Saturday, December 7, 2013

Rand Paul- When Servants Become Oppressors or We Don’t Burn Books Yet

Rand Paul- When Servants Become Oppressors or We Don’t Burn Books Yet


Rand Paul gave a talk after a classified security briefing by the National Security Agency (NSA) to a liberty group gather in at Freedomfest. Given today’s revelations about volume of NSA tracking by the Washington Post, Rand Paul’s speech has taken on a new significance. The depth of that spying includes how “co-travelers” or someone who is in the same bus or subway with a person being watched, is collected in addition to the person being watched.
The talk was given before the revelations by Edward Snowden. It was when most Americans regarded some of the information on NSA spying in the relm of the “tin foil hat club.” Senator Paul eases into his his discussion with a literary example of the character Montag in the story Fahrenheit 451. Montage asks the question, “Wasn’t there a time when fireman put out fires?”
Paul then describes Montag and the other men dowsing the woman and her  books with kerosene. The woman cries out, ”Play the man, Master Ridley, today we will light such a candle!”
The historical reference is lost on the Montag.
The woman being doused uttered the last words of Hugh Latimer to Nicholas Ridley, who was burned with him. Latimer and others were persecuted during the reign of Bloody Mary Queen of England for refuting papal doctrines of religion imposed by the crown.  Latimer had been the favored preacher of King Henry VIII and his son Edward and was of advanced age when he was prosecuted during the Reign of Bloody Mary, Queen of England and eldest daughter of Henry VIII.  Fox’s Book of Martyrs details the event for interested in reading it.
The point of the story is that t role of public servants have a propensity to change.  In the case of fireman in Fahrenheit 451, the role of fireman had evolved over time; instead of putting out fires, they were starting fires. They shifted from being public servants responding to emergencies to being oppressors.
That is Rand Paul’s concern with the government agencies such as the NSA and the TSA. He is concerned that the role of public servants protecting Americans has changed to a role of oppressing Americans. Upon this issue, Paul is well grounded.
He notes that he has asked in briefings to what extent the NSA was reading emails and listening to phone calls. He wanted to know to what extent American’s behavior was being tracked and monitored without a judge’s warrant. He stated that the number of incidents of spying on citizens is much larger than he even suspected, and it was a very large number.
While Rand Paul’s speech was given a year ago, today we know the size of that very large number. It turns out that his “very large number” is indeed large. The Washington Post reports that the NSA tracks nearly 5 billion records a day around the world. It includes people who are “co-travelors” and people who might be in the general area of a person of interest. It seems, based on documents that have been released, that these incidental data are also sorted through by the NSA. As the Washington Post notes,
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.
The Washington Post continues, based on their interview with an unnamed NSA Official,
In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.

Rand Paul  is concerned that Americans are trading freedom for security. He is concerned that Americans are trading their personal dignity and privacy when they travel. Rand Paul is not wrong about this. However, it goes beyond that. He relates a story about a man transporting his father’s ashes in an urn. The TSA insisted on searching the ashes and when  the ashes on the floor, the TSA officials laughed. Then he related a story about a deaf person who was bullied by TSA into giving up his candy. The TSA laughed at the deaf person as they ate his candy.
This isn’t just a loss of dignity. This is bullying, a point Rand Paul doesn’t makes forcefully enough. This is clearly the point where the public servant becomes the oppressor.
Paul then ends with a question that Noah Feldman of Harvard asked in an essay. Feldman asked the next time you  have your hands up in the air for a TSA search, ask yourself if this is the pose of a free man?  The liberty torch is still burning in New York Harbor, but Paul exhorts Americans not to let the flame of liberty go out.
The version at with the date of December 3, 2013  is below.
The version from Freedom Fest dated August 1, 2012 is below. They appear to be the same speech. Given the release today of the NSA data today, the speech, and the issue of servant turned oppressor, has more impact than before.

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