Security in Papers

Security in Papers:

Let's say an FBI agent started a blog called "The G-Man as Citizen." On this blog he investigated liberal interest groups and posted apparently factual information about the special interests and big money behind their proposed legislation.

Let's say that the Democrats in Congress responded by filing a FOIA request for all of his government emails that might contain certain key words. We're not talking about a legal investigation -- no one is suggesting he violated any laws or even any policies. Rather, you have a political party trying to intimidate government employees from expressing political opinions... or even insight into our political reality.

That's a rough analogy to what is going on with Dr. William Cronon, except that he works for the state, not the Federal government; he is liberal, not conservative; and he is a history professor, not a G-man.

Some liberal bloggers are speaking up in his defense, but this strikes me as an issue that isn't a left/right question. He is clear about his political leanings, and his scholarship has the potential to be of benefit to all of us. I learned several things I didn't know reading Dr. Cronon's posts, and I'd suggest you read them too. We should want to have those with insight into these systems helping lay them bare; and if we prefer conservative to liberal policies, nevertheless the answer is to try to do the same kind of work to lay bare the organizations operating on the other side.

In any case, no political group -- no Republican and no Democratic legislator, at any level of government -- should feel they can harrass American citizens into silence. The fact that a man works for the government does not, and should not, strip him of his right to question or challenge the government. To some degree we accept limits on that in the military, but only to some degree: and the military is a very special case.

Too, Dr. Cronon is right to say that some emails caught in such a request may come from students who have political concerns; to publish their names and private thoughts is to violate a trust between student and teacher. I am sure we can all think of teachers we confided in, or looked to for guidance at points in our lives. This is a relationship that ought to be honored and protected. In the absence of any criminal accusations, security in one's person and papers should be absolute. The fact that the government owns the email sever is no more germane than the fact that it may own the letterhead and envelopes on which Dr. Cronon may have written a sealed letter; that fact bestows no right on them to open the letter and read it. If they wish to do so, they should get a warrant. If there is no cause for a warrant, they can go to hell.

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