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“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”
– Ayn Rand 
In early June 2013 Edward Snowden fled his high-paying job at the National Security Administration and went public with the claim that the federal government is operating an online spying program called PRISM – Protective Research Information System Management – the goal of which is to intercept, record and archive every phone conversation, email message, credit card use, Internet search – any electronic communication – anyone ever makes. Mr. Snowden thus became the latest whistleblower on the NSA since the Bush administration initiated, tried to cover up, then made legal retroactively, warrantless wiretaps – later allowed to stand by the Supreme Court.
What concerns us here is the reaction of Harry Binswanger to such a massive invasion of your correspondence by the state. We begin with a few remarks on the idea of privacy vis-à-vis the government.
You’ve read the Fourth Amendment before but considering how it is being violated wholesale today it’s worth reading again. Keep in mind that “searches and seizures” are searches and seizures by the government:
The Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect you from private snoops who might acquire information about you without trespass or coercion, however a “private spy” acting as an agent of the government is a government spy. The Fourth Amendment, along with the Fifth Amendment, by implication forbids the government from forcing people to spy on you and from forcing you to pay for people to spy on you.
All of which is to say that in a free society the government, without an explicit and valid warrant, doesn’t go through your mail, eavesdrop on your conversations, peep through your windows, break into your home or contracted data line and go through your stuff, or hire others to do it.
“Except when some government functionary decrees otherwise for your own good” is not in the Fourth Amendment.
The government’s recognition of the Fourth Amendment began to disintegrate with the founding of the IRS, whose mission was inconsistent with respect for financial privacy. The 9-11 attack furnished the government its longed-for pretext to spy not only on economic activity but on everything. The NSA (set up by President Truman in 1952 not long after World War II), instead of looking outward to foreign lands, began to look inward at Americans. With modern technology the spying could be done on an unprecedented scale. The government and its shills don’t call it spying though, it is “data mining” – just as torture is “enhanced interrogation.”
Soon patriotic whistleblowers came forward, some at great personal risk and financial loss, to tell the public what the NSA was up to, men such as Thomas Tamm in the U.S. Department of Justice (2004), Mark Klein at AT&T (2004), Russell Tice (2005), Thomas Drake (2005), Kirk Wiebe and William Binney all of the National Security Administration. 
William Binney, a former mathematician at the NSA, in a talk on July 13, 2012:
Edward Snowden, the latest whistleblower, claims that the NSA’s surveillance has become even more extensive, at least in its goal, than that exposed by earlier whistleblowers. He claims the NSA, besides recording the customer logs of the top three phone companies, is hacking into Internet backbone routers to eavesdrop on traffic, and tapping directly into the servers of leading U.S. Internet companies, collecting email, Internet searches and credit-card transactions.  Quoting from a June 10, 2013 interview:
Those who object to this surveillance get treated like unruly children. Here is Harry Reid, U.S. Senate Majority Leader, on June 6, 2013 right after Snowden’s revelations:
Snowden himself got the full monty from leftists and neoconservatives: he is a “traitor,” “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison,” etc. John Yoo, the immigrant from South Korea famous for Bush administration memos justifying U.S. institutionalized torture, wrote in Nation Review Online: “Edward Snowden should go to jail, as quickly and for as long as possible.”
On June 21, Snowden’s 30th birthhday, the Department of Justice charged him on three counts, two under the Espionage Act, so that he now faces 30 years in prison, with more charges pending.
You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were writing a— hmm....
When Ayn Rand was working on her novel Atlas Shrugged she kept a file of news stories that portended a fascist America like the one she was fictionalizing and warning against. She called it her “horror file.” Years later when she published The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist magazine, occasionally she included a section called “From the ‘Horror File’ ” consisting of the latest such news stories. The revelations about the NSA by Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden et al belong in any Objectivist Horror File today.
Four days after Snowden went public the Wall Street Journal printed an editorial entitled “ ‘Big Brother’ and Big Data” (no byline). It too is Horror File material. Among its points:
• “... the more such information the government collects the less of an intrusion it is.” The author argues this paradox by confusing degree of intrusion with ease of searchability, but even then he is mistaken: supercomputers and ganged microcomputers can search through enormous databases in microseconds.
• “The search is for trends, patterns, associations, networks. They are not ... invasions of individual privacy at all.” But the invasion is not the search, it is gathering the data in the first place. After that the data can, and doubtless eventually will, be searched in any number of ways.
• “The alternative ... is [lower-tech methods of intrusion which would be even worse].” (The editorial is subtitled with the take-home line: “The alternative to automated sweeps is more privacy invasion.”) No Mr. WSJ Editorialist, the alternative is the Fourth Amendment and government doing its real job, as we elaborate at the end of this essay.
• “... Edward Snowden, ... who proudly claims he exposed these surveillance programs, has provided no evidence of their abuse.” Again, the author pretends not to understand that the program itself is the abuse. The evidence is merely to point at it. For now the politically connected might not be using it to blackmail opponents, track political dissidents, etc. – who knows? – but that is immaterial, it still violates private property.
• “What our self-styled civil libertarians [note the mockery] should really fear is another successful terror attack ... . Then the political responses could include [a long list of draconian measures]. Practices like data-mining save lives [earlier the author had repeated the government handout to that effect], and in doing so they protect against far greater intrusions on individual freedom.” In other words, the government violating your rights protects you from the government violating your rights even more. If the government doesn’t violate your rights this-a-way, it will violate your rights that-a-way. You have to wonder how stupid the author thinks his readers are.
Harry Binswanger, besides being on the governing board of the Ayn Rand Institute and a founding member, runs the “Harry Binswanger List” or HBL. It is an email publication “for Objectivists, moderated by Dr. Binswanger, for discussing philosophic and cultural issues” (quoting the HBL website). A subscription costs $14 paid by the month or $145 by the year. In 2006 there were over 800 subscribers. 
On the day the Wall Street Journal editorial appeared – June 10, 2013 – Mr. Binswanger posted a message to his list titled
• “the government having collected” – as if the collection were in the past. Mr. Binswanger softens the fact that the collection is ongoing and perpetual.More comments afterwards. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse: 
• “ ‘meta data’ about phone calls and such” – hides the extent of the government’s invasion: record and store everything you do online and over the phone. The government uses the word “metadata” to fool people into thinking it’s not real data. Phone call “metadata” is the phone numbers, locations and times, which is real data, and as Snowden made clear in his exposé, the goal – substantially achieved – is all the data, including the audio.
• “reportedly” hides the source of the reports (on the benefits of the NSA), namely government officials and politicians. One must be skeptical when the fox reports on the hen house.
• “it’s better to have all the sources of information we can” insinuates the idea that we are the ones collecting the information, when in fact it is not we but them. It’s as if Mr. Binswanger identifies with the police state apparatus.
In what follows we call the PRISM program “Panopticon,” a more descriptive name. It was coined by the Englishman Jeremy Bentham in 1791 for a building he had designed that allowed watchmen to observe those inside without their being aware of it. 
Mr. Binswanger’s next sentence is mealy-mouthed backside-covering: “... some reining in may well be called for.” That is the extent of his criticism. “May well” indeed. He concludes by smearing critics of Panopticon as unhelpful alarmists.
Mr. Binswanger’s egocentric style annoys. He has no secrets? He speaks for himself, you on the other hand might have secrets and private places. His not having any is no reason to allow the government to force its way into yours.
The first paragraph of Mr. Binswanger’s “Excerpt of the Day” repeats the government handout: spying on you prevents terrorist attacks.  His second paragraph assumes (following the Wall Street Journal editorial) that the U.S. government’s proper or unavoidable reaction to a successful terrorist attack is to descend to dictatorship. How else to explain his argument:
1. If the U.S. becomes a dictatorship the dictator can set up a spy agency and spy on you any way he wants.In fact dictatorship is not a proper or unavoidable response to anything, and Panopticon is already a long way down the road to dictatorship.
2. Therefore the government spying on you now is nothing to worry about.
Mr. Binswanger believes “there is nothing inherently wrong with the government” spying on you. Note the qualification “inherently.” It sounds like he thinks Panopticon is wrong and right at the same time. It’s wrong, but not inherently wrong?
Whatever was on his fuzzy mind, Panopticon is just plain wrong. It violates the spirit of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments – the fourth regarding searches of property and the fifth regarding taking of property – as pointed out at the beginning of this essay. Panopticon erodes the First Amendment too – regarding freedom of speech and assembly – by focusing unwarranted police suspicion on innocent speech.
The goal of censorship is to limit private thought. Panopticon is censorship’s natural ally.
On second thought don’t worry about it. Mr. Binswanger’s got nothing to hide. 
9-11 was the result not of “they hate us ’cuz we’re free” but rather (1) the U.S. mucking around in the Middle East, and (2) unrestricted immigration and visas. End both and we – we authentic Americans, not those living off the U.S. government – would be better off: safer, freer and more prosperous. The Ayn Rand Institute blathers about saving American lives, and blanks out the obvious.
The blowback issue is discussed on other pages of ARI Watch. The Ayn Rand Institute was all in favor of bombing Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and yearns to see Iran bombed as well, Syria too. That and every dollar of foreign and military aid gifted to Israel is in America’s interest, ARI claims. Israel’s interest happens to be your interest. We won’t repeat here our criticism of this altruism masquerading as selfishness.
As for the immigration / visa problem, ARI Watch has yet to address it to the depth it deserves. This isn’t the place but a few brief comments without much explanation follow.
Third World immigration is harmful to Western culture. Recent events in America (the Boston Marathon bombing) and England (the Woolwich killing) illustrate the point dramatically. The conspirators in the New York City subway bomb plot, one of the few real terrorist plots (as opposed to FBI manufactured ones [8 again] ), were all “naturalized” Third World immigrants – Najibullah Zazi, Zarein Ahmedzay, Adis Medanjanin – immigrants we could have done without. The hateful Tsarnaev brothers – hateful in acts and looks – who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing despite the NSA, should never have been let into the country, much less given citizenship and then welfare checks.
ARI advocates unrestricted immigration, even illegal immigration, including from the Third World. Snapshots from ARI’s production on this over the years:
“Any restrictions on immigration – large or small – trample the rights of both employers and job-seeking immigrants.”I am not making this up. Addressing those who donated to ARI: This is where part of your money ended up. In La La Land.
— Robert Tracinski“Opposition to Immigration is Un-American”
ARI Op-Ed January 15, 1999.
“The principle of individual rights demands open immigration. Implementing that would mean phasing out all limitations on immigration. Entry into the United States should ultimately be free for any foreigner, absent objective evidence of criminal intent or infectious disease.”
— Harry Binswanger“Anti-Immigration Rhetoric Frighteningly Reveals Education’s Failure”
Forbes magazine February 3, 2013
(a reworking of “Immigration Quotas vs. Individual Rights: The Moral and Practical Case for Open Immigration” Capitalism Magazine April 2, 2006).
“The problem of ‘illegal’ immigration can be solved at the stroke of a pen: legalize immigration. ... I admire those who broke our rotten, rights-defying anti-immigration laws to come here.”
— Harry Binswanger“The Solution to ‘Illegal Immigration’ ”
Capitalism Magazine May 20, 2006.
“The solution to illegal immigration is to make it legal.”
— Yaron Brook“Open Immigraion Policy”
ARI lecture uploaded to YouTube March 17, 2008.
“The principle of individual rights ... mandates open immigration.”
— Craig Biddle“Immigration and Individual Rights”
Capitalism Magazine March 21, 2008.
“The border between the U.S. and Mexico (and between the U.S. and Canada) should be exactly like the border between Connecticut and Massachusetts: you see ‘Welcome to Massachusetts’ and otherwise you are unaware of the difference.”
— Harry Binswanger“Collectivist Arizona Immigration Law Is Anti-Capitalist”
Capitalism Magazine April 28, 2012.
“Open immigration is both morally right and economically beneficial. ... If we let enough [immigrants] in, perhaps their number will offset the growing number of the native born who simper that America is the land of entitlement.”
— Andrew Bernstein“Open Immigration Will Greatly Slow America’s Rush Toward An Entitlement State”
Forbes magazine June 12, 2012.
“... let’s demonstrate the moral confidence, and intellectual rigor, to bid welcome to all; by offering them a proud and rational exposition of our nation’s principles and ideals.” [In other words: Open borders with lecture included.]
— Amit Ghate“Does Immigration Actually Threaten American Culture?”
Forbes magazine November 12, 2012.
“An ‘illegal’ immigrant is, in principle, like a Jew in Nazi Germany who refused to wear the yellow star.”
— Harry Binswanger“Amnesty For Illegal Immigrants Is Not Enough, They Deserve An Apology”
Forbes magazine March 4, 2013.
“Immigrants are fantastic for the U.S. economy. ... I don’t know what I would do without all the people, all the illegal – so-called illegal – immigrants today in the system who do work for me. My life is better off because they’re working for me, there’s no question.”
Thus ARI writers argue for open immigration, including Muslim immigrants.  Yet sometimes they say restrictions must be placed on the property rights of the Muslims. (See Leonard Peikoff’s podcast of June 28, 2010 about the particular case of erecting a building.) And, until recently, ARI remained silent in the face of the most blatant violations of the Fourth Amendment alleged to be necessary to catch would-be terrorists – almost all of whom (if the NSA’s examples can be believed) are hyphenated-Americans.
Such “reactive statism” – statism intended to fix a problem created by the state – endangers our lives and property rights. We get crushed in a pincer movement: Third World immigrants pushing us on one side, statism pushing us on the other in reaction. Far better – indeed good in itself – is to restrict immigration. This is not statism – contrary to what ARI maintains – it is a proper function of government in protecting the country from invasion. 
ARI writers promote both mucking around on the other side of the earth and Third World immigration – invade the world, invite the world. Neoconservatives use the problems caused by these two policies to justify setting up a police state. This may help explain ARI’s failure to adequately denounce the burgeoning police state.
The ARI Watch Links page features several videos of the whistleblowers mentioned above. Thomas Drake, former senior executive at the NSA and former Assistant Professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, is especially articulate. With his knowledge of history and political philosophy he makes sense of what is going on today.
Coming soon on ARI Watch: “Too Little Too Late”: a review of Yaron Brook’s tardy – twelve years tardy – comments on the Patriot Act.