The debate is being publicly framed on both sides as a deep conflict between security and freedom; between the civil rights of users to maintain their privacy, and the legitimate needs of law enforcement and national security. Yet this is the wrong way to think about it.I think of Raven's comments, just yesterday, that he couldn't help but think when a Census-taker took a GPS reading on his house how useful it would be for a bomb. Nor his remark -- which I have made myself, from time to time -- that Facebook is just what you'd want to roll up networks of enemies of the state. It's exactly the kind of database we used to build in Iraq, identifying family and connections and physical locations and precise relationships, except you fill it out for the state willingly. It would sound paranoid except for the Snowden revelations, which showed that the government was in cooperation with all these technology firms to do spying of exactly that sort. We would dismiss it, in other words, if it were not demonstrably true.
The fundamental problem is the breakdown of trust in institutions and organizations. In particular, the loss of confidence in oversight of the American national security establishment.
The FBI's move on Apple reminds us all of their coordination with Lois Lerner at the IRS -- it's six years now that the Albuquerque TEA Party has been waiting on its 501(c)3 status. The FBI, having had agents coordinate with Lerner's section, was then assigned to investigate the case. "Surprisingly," after a two-year investigation, no one was charged. Members of Congress are making noises the the effect that they will not accept a repeat of that in the case of former Secretary Clinton, but of course they cannot force the FBI or the DOJ to take action. The President of the United States has repeatedly said that he doesn't think she did anything wrong, and rather than being hustled off to court for her glaringly obvious violations of national security classification law, she is the frontrunner in the Democratic primary to become his replacement in the highest office in the land.
The government has repeatedly failed to hold wrongdoers accountable. More than that, it has protected them. It has enabled corruption in the highest offices, and is currently doing its best to enable its continuance.
If the government wants our trust back, and the legitimacy that comes from having the faith of the American people, it needs to earn it. It needs to start proving that it will prosecute and punish those in power who abuse authority, those in power who break laws, those in power who betray trusts.
If it will not, the Federal government of the United States will begin a long fall. It cannot survive in its current form if it is mistrusted by the American people. Right now, such mistrust is rational. If that is to change, the institutions need to start performing. Anyone in the Federal bureaucracy -- political appointees or not -- who wants Americans to trust and have faith in government needs to take up this charge. Any individuals who want an America that heavily involves government solutions to practical problems needs to devote themselves to pushing for accountability and punishment for the wicked or corrupt.
Otherwise, as this case of technology shows, we the People shall begin finding ways to do without the government of the United States.