NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 14, 2013

Brave, but how free?

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Two men made the news this week by their extraordinary behavior.

One, Christopher Knight, 47, of North Pond, Maine, turned his back on what was bothering him 27 years ago and went off into the woods to live off the land and whatever he could find elsewhere that wasn’t nailed down and no one was looking.

The other, Edward Snowden, one of thousands of security-cleared defense contractors, was only 2 years old when Christopher Knight took to the woods.

That would have been 1986 when the deadly Chernobyl disaster shocked a world that, despite differences, had yet to know how much quieter it was than it would become on and following Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City.

Mr. Knight is in jail awaiting a future that seems likely to put the woods neighbors at ease.

Mr. Snowden — this is written mid-week — is being sought somewhere in the South Pacific for reasons detrimental to this nation’s security.

What the two have in common is “Who knew?’’ at both extremes of this nation’s “Who Dunnit” stories.

Mr. Knight, for whatever reasons leading to his hibernation, will be tried as an uncommon thief, and his victims will share relief at last.

Mr. Snowden is being sought for reasons that reach deeply into this nation’s efforts to counter terrorism by monitoring existing methods of personal communication.

Those being as broadly available and as common as they are, small wonder the shock attending the revelation that assurance of privacy in personal conversation is a price to be paid for national security.

There was a time when “Loose Lips Sink Ships” signs were broadly displayed across America. That was during our Second World War marked by way of an actual declaration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We haven’t had another formal declaration of war since by one of our presidents.

Given the world condition, Mr. Snowden’s revelations are seen as an uncommon betrayal of trust, the consequences of which are in the process of discovery and resolution.

The inevitable, but early, polling indicates a majority of respondents support the government’s intrusion on private communication.

Technology being what it has become, other than for the removal of bans on open fires for smoke signals, untapped private communication might still be possible.

All things considered, I am reminded of George Orwell’s best selling book, “1984.”

The needs for intrusions on privacy being what they are, the book is worth reading.

To avoid the worst of outcomes of Orwell’s imaginary world, taking great care to avoid excess in the limiting of constitutional freedom is indicated if our purpose is to perpetuate America as the home of the free and the brave.

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Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His email address is plantejr@comcast.net.