The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

What Privacy?

May 12, 2001

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 2, Issue 26

This article appeared on on Thursday, May 9, 2002.

What caused American society to pay particular attention to privacy issues in the 1960s and í70s? More important, what now causes the average person to yawn when Congressman Bob Barr and a precious few others try to warn us that our liberties and privacy are on the chopping block, being sacrificed to big business in the cause of commerce, or big government in the cause of national security?

FBI special agents have a keen awareness of the issues of a citizenís privacy. All federal law enforcement officersí training includes heavy emphasis on privacy rights, and after the academy, periodic training takes place on a field-office level to remind officers what data they can and canít gather about citizens during their investigations.

While I imagine the majority of well-trained federal agents are familiar with the Bill of Rights and follow the guidelines to the best of their abilities, believe me, they donít obsess on the topic of your privacy rights. The reason they are sensitive to this issue at all is because special emphasis on privacy matters occurred after the Nixon administration – and made for very lively conversations in law schools, prosecutorsí offices, gatherings of defense attorneys and anywhere a policeman or federal agent clocked in to get his pay.

Then, the New Left was worried about your privacy. They had good reasons to complain about "Big Brother" back then, but have maintained their silence recently, as personal data is gathered daily, as if we were being sucked clean of all our personal secrets by some enormous shop-vac.

The Nixon administration believed there was a "Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy" determined to destroy America and also take down the Nixon administration. The FBI, along with so many other federal agencies maintained files on thousands of campus radicals, many in business, and those in the media and Hollywood who had expressed anti-American views to the degree that they were believed to be subversive, and quite possibly "dangerous."

There were many minority groups who advocated and used violence to get what they wanted. Burning cities and exploding bombs were evidence that they could generate the kind of actions and riot-inciting rhetoric that any federal government would find disturbing, and a threat to national security.

The Black Panther Party, the Students for a Democratic Society, and many other "radical" groups were engaged in violent acts and acts of domestic terror too numerous to list here. Those who attempt to describe that era in our nationís history as the time of the "peaceful war protester" or energizing "civil-rights marches" are forgetting the violence and counting on the average citizenís disinterest in accurate history. Bad times are best forgotten, I guess.

But the reason the federal governmentís feet were held so close to the fire after those years was because the FBI and other agencies were wire-tapping the phones of the New Left and conducting secret entries into their residences and places of business, looking for fugitives or evidence of conspiracies. What was true then is probably true today. Itís likely that after eight years of Bill and Hillary Clinton, FBI files are chock full of notes and memos and reports about the activities of the so-called "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy." What the Clintons could not get from the FBI was quite possibly obtained through the use of former federal agents, now in business as private investigators, some willing to break a law or two for a high-paying client.

What are my grounds for such serious allegations? After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Clinton administration made much of a shadowy group plotting to commit more terrorist acts. After all, we had seen the lunacy of the Branch Davidians in 1993, right? They had a stash of automatic weapons hidden somewhere near Waco, Texas, and their leader was speaking gibberish, indicating a serious instability, so we were told. Four ATF federal agents died when search warrants were presented, and after violent resistance, the compound burned to the ground.

We had a big murder-suicide in the name of religion on U.S. soil, and thatís the way it was played. According to Clinton administration officials, the Branch Davidians were very dangerous. Two years later, Timothy McVeigh and "persons unknown" blew up the Murrah Federal Building. This was a horrible and vicious crime, but hardly part of a pattern of activity.

As a result of this single act – and a lot of talk about "angry white males" – serious anti-terror legislation whooshed through Congress. Law enforcement and intelligence agency priorities were realigned, and suddenly there was a homegrown terrorist hiding behind every woodpile. Or at least thatís what the federal government and the media tried to tell us.

I wonder whatever happened to all that "intelligence" gathered by the FBI and other agencies that were ordered by Janet Reno to investigate this "obvious and apparent" threat? Was that data loaded into the same computer that gathered all the data about a "nationwide conspiracy to commit violent acts" at abortion clinics, also a conspiracy without any conspirators?

If such information exists in some government computer, very few on the right seem to care. Perhaps they have not figured out that someday an unscrupulous president, vowing to take revenge on her political enemies may find some use for such data. Did I say, "her?"

And as long as it was the right that came under the investigative microscope you can be sure that the New Left and their friends in the media would be looking the other way on privacy violations. In fact, the entire discussion about privacy has suffered a slow and silent death.

That is, until now. With George W. Bush in the White House, wacky environmentalists and wacky animal-rights groups are being identified and investigated because they really do conduct nationwide conspiracies to commit property damage and violent acts! Burned buildings, busted out store windows, destroyed laboratories, and other highly destructive plots are just now being uncovered by the federal government.

And just as suddenly, the ACLU joins forces with Congressman Bob Barr in their concerns for our privacy. Bob Barr has been trying to protect our rights all along because right, left or center, Barr understands the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and why we must protect our rights. The New Left has awakened from their Rip-Van-Winkle slumber and are now paying attention to potential privacy invasion and federal government over-reaching. Welcome back.