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I can't say the Obama administration has me feeling all warm and fuzzy about this:
(Watching every move and keeping track)

Many people would say that if you're not doing something illegal, then you shouldn't worry about the government looking over your shoulder. I say we should worry every time the government looks over our shoulders—because the government doesn't always get it right.

Here's a scenario that many LiveJournal users might find plausible. Occasionally, I will receive comments written in a foreign language about my posts. I don't know what the language is. If I had to guess, I'd say it's Russian. But I don't know any Russians. I don't have any Russians on my friends list. I don't know how they found my blog or why they decided to post comments.

Suppose one of these people is friends with a known terrorist. To our vast, far-flung intelligence-gathering machinery, the terrorist is Dot A. The friend is Dot B. I'm Dot C. Suddenly, I'm on the watch list.

This doesn't even necessarily need to involve Russians. I have a lot of LiveJournal friends whom I've never been in the same time zone with, much less met. Suppose one of those people is a friend of someone who has a friend as a terrorist? Face it: These days, everyone is a suspect. If we weren't, why would the government need to watch so many of us so closely?

Now, lest you think all of this is loose-brained noodling, let me mention a name you may be familiar with: Steven Hatfill. Remember him? He was the man identified by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a "person of interest" in the investigation into who mailed envelopes with anthrax in them to news organizations and U.S. senators in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In all, five people died.

There was just one problem—a somewhat significant one, really. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, "For months in the anxious atmosphere after Sept. 11, Hatfill was subjected to 24-hour surveillance and was widely identified as the leading suspect in the nation's first bioterrorism attack. However, he was never arrested or charged and a federal judge presiding over his lawsuit said recently that there 'is not a scintilla of evidence' linking him to the mailings." Hatfill eventually accepted a $5.8 million settlement from the government for trashing his privacy, his reputation and his career. Here is Hatfill's story:
(A life in tatters)

When the settlement was reached in 2008, the Times reported, one of Hatfill's attorneys said, "If anybody in the country really knew what it was like to be Steven Hatfill for the past six years, nobody would trade places with him." The attorney blamed "a handful of credulous reporters," who he said published or broadcast government leaks of "gossip, speculation and misinformation." (He's right: The media played a huge role in Steven Hatfill's torment. But that's a topic for another time.)

Toward the end of the Los Angeles Times story, we are provided with another example of how the vast power and resources of United States intelligence and police agencies are capable of ruining lives beyond repair:

Hatfill's plight recalls the targeting of Richard Jewell, a guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics who alerted police to a suspicious backpack and moved bystanders away. The backpack exploded, killing a woman and injuring more than 100. Jewell was praised; then media accounts described him as "the focus" of the FBI investigation. Another man later confessed. Then-Atty. Gen. Janet Reno apologized to Jewell, who died [in 2007]."
(The wrong man. Again.)

None of this makes me inclined to think harm won't be done as a result of the government collecting and keeping vast amounts of information on us. In fact, writing this post has made me a little nervous. You see, I had to do some Google searches to refresh my memory. One of my search terms was "2001 anthrax attacks," with the findings leading me to publications both here and abroad. Suppose somebody somewhere thinks my activity is suspicious?

It could happen.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 27th, 2012 12:34 pm (UTC)
Big Brother is always watching, eh?
Mar. 27th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah. But now, he's a lot bigger.
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:39 am (UTC)
Interesting timing; my primary care dr. and I got into a discussion recently about how paranoid (her word, not mine) she is feeling about the government these days.
Mar. 28th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
Even if you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
Mar. 28th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
True dat.
Mar. 28th, 2012 02:12 am (UTC)
Scarier and scarier every day.

Dot D

Edited at 2012-03-28 02:13 am (UTC)
Mar. 28th, 2012 10:18 pm (UTC)
It could happen.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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