Not long after I started my first job, my boss asked me to draft a memo for him. I did it, sent the draft to him and a few minutes later he called me into his office. I was convinced that he was about to tell me how much my writing impressed him.
Instead, he marked up the draft, handed it back and told me to redo it. My boss pointed out that some of the information I included in the memo should not be disclosed. "Whenever you write something that at least one other person is going to read, assume that everybody will read it," he said. "Anything written down is eligible for the front page of the New York Times."
That lesson stuck with me. Since that day, I have always assumed that anything I put on paper, in an email or a text became part of the public record as soon as I hit send regardless of whether I mark it privileged and confidential. For the most part, no one with whom I communicated has shared anything I communicated to them beyond the scope we agreed. Nonetheless, I still assume that anything I write can show up anywhere.
And the federal government is proving that assumption sound.
This past week's revelations about the PRISM program and the FISA court order issued to Verizon for the National Security Administration took me back to the time I read George Orwell's "1984" in the 10th grade. The only thing missing from this week's saga has been a Winston Smith-type character charged with rewriting old news stories to support the party line.
The government's responsibility to provide for the common defense of our nation is explicitly stated in the Constitution. The citizen's right to privacy is not. However, as Americans, we believe privacy is a right. In a country governed for the people and by the people, the citizens' collective belief in the right to privacy should make it so.
Personally, I resist the idea that I have to surrender my right to privacy, or liberty, for the federal government to meet its responsibility to protect the country. So, I was troubled by the revelations of the past week. But, I was also troubled when the USA PATRIOT Act became law in 2001, was reauthorized in 2006 and reauthorized again 2011. By expanding the definition of "terrorism" to include "domestic terrorism," the USA PATRIOT Act set the stage for our government to turn its surveillance efforts inward. Now, the stark reality of what that means has been laid bare for the average American citizen to see.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.