Be wary of civil rights violations, government-watched Internet use

There you are, walking out of the Student Center on a seemingly normal Wednesday afternoon. The sun is shining, the clouds are fluffy and the skies are devoid of Russian fighter jets for yet another day. Everything seems to be okay, right?Wrong. Someone’s watching you. Little do you know that everyone, everywhere in the world can scope out every student who walks into or out of the Student Center. They can even take your picture. All it takes is a visit to the Residential Services Web site.

Scared? It’s only natural.

The thought of a sweaty 43-year-old man in a Battlestar Galactica T-shirt taking pictures of the student body without its consent is enough to send a collective shiver down TCU’s spine.

The advent of higher technology is increasingly putting most of the developed world into a low-privacy vacuum that’s surprisingly easy for anyone, especially the government, to infiltrate. And, trust me, Uncle Sam is much more threatening than any middle-age computer geek.

Look, I’m not going to try defending social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Those who put personal information on display do so on their own accord. If it’s something designed for other people to view and/or enjoy, then assume that all other people, such as the FBI, will take advantage of. It’s not an invasion of privacy when a friend from history class gets arrested for posting pictures of his “marijuana and jailbait party” on Facebook.

However, there are more disturbing activities to discuss, such as presumably private search engine records being released to the government.

Just last year, the Department of Justice subpoenaed four Internet companies to surrender their records as part of an eight-year battle to protect children from Internet pornography. America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo! all complied to a certain degree, giving a week’s worth of search topics but not giving any personally identifiable information about those who made the searches. Yes, the companies keep a log of every search you make.

Sure, these Internet giants didn’t give out any personally identifiable information this time, but a dangerous line has been crossed. What’s to stop them from giving out the identities of every user in favor of whatever anti-terrorist guilt trip that the Bush administration can send them on? The Department of Justice already has its foot in the door, so barging in just got a whole lot easier.

The classic big government defense would sound something like, “If you’re not breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about” or “It helps us to defeat al-Qaida.” Sure, but how far are we willing to bend on our civil liberties in order to protect this country? If present trends continue, the government will start wire-tapping private phone calls. Oh wait, they already did that. Starting to get nervous?

It’s time to draw a line in the sand. Government encroachment on private activity via the Internet is a dangerous road that seems like a turn toward an authoritarian state. Whether or not people are using the Internet illegally, citizens should be wary of impending violations of their civil liberties. Some might argue that it’s un-American to question the government’s authority, but, if we never had, we’d still be speaking the king’s English and sipping tea and eating crumpets.

There’s a limit to authority, people. There’s a limit.

David Hall is a freshman news-editorial journalism major from Kingwood. His column appears Wednesdays.