, Newburyport, MA

August 2, 2013

How much does government need to know?

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to the trial of Bradley Manning, the young man facing what could be a lifetime in prison for having revealed government information, until I had an email from my credit card people telling me that there had been a large purchase I should know about.

I could learn the details by signing in.

Nothing new about that, having done it on previous occasions, so I did.


This time there were several batches of conformation choices, some obviously foreign to my family history from which to choose.

Ordinarily, I respond with answers I had previously given — my mother’s maiden name or that of my first dog and so forth.

This time it was a series of several questions, most foreign to my personal history, but also a few I had no memory of having provided answers for previously.

OK, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but how in the world?

Nevertheless, I did as asked and was given access. As I had imagined, there were no surprises.

That’s a leaping reach from what Bradley Manning is facing and why.

American society is internationally porous, but there is a constitutional guarantee of a free press to help sort out fact from fiction.

It has its limits because government is less so. Our democratic republic was created by and for the people so it shall not perish.

That’s all of us, and we demand a lot. So does the government demand a lot from us.

What it demands most of all is trust.

It has from its beginning, but trust is always a challenge, and never so much so as when we call upon it to protect us.

It has confined and is confining information for defense reasons, and what young Bradley Manning has done is to make 700,000 pages of that information internationally available. In doing so he has broken the law.

Accepting all of that demands trust of, by and for the people that raises a question.

How much about each of us is the government entitled to know?

Certainly more than a credit card company, but how much, and why?

That is the question.

Just what does “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” mean, and what limits on freedom can we accept without losing what we have so long endured to achieve?

I can live without a credit card because it is a convenience. Government is a necessity.

I have no question that young Bradley Manning believes he has done the right thing. There’s a case to be made for that, the short of it being our dependency upon our government to safeguard us at a time when the possibility of catastrophe is important, but just how far should it go?

Justice will be done according to the law, but it’s what will follow the precedence of his action and its consequences to freedom that remains askew.

As for my credit card, it would be easy to simply destroy it, but it’s reassuring that its management is doing what it believes to be in my interest.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is