Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Well Documented Modern Parallel

I've been seriously considering what I'm interested in writing for the final paper, and based off of my previous blog posts, I've decided to deal with Areopagitica and how it applies to what is currently going on with the NSA spying and the Patriot Act. Back in August, I bookmarked an article from the Guardian that I found interesting and important. Of course this is just the beginning of my research. I fully intend to use my information from my other blog posts about censorship to supplement my current research.

The Guardian also posted a video about how the NSA spying affects you:

Essentially, what I'm exploring is how censorship, even in the form of information gathering, hurts progress because people are afraid to speak freely and the government can attack you if you say things they don't like. Censorship in Milton's day was about preventing those types of things from being published in the first place, and the point of the NSA surveillance and the Patriot Act is to make sure you aren't even thinking about saying things that may undermine the government's ideal state, and it's completely legal under the secret "official interpretation" of the Patriot Act.

After the jump break I'll have a couple of the sections I find critical in this article as well as the quotes from Areopagitica that I find particularly illuminating about the issues we're facing with the problems of the Patriot Act and how the NSA interprets it.

Some quotes I've marked for Areopagitica:

“Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” 

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” 

“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. ” 

“We boast our light; but if we look not wisely on the run itself, it smites us into darkness. Who can discern those planets that are oft combust, and those starts of brightest magnitude that rise and set with the sun, until the opposite motion of their orbs bring them to such a place in the firmament where they may be seen evening or morning? The light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge.” 

“They are the troublers, they are the dividers of unity, who neglect and don't permit others to unite those dissevered pieces which are yet wanting to the body of Truth.” 

“The light which we have gained, was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge. It is not the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitering of a bishop, and the removing hum from the Presbyterian shoulders that will make us a happy nation; no, if other things as great in the Church, and in the rule of life both economical and political, be not looked into and reformed, we have looked so long upon the blaze that Zwinglius and Calvin have beaconed up to us, that we are stark blind.” 

A couple important quotes from the Guardian article:

"Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the US government and this interpretation is – stunningly – classified.
What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the intelligence committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules."
"Which reminds me of the Techdirt post this week that probably haunted me the most: "Ed Snowden's email provider, Lavabit, shuts down to fight US gov't intrusion". Mike uses the post to explain that Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Labavit – the secure email service that provided Edward Snowden's email account – decided to shut down his email service this week.
Not much more information is given, other than announced plans to fight against the government in court. Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It's also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.
The part that haunted me, though, was a line Levison included in his email informing customers of his decision:
I feel you deserve to know what's going on. The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this.
He's right, isn't he? If these aren't the moments the first amendment was meant for, what are? Moreover, if the administration is so convinced that its requests of Labavit are just, why are they afraid to hold them up to public scrutiny?
In his book, Secrecy: The American Experience, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan included a quote from a 1960 report issued by the House committee on operations, which I believe provides a far better response than anything I could write on my own:
Secrecy – the first refuge of incompetents – must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society for a fully-informed public is the basis of self-government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than its people."

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