Saturday, May 11, 2013

Let Me Participate!

You've heard it said, "we are the government."  A representative democracy has the task of electing its officials to make decisions on their behalf.  According to NBC News, President Obama at a recent 2013 Ohio University Commencement called for "full time citizens" and pleaded for less "cynicism" regarding our government.  He advised "we" (being the people), have great authority (Source).    We do have great authority as we elect officials, help campaign, vote, and generally participate in a democratic process.  Right?

Although the president's call for participation and exercise of authority sounded very high minded, what authority do we have?  Over the years, a number of measures have been passed to protect "sensitive" information including the: Espionage Act of 1917, Atmoic Energy Act of 1954, and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (Source 2).   The Acts all centered around the protection of information that if discovered by foreign governments would cause great harm to US interests. 

Fast forward to today, where there are hundreds of thousands of classified documents, and the vast majority of them are not protecting personal names, strategic locations, or WMD construction information.  If you believe this to be conspiratory, read through some of the documents leaked by Private Bradley Manning, or the Nixon cover up, or most importantly, the leaked "Pentagon Papers" when the government knew the Vietnam war was not winnable a decade before it ended.

It becomes apparent pretty quickly that our government is and has been classifying information from us for a long time, and that they are afraid of us knowing things.  On May 4, 2013, writer for "The Guardian," Glenn Greenwald, did a fantastic piece on former counter terrorism agent, Tim Clemente, who appeared with Erin Burnett on CNN . 

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: "So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not. (Source 3)"
The implications here seem pretty clear.  Although the government tracks what average citizens are saying on a day to day basis, we are not allowed to know when "embarassing" things happen within government.  This raises a couple of important questions.  What authority do we then have Mr. President?  We don't know what the government is doing, you won't tell us, but you know what we're doing.  Secondly, if we don't know what our government is doing, how do we know that our elected our officials aren't doing anything nefarious?  If we shouldn't be as cynical about our government being tyranical, give us reason to believe differently.

The president isn't doing anything different than presidents in the past, but we can't have it both ways.  The government either needs to be more transparent when it comes to "non-sensitive" information, even information that is damaging to the governments reputation. If this doesn't happen, we are no longer able to participate in government.  We can't be "full time citizens." 

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