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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Federal Blackmail, Privacy, and Conformity


In today’s FFF Email Update, I have an article about the federal war on telephone privacy, the government program in which certain telephone companies allegedly turned over people’s private telephone records to the feds.

A common bromide among some Americans is: “I don’t care what information about my telephone calls the feds get because I’m not a criminal. As far as I’m concerned, they can do whatever they want to protect me from the terrorists.”

What such innocent naives fail to understand is that there is another factor to consider in the government’s securing of private information about people — blackmail and extortion, either directly or subtly.

Most everyone has a certain ambit of his life that he wishes to keep private, even if it doesn’t involve criminal behavior. This zone of privacy often involves matters that might be very embarrassing if they were released to the public.

Thus, the government’s intrusion into that sphere provides government officials with an inordinate amount of power over the citizenry, for each person knows that if he bucks the feds, the feds could easily retaliate by leaking the private information to some favored journalist. Such being the case, once people realize that the government has such power and such information, the natural tendency becomes to conform and “go along” for fear of retribution for refusing to do so.

Before anyone cries “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory!” let’s not forget that that is exactly how J. Edgar Hoover operated throughout his career as head of the FBI. He had his agents monitor the private activities of other government officials, including the president of the United States, and then retained the information in secret files in his office. If one of those government officials got out of line, for example by trying to get Hoover ousted from office, Hoover would not hesitate to leak a bit of private information about the recalcitrant official to the press. Since other government officials knew that Hoover operated in this way, that influenced how they treated Hoover. Inevitably, conformity was the safe route to follow.

What was Hoover’s official rationale for monitoring the private lives of other government officials and compiling such personal information? You got it! “National security” and the “communist threat.”

Would U.S. officials today do the same thing that Hoover did with information acquired from the telephone companies? Make no mistake about it — absolutely! For one, many of them were trained under Hoover, and they still idolize him. More important, most U.S. officials have the same mindset about terrorism that Hoover had about communism. They honestly believe that America is engaged in a war that could result in the terrorist conquest of America. They have convinced themselves that anything goes in the “war on terror.” The standard government mindset is: In the war on terror, you’re either with us or against us.

What’s important to note in all this is that government officials don’t even have to blackmail anyone overtly. Once people discover that the government might have violated their own individual spheres of privacy and might now have files on what they have said, expressed, and done in their private lives, the tendency is to become a nice, compliant, conformed sheeplings, fearful that otherwise government agents will leak the embarrassing personal information they have acquired to the press.

Hopefully, American will rise above any fears of federal blackmail, extortion, and retaliation and demand a dismantling of the federal “war on terror,” along with all the horror it has spawned, including torture and sex abuse, rendition, wars of aggression, illegal occupations, Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, warrantless searches, indefinite detentions, kangaroo military commissions, denial of due process and jury trials, and the securing of private telephone records of the American people. The day that government officials fear the people more than the people fear the government will be the day we regain our freedom, privacy, security, and well-being.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.