A friend who lives in another country sent me a note Friday to let me know that he’d listed my name and phone number on his application to the U.S. government for a tourist visa. We joked back and forth for a couple of minutes about him coming to recruit terrorist agents or set off bombs or something, but I suddenly realized something I didn’t like.
Even though these were private messages we were exchanging and we were clearly joking in the context of him having to answer stupid questions on a visa application, I realized that I felt just a touch of nervousness. It wasn’t quite fear, but it was close. I found myself hesitant to make completely innocent jokes — simply because of the insanely paranoid police state that’s sprung up over the last decade in the name of fighting terrorism.
There was a time when I had confidence that the things I said in personal online correspondence were almost certainly private, because I didn’t fear being targeted for any reason. But given the increasingly paranoid attitudes and actions of politicians and bureaucrats, I no longer have that confidence.
There was a time when I was confident that even if my words were monitored, the truth was enough to protect me. If I had had the conversation I just described 10 years ago, I would have figured that anybody would have understood we were joking and that actual nefarious intent would be required before something bad happened to me. I don’t believe that anymore.
Instead, I live in a world where people are wrongfully arrested and thrown into prison — sometimes because government agents have made mistakes and sometimes because an individual made a simple, honest mistake. Even worse, I live in a world where I can be declared a terrorist — on the whim of a president — and sent to a military prison with no trial and no hope of appeal to courts.
This is not the free country that I thought I grew up in. I’ve come to realize that it never was as free as we were taught — and it’s getting more and more unfree today.
The constitutions of the Soviet Union and the various communist countries guaranteed the people there a tremendous amount of freedom — in theory. The reality was that they had no freedom, because politicians and bureaucrats could arrest them at their whim. We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than we’ve been in my lifetime — and I fear it’s only going to get worse.