The first curiosity of the phone-record surveillance uproar now crescendoing in the anglosphere is the underlying logic that the best way to defend freedom is to have less of it.
The second curiosity is the way politicians and bureaucrats splutter with indignation about the revelation of such surveillance on the grounds that the State's entitlement to secrecy is inviolable while citizen privacy rights are entirely dispensable.
The most compelling curiosity of all, however, is the generalized response of shock, awe, and outrage at the discovery that American, Canadian, and British governments have been systematically spying on our cell phone calls.
Have none of those now hopping up and down about this purportedly novel infamy been through an airport in the last 30 years? You cannot board a puddle jumper aircraft anywhere in Canada, the U.S., or the U.K. without some officious long nose rooting in your bag and demanding to know what you thought you were doing trying to sneak a prohibited tube of shaving cream on board.
When we accepted such hostile intrusions as necessary tradeoffs between security of the person and collective safety, did we really think they would end with snooping about in our creams and lotions? Did we truly imagine, when State apparatuses began inspecting our private bits with X-ray machines and metal detectors and full body pat-downs, that they would stint at peering into the data bits generated by our smartphones? In the immortal words of that icon of individualist irascibility, Daffy Duck: "Don't be so naïve, buster."
One need not kneel nightly and whisper paranoid prayers to a life-sized statue of Ayn Rand to recognize that in the war on terror, we surrendered to something more terrifying than terrorists. We gave ourselves up to our own rapacious security State. And now we're frightened because Sauron's eye has been attracted by the metadata generated each time we use an iPhone to call Auntie Griselda and ask about her sciatica?
The justification offered by President Barack Obama and his Pinocchio-nosed pals for the interception of millions upon millions of citizen phone calls is, of course, utter poppycock. According to Mr. Obama's apologia, only raw information about the calls—date, time, place, duration etc.—was collected. No actual voices were heard in the State's ubiquitous violations of personal privacy.
We are asked to equate this with a police cruiser being parked on the side of a freeway at rush hour watching an undifferentiated mass of vehicles go past, and taking action only when there is an evident and obvious threat to highway safety. Yet security experts say access to a mere four data points from any cell call—or, it would seem, any Internet interaction—gives all that needs to be known about caller and respondent. It's the equivalent of an officer in the police cruiser being able to see not just your license plate number but also your driver's license, health care card, and the waistband of your underpants.
Horrifying? In a waistband of your underpants way, yes. Surprising? Only if you are the sort who is always caught completely off guard when a duck quacks.
We are a people whose concept of freedom has, in an eerie parallel of our understanding of religious faith, become a mere presupposition. As we presuppose that the religious faith we adhere to is whatever we decide it should be, so we presuppose that we are free and therefore everything we do becomes, by definition, the expression and the safeguard of our nebulous notions of freedom.
Even, curiously enough, giving it up.
When that nice long-nosed security guard paws through our personal belongings and demands we account for various items so that we may be permitted to catch the flight from Mudville to Maroontown, well, that's just the price we freely pay to live in a gloriously free society under the watchful benevolent eye of the all-protecting, and of course inherently self-limiting, State.
Cue the duck.