Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dear Senator Snowe,

I met you several times while I was a TSA screener at the Portland Jetport (I was there during the attempt to "rightsize" our crew into oblivion, thank you for stepping in), and as a contract screener before that, performing occasional hand wand screenings on you and your heels in the old co-ed days :), and always found you to be pleasant and reasonable (which cannot be said about everyone I met at the checkpoint). Your reputation as a sensibly moderate senator also encouraged me to write to you with this concern.

My positive impression of your character is why I am confident that you will agree with me, when I propose that this country is in need of a law or constitutional amendment that prohibits the government from ever limiting the secure, private ability of the population to communicate via any means, most particularly electronic means, including cell phones and the Internet, encrypted or not. In the same way that the 2nd Amendment ensures that the government can never disarm the people, now that the people's voices can finally be heard beyond their own town councils, we need something which prevents the government from ever again keeping them in the dark or silencing them.

Recent events in Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Egypt and elsewhere have shown the danger of government having their hand on the Internet's and the cellular network's "off switches", and it is a much larger danger than state-run media. With the Internet, people who take the time to look have more access to the truth than ever before, regardless of what the media or government publishes, and more access to each other than ever before, which gives them the power, for once in history. Internet anonymity and solidarity encourages speaking out about injustice and mobilizes loud, international public support like nothing ever seen before, and scandals like clerical abuse or war crimes or other miscarriages of justice can then be investigated independently, instead of being buried in-house. State-run or corporate-owned propaganda media become obvious, irrelevant, powerless and laughable when they are no longer the only source of information. The Internet is a Hot Line to the horse's mouth.

Recent events have also shown the beginnings of the Internet's true, vital worth, and its potential to do more for the poor and oppressed and uneducated of humankind than any previous advancement since agriculture. It is the ability of a poor, uneducated person inside the depths of some hopeless place to first realize that not everyone has to live like he does and that neither should he, then the ability to let the world know his plight, and then the ability of the world to hound and shame that nation into doing what's right. At no point in history have we had this kind of access to information with which to make our own proper judgments, or the chance to demand this level of accountability from governments, and it is a precious thing that has only just been born, and it needs nurturing. Imagine how long a regime like North Korea's could last, had their people free, unfettered access to what the rest of the world sees. Ten minutes, maybe? Imagine how much longer President Mubarak would have remained in power without the Internet. Would Saddam Hussein have left, had Twitter been around in 1990?

A recent story here about the FCC splitting the Internet into different systems based on fees immediately rang an alarm bell in my mind (, because if there are two separate Internets, a slow, spotty cheap one for the little people and a smooth, fast expensive one for the big players (you know it will work that way, it always does, look at the difference in customer service between residential and corporate-class internet or phone service), it will leave the influence-less bulk of the people kept in the dark and more vulnerable than ever to the rich special interest/government partnership that we all know runs Washington. Wall Street and churches run the far right, unions and professional victims run the far left, and they both run the rest of us down in their dash for the cash. We are in the middle of yet another mess that is not of our own making, and we are tired of it. And we are living in a time when the people are demanding more power and control over their own lives, not less, and more and more of us are not willing to take no for an answer any more, as the recent demonstrations and elections have illustrated to any who are paying attention.

If there are two separate Internets, it would be all too easy for the government or corporations to shut things down for the little people under the pretense of needing all the bandwidth for some emergency, while corporate or government interests continue to be free to run things as they see fit. Simple economic pressures like weather could easily give the same result without malfeasance, as you know where the bulk of the maintenance budget will go. You also know who will get service and who will not if there's an earthquake.

Perhaps you think that's paranoid. I'm sure some folks said that about the 1st and 2nd Amendments too, but I think it is perfectly in line with the basic principles of this country. It's not about suspecting any particular administration or group of people of nefarious intent, or claiming that there is a high probability of tyranny if we don't watch them every second. It's about doing your best to make nefarious deeds impossible for anyone to commit, so that no one tries, and saves us all the bother. The TSA can't trust that every sweet lil' cookie-baking grandmother, or Senator or pilot for that matter, has good intentions. Nor does it try to guess the relative likelihood of any of those people exercising such bad intentions, instead it does its best to eliminate the possibility of anyone at all exercising bad intentions. The Constitution doesn't trust that the basic goodness of American politicians will prevent tyranny in government, it does its best to ensure that tyranny is impossible to commit, and ensuring Internet freedom and “hands off” from the government is perhaps the most important example of that to ever come up, given the immense power it gives the ordinary citizen. We should not now trust to that goodness alone to protect the true, vital core of modern freedom of speech, which is not flag-burning and political insults, but the freedom to share thoughts and ideas and complaints, and to organize, and to demand change and not stop until we get it. We're tired of waiting for change to come from another politician like we've been doing forever, and with little to show for it except change for the worse. This is the only way for the people to be as loud as the special interests, and it must be preserved and reinforced.

Honest, sincere democratic government should be in favor of this on general principles anyway, because freedom and speed of communication also lets them know the will of the people much more efficiently than at any time in the history of the country (they do still care about the will of the people, don't they, some of them at least?). They can have a virtually nationwide referendum on any subject within hours of asking the question. And whether they like it or not, the people have found their voice, and will use it, and will not give it up without a fight. This is their right of all rights. It is a lesson that both parties and the traditional media need to learn, if they hope to exist past 2012.

People greatly admire the lonely, brave soul who broadcasts for the people on his ham radio from the darkness of some oppressed population, never knowing when charging boots will smash in his door. How much more would they admire a Senator who ensures that it is literally impossible for her people to ever need to resort to ham radio again?

We should automatically strive to lead the world in democracy and freedom and individual rights by default, to lead by supreme example, should we not? If we wish to inspire more nations to demand democratic reforms, to urge this growing wave of democracy to spread further into the world, to universalize education for anyone who can read based on demonstrable facts instead of limiting it to those who can pay, to keep this traditional idea of American “goodness” alive, and to not appear to be hypocrites, should we not be taking every opportunity to expand, clarify and cement forever our own freedoms? Imagine if their had been bloggers in Vietnam in 1962. The Cold War would have ended by 1970 if we had had the Internet, and saved how much in lives and resources? And yes, I'm going to subject myself to Godwin's Law and ask, what would have happened in Europe in 1936, had there been an internet? Anne Frank's diary would probably have been published while she was still alive (if it had even still needed to be written).

What better legacy for you and Maine to give the nation and the world, than to have written the "Snowe Amendment" (has a nice ring to it), to finally and irrevocably shift the real power to the people by ensuring that they finally, always have the right to speak out as loudly as do the special interests, to communicate and connect freely and privately, and to inspire even more people to take their destinies into their own hands as have the people of Egypt. The real, meaningful, historic opportunities to advance the cause of democracy and equality, and to assault ignorance and poverty and prejudice, are few and far between these days, and you should seize this one with both hands.

Thank you for your time,


1 comment:

Cowcharge said...

Dammit, despite a LOT of proofreading and editing, I still missed a couple of typos and thought of a few other tweaks, but since this is the wording that I sent to the senator's website, I will keep it as it is on here as well.