“Only You Can Prevent Intrusive Government Searches”
– Liberty the Freedom-Poodle

NPR’s On the Media did a sort-of abbreviated show last week, but had two pieces of interest I’d recommend.
The first was a bit on a new ad campaign by the Ad Council (of McGruff the Crime Dog and Smokey the Bear fame) which consists of a series of television spots devoted to convincing Americans that freedom is an important idea.
No, really.
I haven’t seen the spots, but they are described (with audio clips) in the OTM RealMedia audio here. And they sounded, well, downright creepy.
The tack of the ads seems to be to posit an alternate America where freedom does not exist; showing the viewer some normal American doing things we take for granted suddenly finding himself in trouble with The Authorities. One example has a young man coming to the library with a list of books, where he is sternly and ominious informed by the librarian that the books “are no longer available.” Soon enough, he’s being approached by mysterious men who wish him to come with them and answer a few questions.
The idea, I guess, is to creep people out enough that they’ll fight for freedom. Or something like that. (The multiple self-referential layers of doublespeak goodthink here are making my head spin).
The problem, particularly about the library book spot, is, well, reality. (Brooke Gladstone, the interviewer, raised this exact point I’m about to demonstrate, so she gets the thought-credit; I just did some legwork to dig up the right sources).
When it comes to libraries, my understanding is that law enforcement has pretty comprehensive powers to obtain (with some court approval involved) records of books that individual patrons check out. Check out the American Library Association’s page on the PATRIOT Act, if you want to attempt to decode the legislation yourself. So the “spooky” scenario that the Ad Council is trying to warn us we must be vigilant to prevent…. has already happened.
Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says you’d better watch what you search on Google. (And by the way, that means you to the few folks who hit the site by searching on “Christian Porn”. What would Jesus think?). According to EFF:
Be careful what you put in that Google search. The government may now spy on web surfing of innocent Americans, including terms entered into search engines, by merely telling a judge anywhere in the U.S. that the spying could lead to information that is “relevant” to an ongoing criminal investigation. The person spied on does not have to be the target of the investigation. This application must be granted and the government is not obligated to report to the court or tell the person spied up what it has done.
Hmph. Watch what you say, indeed.
The second OTM story, on a lighter note, was about a gentleman who decided to rate the national flags for the world based on a consistent set of asthetic guidelines, and assign each a letter grade.
Japan, for example, gets an A (“A classic. Simple, to the point.” ), while the Stars and Stripes coasts by with a C+, getting docked for too many stars (“If one is good, fifty must be just right.”).
Fun stuff, and perfect to start your morning before you’re ready to think about more weighty matters. Go direct to the web site, or the OTM RealMedia is here