Saying goodbye to the Bill of Rights?

Bill Weedmark, Co-Editor

By Bill Weedmark

Would you know it if you were under constant surveillance? Would you know if someone monitored your phone calls, or if the media were telling you the complete truth? If “Big Brother” were truly watching you, would you have any idea? Probably not.

If you’ve ever read George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984, then you know that these ideas are all touched upon in the novel. The government of 1984 is one which sees and hears all, which filters the news to reflect administrative “truth” and in which individual rights are almost non-existent.

While it can be written off as “just a book” or merely paranoid, it seems that our own world is becoming more like the “see-everything” future envisioned by Orwell. And what’s most frightening is that many people don’t seem to be aware of it.

For starters, if you had to rank America’s free-press against other countries, how do you think we’d fare? No. 1 for having the freest press? Top 10? According to the group Reporters Without Borders, America ranks 53rd for free press out of 168 countries ranked — down nine places from last year.

The October 2006 survey is based on responses to 50 questions about press freedom asked of journalists, free press organizations, researchers, human rights activists and others. That’s not very good for a country that claims to be the shining example of free speech and democracy.

If the press is restricted, then it’s not possible for the citizens to be fully informed and make intelligent decisions. This is especially important in America, where the press is the “fourth estate” and helps keep the government in check.

As an example of this, the Associated Press reported on March 5 that U.S. Marines in Afghanistan deleted photos and video taken by their freelance reporters that apparently showed civilians killed by the Marines. We may never know the truth of what happened, whether our Marines killed innocent bystanders or not, as the evidence has been deleted. Try and imagine if the photos of the torture at Abu Ghraib had been deleted and you get an idea of why it’s important that the press act without restrictions.

Another example that screams Orwell is the NSA’s warrant-less wiretapping. While it has only been in the past year or two that this type of surveillance came to light, it has been going on for much longer, according to a March 5 article in Wired News.

The article discusses a Washington, D.C., attorney whose phones were tapped by the NSA in 2004. He only found out when he was accidentally given a top-secret document that contained a log of his phone calls. He’s currently suing the government, who asked him to give the document back and pretend he’d never seen it.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this lawsuit plays out. It could finally settle the legality of the government’s warrant-less wiretap program.

Of course, we do enjoy a lot of freedoms and privileges in America that many other nations don’t have. And I realize that we’ll probably never be under the complete control of a “Big Brother” government and I’m very happy to live in this country.

But I think that the examples I highlighted show how certain rights are being eroded right under our noses, and it’s affecting our right to know and our ability to shape our own government.

And while some may defend these actions in the name of national security, I’d just like to point out that in the world of 1984, the government of Big Brother used the very same excuse to strip away the people’s rights until there was nothing left. For now, the best defense is to be informed.

Just think, if the press isn’t free, if our conversations are monitored and if we aren’t told the absolute truth about issues and events, then as citizens, are we really free at all?

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