also protected from illegal search and seizure, and we are not to be put in jail without knowing the charges against us or having the right to confront our accusers in a public trial. Secret courts are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, the defining document of American freedom.
What's the worst thing that Al-Qaida can do to America? We have probably already seen it. Of course, the government can talk about bigger things, like the use of weapons of mass destruction, to justify its use of totalitarian tactics.
I would much rather live as a free man under the highly improbable threat of another significant Al-Qaida attack than I would as a serf, spied on by an oppressive government that can jail me secretly, without charges. If the Patriot Act defines the term ``patriot,'' then I am certainly not one.
By far, our own government is a bigger threat to our freedom than any possible menace posed by Al-Qaida.
T.J Rodgers is the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor in San Jose. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.
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