I’ll Take Market Forces Over Government Force Any Day

Responding to their customers’ increasing demand for privacy in the aftermath of revelations by whistle-blowers that the government is capturing and indefinitely storing every conversation, email, location, online transaction, and more, Apple, Google, WhattsApp, and others are developing new encrypted phones and services to thwart this now-universal warrantless spying.

Simultaneously, a bill that would have reined in the National Security Agency (NSA), was blocked in the Senate. The bill would have kept customers’ records securely with phone and internet companies, to be accessed by the government only when asked for, with cause.

Apple well knows that if it doesn’t produce a phone that will keep your conversations and transactions private, one of its competitors will take market share by developing and selling you one that will.

Your Senator, on the other hand? As has been pointed out by minds better than mine, the issues comprising a political platform are so many—a vast goulash of everything from foreign policy to hometown potholes—and your vote so insignificant, that the odds of your Senator knowing or having to care that you oppose NSA spying is negligible.

The government, needless to say, likes having all of our private information and communications in its hands, to be perused when and as it wishes, and it should be no surprise that its power to do so remains untouched by our “representatives” elected as its “check.”

In order to forestall encrypted phones actually making it into customers’ hands, Justice’s second-in-command is trying to play on stupid voters’ fears:

A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone,

Apple CEO Tim Cook responded:

Look, if law enforcement wants something, they should go to the user and get it. It’s not for me to do that.

Our Founders meant for our government to have to work to catch and prove suspected criminals guilty: it’s what keeps government on-task and relatively honest.

And, yes, the Founders meant this to apply to issues of national security, in which they, too, trusted market forces over government force.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides for Congress to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal for the capture and bringing to justice suspected enemy combatants. Under this provision, “privateers,” essentially, entrepreneurs akin to bounty hunters, could at their own risk seek out, capture, and bring suspects to justice.

As Thomas Jefferson said:

“Every possible encouragement should be given to privateering in time of war.”

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we and others proposed this as the best means of quickly restoring Americans’ security: privateers, bonded to ensure that they follow the accepted international law, including the humane treatment of those who were taken prisoner, would be set the task of capturing bin Laden.

Plausible? Recall, for example, Ross Perot’s successful use of private forces to retrieve his employees from the clutches of fundamentalist Muslims in Iran in 1979—as contrasted with the debacle of the U.S. military’s attempt to rescue its government employees.

How much sooner, then, would bin Laden have been apprehended, and at what tremendous show of American ingenuity, had privateers been allowed to operate? The decade that it took the U.S. military to find him—or days or weeks?

And at what savings of innocent lives, destroyed countries, “blow-back”?

So think about upon whom you would rather depend for your safety and security: private providers competing to create and market innovative new means of keeping you safe and secure; or political rulers who get more power and more money the less secure you feel—and invoke the specter of dead children as their favored marketing tool?

Are government functionaries right? Are we stupid? If not, let’s demonstrate it by wising up and withdrawing our consent. Ultimately, that’s all movements like the Fall of the Berlin Wall and today’s Hong Kong protests are. Speak out against NSA spying, opt out of TSA’s naked scanners, demand and buy encrypted phones, networks, and apps. Tell your friends and colleagues that the government is not here to help them, it’s here to help itself, and back it up with stories showing this to be so. We have plenty, and there is no lack of others, especially in our Information Age—at least as long as we resist “net neutrality“.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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