Yesterday, while reading the New York Times online a headline caught my eye. It read: " N.S.A. Often Broke Rules on Privacy, Audit Shows."
The N.S.A. (National Security Agency) administers the massive electronic surveillance operation revealed by (now fugitive) whistleblower Edward Snowden. Americans have been assured that the data mining adheres to strict standards designed to protect innocent individuals, but we now learn (not surprisingly) that those standards are regularly ignored.
The U.S. government spies on its citizens in America and overseas. The surveillance extends to phone calls, e-mails, Internet search histories, text and instant messages — every modern mode of human communication.
Defenders of the gargantuan and unprecedented spy apparatus insist that it's an effective and necessary tool in the global war on terror®. Further, some surveillance advocates declare: "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear."
And yet, this U.S. government administered program exists in near total secrecy, with virtually no public, judicial, or legislative oversight. It is also in clear violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, in part: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."
So, what does this have to do with SexArt?
At the moment, absolutely nothing! But it's all too easy to imagine a time or circumstance when a giant, super-secret, unregulated surveillance program could be used to track, record, censor, or even completely eliminate your access to erotic art and entertainment.
Today, in this country, there is a small but vocal group of anti-erotica zealots. Whether due to their political or religious beliefs, they see access by adults to sexually explicit materials as a threat — to their moral values, to the nuclear family, to civilization itself. These people are extremists, they are far outside the mainstream, and their arguments are unfounded and fallacious.
But what if someone who held these crackpot views managed to gain real political power or high elected office? Do you think they would hesitate to harass, persecute, or even prosecute producers and consumers of erotica?
No? Well, they've done it before. The so-called "Meese Report," produced by then U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese on then President Ronald Reagan's order, was a big — fortunately unsuccessful — step towards suppressing the adult entertainment industry. But the censors, the "social conservatives," and the morality police are still out there. Waiting.
It's also worth noting that in a complex, chaotic, and dangerous world, where real concerns are many — war, civil strife, unemployment, poverty, and environmental disaster, to name but a few — it can become politically expedient to have something to divert and distract public attention. A war on poverty? Too difficult! Too expensive! But a war on porn? Cheap and easy!
High tech surveillance is very much a product of the 21st century, but this admonition from Benjamin Franklin is even more important today than when he wrote it over two hundred years ago: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."