This weekend, a federal judge denied part of the Justice Department’s request for the popular Internet search engine Google to turn over files that would have given the government insight into who searches for what on the Web. It’s yet another example of a government that is quickly leaving notions such as “we the people” behind and replacing those notions with a society in which only the government’s rights are absolute.
It is hard to imagine a world in which one could not type something into the search window that is now ubiquitous in many popular Web browsers and have an instantaneous stream of knowledge and data returned within a matter of seconds. “Googling it” has become synonymous with conducting Web research. What could be more basic than the inhabitants of a free and democratic society having such unbarred access to information?
The judge presiding over the case said in his ruling he felt there were “privacy concerns” and would therefore not entirely rule in favor of the Justice Department. The verdict did, however, call for 50,000 Web addresses to be handed over to the government.
In this particular case, the Justice Department asked Google and other Internet-based companies to hand over search-related data in order to stifle Internet pornography, particularly pedophilia.
Stopping pedophilia is definitely a cause that’s worthy of the Justice Department’s time. Who wouldn’t want perverse exploitation of children to stop? But while the intentions behind this request were probably honorable, the idea of the U.S. government having the right to know what its citizens are doing on the Web is dubious at best and scary at worst.
This is hardly something new. Harriet Miers’ bungled Supreme Court nomination, the fizzled United Arab Emirates port deal and Iraq – the mother of all bungled operations – are but a few of the instances in which the Bush administration has shot itself in the foot. Interestingly, it was a lack of honesty on the administration’s part that is responsible for most of these missteps.
Nobody knew who Harriet Miers was and how her opinion would sway the Supreme Court had she received a seat on it. Instead of releasing information about Miers, the Bush administration stonewalled, huffed and puffed, then finally released a few scraps. Even Congress balked at the clearly inadequate way in which the Bush administration was handling the lifetime nomination of a justice to the nation’s highest court, going so far as to call the affair an “affront” to the very ideals of checks and balances on which the U.S. government is supposed to operate on. It was an affront, but it was also a colossal waste of time and political capital.
The same happened in Iraq. President Bush was hell-bent on taking out Saddam Hussein’s regime and focused on weapons of mass destruction in his pitch to the American public. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was quoted in an infamous Vanity Fair interview in 2003 as saying, “For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Never mind that it turned out to be a lie.
Time and time again, the administration has proven its underlying motto of secrecy: If we don’t absolutely have to tell you, we won’t.
The complete lack of regard for privacy by the Justice Department is staggering, yet not surprising. It does, after all, come from the same administration that gave America the Patriot Act.
The “good” news is that this political stubbornness is not working out too well for the president. According to a Pew survey, Bush’s approval ratings reached a new low of 33 percent last week – but they’ve been below 40 percent for some time now. These numbers seem even lower considering that the Bush administration has spent a record $1.6 billion over the past 30 months in an effort to maintain public support for the administration’s increasingly surreal policies.
Bush’s has fewer than 1,000 days left in his term. But if the speed with which this administration is trampling on or throwing out civil liberties holds steady, more than enough will be done to damage American society for years to come.
Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and is a former Oracle opinion editor.