Independence Day reminds us of Americas genesis. It was a fight against intrusive government that did as it thought best without asking permission.
Its useful to revisit this origin story, not so much to draw factual comparisons between the 1770s and the 21st century, but to see if we are living up to the standards set by those alchemists of democracy. Does a pound of courage in 2013 weigh the same as it did in 1776? Do we still possess the same ingredients for national success today as we did in the beginning?
This is an inquiry for every year and every generation of Americans. But it is particularly relevant today considering ongoing revelations about the secret pervasiveness of the national security apparatus. It more and more appears that we have at least two governments. One is about outward appearances speeches and advertising and public relations. Another, which we are suddenly learning much more about, is concerned with watching and listening and recording pretty much everything.
The latest revelation is that the government retains detailed photos of the outsides of all the mail passing through the U.S. Postal Service. This hasnt stirred a lot of animosity, perhaps because the news was linked with the successful investigation into who was mailing poison-filled letters to government officials.
Closely watching what everyone mails, like closely tracking various broad categories of phone calls and emails, clearly has strong usefulness for investigators who combat domestic and foreign criminals and terrorists. The chance is essentially nil that anybody reading this editorial will ever catch the attention of this system. Nor is it very likely anyone is listening in on our phone conversations.
So why should we care?
Our nations founders would have cared intensely. In their time, it wasnt the National Security Agency invisibly infiltrating the world for our own good, but rather King George III imposing taxes and quartering troops in our homes to protect us against the French. Searches of homes could occur at a whim here in the remote new world. People were arrested and compelled to make admissions.
Other than getting stuck with obnoxious taxes to pay for it all, most 18th century Americans were quite unaffected by all this. But they became angry anyway. Enough decided that their lives and their childrens lives would be better with more freedom, even at the cost of less security. We dispensed with the safety of living as part of the worlds most powerful empire.
Now, were back to paying obnoxiously high taxes in the name of security. As of October 2012, 4.91 million people had U.S. security clearances. These are people drawing tax-supported salaries in the keeping-us-safe industry.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden may be a vainglorious and self-important attention seeker. But this doesnt mean hes entirely wrong. Last month he wondered if modern Americans wont be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.
Events will soon tell whether he was right. It is time for us and our elected leaders to take a renewed stand for freedom.