Fox News’s Kirsten Powers certainly seems to think that such widespread data mining is acceptable, asking critics on Twitter last week: “how r they supposed to know who to target before the data is mined to find suspicious activity? it has to be ‘blanket’ initially.”
This is an utterly terrifying suggestion, a principle that could be applied to almost anything in any place and at any time. Are we routinely to obtain warrants in order to search each and every house in a city so that we might know which house warrants even more thorough scrutiny? I rather think not. And yet if it is acceptable for the state to apply a single search-and-seize permission slip to hundreds of millions of people on the off chance that something might turn up, why not, say, to all the homes in Dearborn, Michigan?
When I entered into arrangements with American Express, Google, and AT&T, I took a calculated risk with my privacy. I took that risk with American Express, not with the federal government; with Google, not with President Obama; and with AT&T, not the national-security services. Are we to presume now that all private agreements implicitly involve the state? And if so, where is the limiting principle? If I am to expect that private information I keep on a server run by a private company will be routinely accessed by the government without my knowledge, then why would I not also expect that private belongings I keep in a storage unit run by a private company will be routinely accessed without my knowledge? At what point did it become assumed in free countries that relationships between free citizens and free businesses were not sacrosanct? And if privacy is not expected, what explains the furious denials of participation from the likes of Google?