Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What Were You Thinking?

Sinclair Lewis, author of what I think is the best novel of the 20th Century, “It Can’t Happen Here,” wrote, “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Let me add that when thought-control comes to America, it will be hailed as a defense against terrorism and pornography. Bet on it.

There is a fascinating case wending its way through the courts that seems to be of limited interest to computer encryption experts but threatens everyone with or without a computer and with or without a library card. The federal government is trying to force a man suspected of keeping child pornography on his computer to tell agents what his password is.

Hell no, he says. To do so would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The FBI says the issue is that terrorists, tied in their eyes with pornographers as the nation’s top criminal threat, might encrypt all their communications.

I’m sure the issue is more complicated than I can explain here, but it sounds to me like the FBI is asking, as the Las Vegas judge asked O.J. Simpson today, “What were you thinking?”

There is a life-and-death issue of civil liberties facing America in this case. As for me, however, I am not worried. They could send me to Guantanamo or waterboard me, but they can’t get me to remember my own passwords.

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