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Do we have a Right to privacy in our conversations? Some government officials are trying to suggest that we do not. They argue that because a conversation is not a “person, house, paper, or effect,” it is an “expansion” of the Constitution to include the privacy of our conversations within the 4th Amendment. They must propose this argument to permit the government to encroach upon fundamental Rights in the name of “national security.”
I would like to address that issue today with the words of our founders themselves.
First, we must ask this question: what is a conversation? Isn’t a conversation the expression of our ideas? Isn’t a conversation a form of speech? Let’s see what our framers said about these things. The most important thing is to KNOW what the relationship is between property and Rights:
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“A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them…In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.
“Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions…If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights.” –Essay on Property, 1792
So according to the father of the Constitution, our Rights ARE our property. When government has an excess of power (i.e. NSA spying), “No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.” Why? Because if the government has the power to monitor and record everything you say, to use in their own discretion, there can be NO freedom of speech, expression, or opinion. When we know the government is listening to us, recording us, and potentially using our words against us, we will be convinced to censor ourselves. This is the greatest form of tyranny.
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know.
“This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Goverments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech; a Thing terrible to Publick Traytors.”–Benjamin Franklin, Silence Dogood, No. 8 Jul 9, 1722.
Mr. Franklin is explaining, as Madison has, that the security of property IS freedom of speech. There is NO Liberty without freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Once again, if the government is spying on its people, and the people have no privacy in thought or speech, then there is no chance for Liberty to survive. Once the government convinces us that it’s permissible for them to deny us these Rights, we have lost all Liberty.
“To preserve the freedom of the human mind then & freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, & speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.”–Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William G Munford, June 18, 1799
These powerful words from Thomas Jefferson ought to serve as an indictment of all those politicians who keep telling us that we must submit to these warrantless searches of conversations, and peacefully submit to all these intrusion of our property. How shameful our politicians have become in the name of power and control!
Let us end with George Washington. For if we are willing to submit to limitless intrusions of our conversations, our public opinions, and our property, how can we truly remain free? We DO have a property in our Rights. We DO have an obligation to not only preserve our Rights but to EXERCISE them. We have a duty to speak, and we have a duty to deny the government the authority to oppress that property in our Rights.
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”–George Washington to Officers of the Army, 15 March 1783
Let us never become one of those “wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, (where) he can scarce call any Thing else his own.” So speak up, America! Resist this tyrannical authority! Never fear the Right to speak. Never succumb to self-censoring and become the very tool to your own servitude. Remember this: speaking freely is simply an exercise of your Rights.
Exercising Rights only becomes uncomfortable to two classes of people: tyrants and slaves. Politicians who want you to buy into the propaganda that your conversations are not your property and are subsequently not protected have simply classified themselves as tyrants. So, America, don’t be a slave. You may not have anything to hide, but you have EVERYTHING to preserve. The only TRUE way to ensure “national security” is to ensure the preservation of Liberty. It’s about time some politicians besides Rand Paul and Justin Amash understand!
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