Years ago back in my days at the academy and in the military, I used to hear this phrase “freedom isn’t free” over and over again.
It was almost a sort of motto for a lot of military units– a self-motivating expression that freedom came at a price, and it was our solemn responsibility to pay that price.
It’s a true statement. Freedom is NOT free.
History shows that the path to liberty almost invariably involves conflict, whether it was the American Revolution, or Brown vs. the Board of Education.
And these conflicts often demand a very steep price from those who fight them.
Today we are in the midst of another great conflict. I’m not talking about hostilities in Syria or even the Global War on Terror.
This conflict is between the individual and the state.
Governments around the world have demonstrated that they are willing to trample on individual liberties with no thought to the larger implications.
They tell us what we can and cannot put in our bodies. They take our children away when they deem us unfit parents in their sole discretion.
They tell us to be afraid of men in caves… or angry teenagers in the desert… or bad people lurking in the night… and then use that fear as an excuse to dismantle the freedoms that previous generations paid such a steep price to achieve.
We’ve now found out that the US government has demanded that Apple, in the words of CEO Tim Cook, “build a backdoor to the iPhone.”
Cook’s letter to customers describes how the government wants to access data on the iPhone of the man who perpetrated the 2015 San Bernadino mass shooting.
Apple’s iPhone operating system automatically encrypts data and only makes it available to a user who knows the password.
Since Apple doesn’t know the shooter’s password, they cannot access the data through normal means.
That’s why the FBI wants them to build a backdoor, and the government has commanded Apple to comply under the authority of a law dating back to 1789.
As Tim Cook points out,
“[W]hile the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
“The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.
“The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”
The government may very well be acting in the interest of ‘protecting the American people’.
And US presidents often point out these days that their #1 responsibility is to keep American safe.
Actually, it’s not.
Nearly all federal officials, including the President, take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic.
That is their #1 responsibility– to uphold the principles of freedom that define an entire nation.
They have routinely broken that oath, trading other people’s freedom for the illusion of greater security.
It’s easy to sing songs about how free you are… to cheer Lady Gaga’s rendition of the national anthem at the Superbowl when she hits the high note on the word “free”.
But none of that comes at a price.
Our price is making a difficult choice between liberty and security– to choose fear or freedom.
When we feel that our families’ security is threatened, the knee-jerk reaction is often to say “give the government whatever it needs to make us safe!”
But the harsh reality is that such short-term thinking creates a much more ominous world in the long-term.
And every tacit acquiescence to intrusive government authority is a brick laid on the road to tyranny.