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Robert Scheer: 'Disturbing the Government Is an Obligation of Citizenship'

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

C-SPAN

Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer discusses privacy, cybersecurity and the civil liberty matters at the heart of his new book, “They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy,” with C-SPAN at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Watch Scheer deliver his remarks, beginning at the 36-second mark, here.

“The real issue here,” Scheer begins, “is the warning of books like—we’re at a book festival—’Brave New World’ or ‘1984’: Totalitarianism hardly ever comes with just the jackboot. It comes with your not having privacy, your doing self-censorship. They know what you’re up to. And we’ve entered a very, very dangerous world.

“Our whole government is based on the idea of individual sovereignty. We cede power to the government, not the other way around. After 9/11, we got this crazy idea that somehow government should have all the power and we should beg for some crumbs off the table. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We also have this idea we were founded under: Freedom makes you stronger, that freedom is not a luxury you have in only the best of times, but you need freedom in the worst of times.

“George Washington in his farewell address warned us about the ‘impostures of pretended patriotism.’ It was the founders of our government that gave us checks and balances, that gave us the different parts of the Bill of Rights. Why? They said, ‘Even though we’re gonna be the government … you have to watch us. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. You have to have your zone of privacy, individual space.’

“The Roberts court, in one of their better — in fact I think their best decision — last June on cellphones, smartphone case, said that if the police arrest you and you have your smartphone on you, they can’t crack your code and use that information. That’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And that’s exactly what the American Revolution was fought about: Agents of the king could not come in to your house. OK? That’s why the tea was dumped in the Boston Harbor. And we’ve forgotten that notion, and we’ve surrendered this power, and it’s increasingly held by private agencies that the CIA has funded … and there are no checks and balances. We have been lied to routinely. The head of our whole security apparatus, James Clapper, told the Senate ‘We were not doing this mega-spying, we were not getting this information.’ We now know he was just lying through his teeth. He still has his job. So we don’t have accountability, and my whole point is, the word is not ‘privacy,’ it’s really ‘sovereignty.’ That’s what our Fourth Amendment is about.”

Scheer continues, “The key thing is there’s no evidence that any of this has made us more secure. The evidence is overwhelming: It’s made us more fearful, it intimidates the population, so people engage in self-censorship. That’s what I find with my students here; they say, “Oh, what do I have to worry about?” I say, “That means you don’t think you’re going to do anything that’s pushing the edge. You don’t think you’re gonna take any risk. You’re not gonna trouble the government.” Well, that’s not what our government’s about. We’re supposed to trouble the government. We’re supposed to challenge the government. We’re supposed to have some wild thoughts. We’re supposed to think differently. And we’re supposed to be able to get together with our fellow citizens and then assemble for a redress of grievances in ways that — as long as we’re peaceful — in ways that might disturb the government.

“Disturbing the government is an obligation of citizenship. That’s what we’ve forgotten.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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