As I drove outside our nation’s capital the last two days, I listened to C-Span-radio broadcasts that were at once mind-numbing and fascinating, if that’s possible. The first was a House Intelligence Committee hearing, in which members of both parties expressed support for NSA surveillance activities but fretted over privacy issues. One proposed remedy was to keep the “meta-data” in private hands unless and until the NSA needed specific information, which it would then request from the corporations that had it. Agency chief Keith Alexander said he was open to the idea, subject to “speed in crisis.” In other words, our own officials think it’s wiser to keep the massive amounts of personal information collected on all of us in the hands of Google, Facebook and Amazon.com instead of the government. Equally bizarre was a Tea Party rally on the Capitol steps, in which Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, Sen. Mike Lee and others spoke fervently about the movement to protect our civil rights from the godless totalitarianism of the Obama administration. Beck drew a straight line from the Tea Party to Martin Luther King, Jr., and he didn’t stop there, likening the protesters to Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist ex-slave whose bronze statue had earlier been unveiled on the Capitol steps.
I tried to picture Glenn Beck marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, just as I tried to imagine myself relieved that lots of information about me is owned and mined, without my consent, by corporate goliaths. I failed on both counts.