(Photo courtesy of New Zealand Times)
Big Brother is watching. (Photo courtesy of New Zealand Times)

Recently the PEN American Center, the writers’ organization, asked its members how they felt about the extent of our government’s surveillance of email and phone records. An overwhelming majority were deeply concerned. Here’s what Sandy McIntosh, a Long Island poet and publisher of the Marsh Hawk Press, had to say in response to PEN’s survey:

By Sandy McIntosh

In an old detective novel, a Nero Wolfe, someone is stopped in the street by a cop who demands to see his identification. The man laughs, says that he knows his rights, and walks off without giving the cop anything. The cop is frustrated, but doesn’t insist because they both know that this right is one of the guarantees of American citizenship.

Reading this for the first time, my reaction was amazement. Throughout my life, without a doubt, if a cop demanded my ID I’d immediately hand it over. Of course, I grew up some decades after the date of that Nero Wolfe story. But to me and my contemporaries—the idea of claiming one’s rights was reserved for the time when one was actually arrested and in the interrogation room, and when the threat of the rubber hose or something psychologically worse, was palpable. That, years before, you could walk around in the street and feel secure in your privacy was not something that I’d even known or suspected.

It seems now that after 9/11 everything changed and we have been quickly sucked up by the Security State—which means, for most of us, by a state of insecurity.

Even so, I think this insecurity has been festering for a long time. 9/11 was only an explosion that brought what was invisible into the visible, the palpable.

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I would never—never—make a joke about a bomb while standing in an airport security line. Would I tell one to a friend online? Would I write a poem about one? I’d hesitate.

A friend told me that she didn’t care if her emails, telephone calls, and so on were monitored. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” she insisted.

But, for myself, I’m not that confident. Just as conspiracy theorists suppose that there is a colossal, organized brainiac collective in some New World Order plotting to take over, my friend assumes that people managing the Security State have discernment and real intelligence, and will understand that a regular Jane Doe in the suburbs like her couldn’t possibly mean any harm.

I don’t share her belief. There’s nobody that intelligent—certainly no one claiming membership in a Security State or a New World Order. And that’s why I should be keeping my mouth shut.

Maybe I’ve said too much already.



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Spencer Rumsey, the Long Island Press’ senior editor, has worked on dailies, weeklies and monthlies, including New York Newsday and the New York Post, the East Village Eye and the supermarket tabloid Star Magazine. Starting at the Press in 2010, he’s written award-winning stories on planning, politics and policy, to name a few topics, and he’s taken on a wide range of targets in his Press blog, Rumsey Punch.