By TERENCE P. JEFFREY
The zeal and expertise of the federal government in using modern technology is not evenly distributed across all its functions — legitimate and otherwise.
Our government cannot build a web site to efficiently sell insurance to people whom it has compelled by law to buy insurance, but it can collect the domestic phone records of Americans and store them for years in a massive database.
That database is theoretically so efficient — as opposed to the Obamacare web site — that the government can use it to track down terrorists operating clandestinely in the United States.
“Through targeted computerized searches of those metadata records, the NSA tries to discern connections between terrorist organizations and previously unknown terrorist operatives located in the United States,” said a federal judge in mid-December, who argued that the NSA’s system probably violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches.
Yet for all the enthusiasm that the federal government has shown in collecting the metadata records of Americans — ostensibly to protect us from foreign agents operating within our borders — it has not bothered to control our borders themselves.
Presumably, we should be thankful that the unknown foreign nationals who covertly enter our country every day — without being logged into any database whatsoever — can, just like everyone else in the neighborhood, have their cell-phone metadata collected by the NSA once they have moved into suburbs of Washington, D.C.
With the advance of electronics, and their pervasive use, it is not far-fetched to imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when much of a person’s life can be tracked — and potentially controlled — by government.
Health records will be electronic, exchangeable by Internet and capable of being loaded into their own massive government database. Automobiles will be fully automated, and quite possibly directed and driven by physical and electronic infrastructures owned and operated by the government. Home air-conditioners and heating systems will be hooked up to an electrical grid that will allow someone outside your home not only to monitor the temperature you have set on your thermostat — but change it if they do not like it.
How will men stay free in such a world?
Electronic devices are tools that can be used for good or evil. What matters is who uses them and for what purpose.
Electronic health records can make it easier for doctors to treat people who are sick and keep people well. Automated vehicles can make it easier, safer, and more enjoyable for people to travel where they want and when they want. An intelligent electrical system could more efficiently deliver power to customers who want to spend their own money to buy it — to keep their home or business as cool or warm as they like it.
Electronic health-care records could also be used in developing and enforcing a governmental system of health-care rationing. Automated vehicles could be used to stop people from going where, or when, the government does not want them to go. Remotely controlled thermostats could be used to stop people from heating or cooling their homes in the interest of, say, preventing “climate change.”
The Founding Fathers of this country understood that there are absolute rules of right and wrong that all men and all governments must obey. And that human beings are imperfect and thus constantly tempted to violate these rules.
When the flawed human beings in government are permitted to routinely break the moral rules and violate the rights of the citizens, a nation is on the road to tyranny. Our Founding Fathers wrote a Constitution for a strictly limited government specifically designed to deny human beings in government the authority to violate the rights of citizens or impose inordinate controls on their lives.
In recent decades, many of our political and cultural leaders have proudly denied the basic unchangeable rule of right and wrong. At the same time, politicians and judges have worn down the constitutional limits on the federal government.
Were American politicians obedient to both the moral rules and the constitutional limits on government power, the dawning age of super-electronics would be an age of wonders.
In an era of growing government power and amorality, it could become an age of horrors.
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(Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSnews.com. Creators Syndicate distributes his column; all rights reserved.)