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David Gaul
Shelby County Democratic Party Co-Chair


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David Gaul
Donna Clothier
Kathleen Cue

REMEMBER THE MAYHEM

In the ongoing debate about the NSA's surveillance of the internet, the PRISM Program, it should be remembered what got us here--a beautiful, late-summer's morning in downtown Manhattan turned horrific when two jet airliners, fully fueled, veered from their established flight plans for reasons now known and brought mayhem not just to New York but to the world.

9-11.

Of course we remember.  But do we as a Nation really remember?  Do we recall the day in all its vivid detail?  Like so many painful memories, there's often a tendency to push them aside, to assign them to special compartments with their own little doors that can be closed and locked.  Sometimes I feel that way about 9-11. 

I was far away from the events of that day, safe and sound in my home here in Iowa, but like millions of Americans, I watched the events unfold live on television.  Like a flash in the corner of my eye, I saw the second plane hit and the corresponding explosion of billowing smoke and glass.  And then, not too long later, I remember Tom Brokaw was talking off-camera to Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, making some comment that I've long-since forgotten, when the north tower began collapsing.  "The tower's falling!" I said aloud to the television, almost as if I was trying to warn somebody.  At first the commentators didn't seem to notice it happening.  After all, nobody expected that.  It took only seconds, and the tower was gone.  That particular memory for me is indelible, etched in my memory like an inscription on granite. 

9-11 is a fixed point in time, a seminal moment.  It's when the 20th century truly ended and the 21st century began. Things were never going to be exactly as they were from that point on.  I think most Americans immediately knew that to be the case. 

We all know what happened after that--two wars, thousands more dead, thousands injured for life, trillions of dollars spent, a region of the Earth more turbulent than before.  Who among us, if given the miraculous power of undoing the events of that day, wouldn't jump at the chance to do so?

Now, let me posit this hypothetical question:  If we categorically knew that another 9-11 type of event was in the offing for some date in the year 2015, and that the only thing that could prevent such a catastrophe was some revelation afforded by the PRISM Program in 2014, would we as a Nation deem that program necessary and acceptable and worth having despite issues of personal privacy?

Again, recall 9-11.  Recall the day.  Really remember the day.  Remember where you were.  Remember what the weather was like.  Remember how quiet it was outside in the middle of the day.  Remember how there were no contrails in the sky.  Remember how you felt.  Remember these things.  Now, how badly do you want to avoid another day like that?

That's the context I'm using when hearing about the PRISM Program.  Frankly, I would have been more surprised if there hadn't been such a program going on.  There are many on the left who are up in arms.  I'm not one of them.  We surrendered notions of privacy a long time ago in this country.  If we truly want privacy, than we must do away with Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr.  We must rip out all those surveillance cameras that pervade our city streets, taxi cabs, schools and school buses, convenience stores, banks and private homes.  We must throw away our dash cams and our webcams. 

And those things that we carry on our belts and in our pockets and in our purses--cell phones--must be consigned to the nearest trash can.  Not only can those things be used to trace us, but we can use them to surreptitiously photograph and video-record others without them knowing it.  At any public event these days, there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of potential surveillance cameras and videographers ready to record your every move whether you want them to or not.  That's not the government.  That's us.

But this is our world now, and except for those few who have gone off to live in a cave somewhere or who have forsworn technology, we have fully embraced it. So, are we ready to do away with all that we have created?  If not, we really can't get all high and mighty about the PRISM Program and its impact on our 4th Amendment rights and sensibilities. 

The Internet is a fantastic invention, but we should remember that it's a government invention, born out of a system built originally by the National Science Foundation and several universities.  Is it so surprising that the government might be keeping tabs on what is zipping about on its digital pathways? 

Last week I heard one pundit exclaim that there's no evidence that these government surveillance programs have prevented any significant terrorist event.  I smiled at that.  How did he know?  How did he truly know?  In my view, these programs only have to prevent one terrorist attack in order to be successful.  One will do.  One 9-11.  One Madrid train bombing.  One London transit attack.  One Tokyo gas attack. One Boston Marathon attack.  If lives can be saved and victims spared injury and wars avoided by a program that may be reading my emails, please proceed.  Read away.  Reply if you like.  It beats torturing somebody in a faraway prison, and it's a heck of a lot better than sending thousands of men and women to fight and possibly die in some god-forsaken region of the Earth.




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