At 12:01 this morning, thanks to that villain Randy Paul and, to a lesser extent, the guy who told us about it, the US government lost its authority to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk. The Patriot Act has expired. I assume you are reading this from the point of a scimitar, at the other end of which gibbers a bearded zealot. Perhaps you have already become an ISIS or, worse, a copyright infringer. Perhaps you are one of the handful of Americans who remain free, for now. Don’t panic. Probably, most major US cities will be anthraxed between now and lunch on Tuesday. But the strong can survive. You just need to take a few precautions.
Over at the Times, Thomas Friedman has invoked his own slippery slope to argue that if we don’t allow the NSA to log our calls and finger our metadata, another 9/11 might encourage us to cede our civil liberties even worse. It is a pretty convoluted slope—call it the slippery water slide. Friedman’s essential claim is that, while this recently-revealed infringement on our privacy is bad, it does not have so significant an impact on our civil liberties as the theoretical laws a frightened populace might accept in the aftermath of another theoretical 9/11. Then we’d really be in trouble.
Who wouldn’t want to know everything? If we could make sure we knew absolutely everything, nothing unfair would ever happen to us again. We would know, for example, whether the federal government’s secret reason why it’s authorized to collect the phone records of every Verizon customer is an airtight legal argument or a drawing of Mayor McCheese having his way with the Hamburglar. If we knew who all the terrorists were and whom they called, and who all those people called, we would have a sort of terrorist social network. I call it Friendsterrorist. It’s a list of everyone who is bad, and once we have it we need only shut those people down and live forever, like Myspace. Today is Friday, and what you don’t know could fill a book you aren’t allowed to read. Won’t you speculate on the contents with me?