We’re Trading Our Freedoms for Conveniences

Between your picnicking and fireworking, today would be a good day to contemplate how freedom can be taken from a nation.

While we’re being horrified by brutal dictators far away, we must remember there’s another way freedoms can be lost — by persuasion. If people become convinced they need protection, they will sacrifice their freedoms. Ask any Mafia boss.

To see how this can be done effectively, take a trip. It starts at the airport, where you will stand in a line, waiting for your turn for minimally qualified agents with badges to scan your body and belongings and make a quick determination about whether you might be a threat.

You may have noticed that some are allowed to bypass the line as participants of the TSA Pre program. These people submitted fingerprints, passed a background check, and paid for the processing costs to be less inconvenienced in airports. Convenience becomes an alternative currency as this scenario unfolds.

Once inside the airport security, you are deemed relatively risk-free. You are safe from other travelers and they are safe from you. Enjoy your trip — you’re welcome.

Then you board the plane, where power again is wielded by people with badges and uniforms. This method of enforcing order with citizen compliance requires many badges and assorted uniforms. In extreme cases, specific headgear also may be required.

If a flight attendant deems you uncooperative because you put two bags in the overhead compartment or you refuse to use headphones with your iPad or you offer to sell your sandwich to another passenger, you can be removed from the plane. Authority cannot be questioned.

Most of us never make such trouble. Civility is converted into submissiveness.

You land in another city and exit the airport, wondering whether any inspectors opened your luggage along the way. You take a shuttle to your rental car, barely noticing the sign that informs all riders that the van is equipped with video and audio surveillance.

After the shuttle bus passes over the tire spikes that allow vehicles in but not out, you pass the attractive kiosk that is reserved for Gold Card members. You proceed to the larger, dingier building where the customers who don’t regularly do business here stand in line for inferior service.

Separating “good customers” from others is becoming more common. Rather than reward good customers, it’s cheaper to show them how they’ll suffer if they don’t do whatever is necessary to maintain their gold or elite or prime status. Non-gold customers are punished with undertrained and surly staff. But everyone gets a car, eventually.

Automobile travel once was the paragon of personal freedom. No more. Police now have automated license plate scanners. Intersections are equipped with cameras, often ready to snap your photo if you run a red light. Marriages have come undone because the photo is then mailed to the residence with a summons or a bill, showing who was in the car, when and where.

The cameras are used only to identify dangerous drivers. At least that’s what we’ve been told. But nobody disputes that the cameras could do much more, now that they are in place. Combined with credit card purchases, ATM and merchant cameras, retracing anyone’s steps has become disconcertingly easy.

Many states offer car-traveling citizens an improved version of what the Soviets crudely referred to as “checkpoints.” Our government can record your travel habits, charge you a toll, and whisk you on your way with an automated monitor that’s been rebranded as “EZ Pass.” It does everything the Soviet system envisioned, and more.

For even more specific location information, we all have our phones. This week I received an automated alert on my phone that a tornado warning was in effect for the area where I was visiting. Does anyone believe the government has the capability to send us such alerts without also knowing who received them?

The government sends those alerts to protect us, but are we losing the ability — or even the will — to protect ourselves? We cannot require both protection and independence.

Today remember — our protectors may not always be the ones we’d choose.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs