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The following is an op-ed I wrote that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday (my submission is below; the Trib edited it slightly for publication):
Along with the recent announcement of the NSA data center to be built near Lehi came numerous praises of the jobs it would bring to Utah. Governor Herbert called it a “godsend”, referencing the estimated 10,000 construction jobs it would create. Congressman Chaffetz said it would be a “benefit to our economy”.
Have we become so myopically focused that alleged job creation is the solitary metric by which we judge any action?
Those who claim to oppose big government often love to quote Benjamin Franklin, who once said that “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And yet in a quest for safety from potential unemployment and economic hardship, principles (and liberty) are thrown to the wind for what the Governor also claimed to be a “win, win, win” situation.
Would we similarly welcome with open arms private businesses of ill repute if they likewise promised to create jobs? Would Utahns praise an industrial meth lab, prostitution ring, or child labor camp simply because they created jobs? Surely not.
Apparently, then, nobody seems to have a problem with what this data center will be doing, nor what kinds of information it will be harvesting, interpreting, and acting upon. News reports from April of this year describe the NSA’s regular interception of private, domestic communications obtained without a court order—all this in complete disregard of the fourth amendment. That we as Americans have not risen up against such Constitutional abuses is a sad statement of how we value our quickly-eroding liberties.
Few individuals, if any, have publicly challenged the creation of this data center in our backyard on principled grounds. Are we so desperate for more jobs that we are willing to put up with a “collection point for surveillance of domestic and international telecommunications”? And do we not realize that jobs created by the government do not fall from on high like the manna of Moses’ day, but that they require the taxation and confiscation of wealth from other individuals? To create new jobs for this alleged “godsend”, the government must take that money from other hard-working, private citizens. This action is hardly a “win, win, win” for those footing the bill.
Still worse is the response given to concerns over potential infringements of civil liberties. NSA officials suggested that congressional oversight would be sufficient to ensure that the government could be trusted—as if this has worked well in the past. For most, this is hardly reassuring. We are to designate as watchdogs of the NSA the individuals who have been asleep at the wheel of our Titanic-esque federal government? It seems absurd to entrust this important oversight to the people who are saddling future generations with mountains of debt, worrying about football conferences, and expanding the wars on terror, drugs, and free enterprise.
In these days of economic difficulty, government officials eager to score political points have taken up job creation and economic management as their own personal quests. Thus, hard questions are not asked, nor are apparently antiquated things like the Constitution and civil liberties even considered worth using in the conversation. All that matters to them is that magical number of jobs being created by their enacted programs and policies.
The NSA’s data center will largely be forgotten once it becomes operational. By then, the “godsend” of the 10,000 temporary construction jobs will be history. But the 1-200 individuals employed at the facility will continue their Orwellian mission of monitoring anybody they desire. Get ready, Utah: Big Brother will be camped out in your backyard.