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The Erosion of Privacy in 21st Century America

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The recent WikiLeaks cable dissemination has garnered strong reactions from government officials. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the leaks "an attack on the international community." Rep. Peter King of Long Island called for the organization to be labeled terrorists. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum went further and said that the Obama administration was to blame for not preventing the release of the documents.

What this country's politicians are missing is the fact that your average American has been subject to the same kind of scrutiny and invasion of privacy that the upper echelons of government are now experiencing. Since 9/11 Americans' privacy has been quickly eroded with little more than a peep from the populace, yet we are expected to be outraged that the government is now going through the same thing?

On October 26, 2001, George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law, codifying numerous privacy-depleting measures. Among other things, the act allowed the government to spy on U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens alike, whereas before it was only the latter that was subject to this clandestine surveillance. It eased procedures to tap into emails and voicemails of citizens and it allowed "roving wiretaps." We were told that it was for our safety and that it would be used professionally and responsibly.

Needless to say the law was abused. Again. And again. And again. Don't expect things to get any better, either, as the only Senator with the gastrointestinal fortitude to stand up to this blatant disregard for Americans' rights lost his re-election bid in November.

Unfortunately it does not end with the Patriot Act. Think about your airport experience post-9/11. If you want a bottle of water you have to pay the shamelessly gauged price once you go through security because explosives can come in liquid form. You have to take your shoes off at the security checkpoint because a bomb can be put in shoes. Now, you have to get sexually assaulted by a TSA employee or provide naked pictures of yourself before you board a plane because you can put explosives in your underwear. We're one step away from cavity searches, given that you can put explosives in your rear. Don't think that this will be limited to airports, either. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently indicated that mass transit could be the next mode of transportation to receive these invasive screening techniques.

As American citizens we have no recourse. You may not be able to sue your telecommunications company for complying with illegal wiretaps during the Bush administration because the Obama administration wants all suits against these companies dismissed out of hand. If you don't want your unmentionables manhandled by a TSA employee, you can't fly.

So it should go without saying that many Americans have been living with the possibility that all of their personal calls, emails and files could, at any point, be confiscated by the government for little or no reason. Yet when the American government goes through the same humiliation and transparency the perpetrators are terrorists and should be prosecuted. As blogger Evgeny Morozov said, "WikiLeaks is what happens when the entire US government is forced to go through a full-body scanner." The government wants to complain about this erosion of privacy? Get in line.

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