Jonah Goldberg

Self-proclaimed civil libertarians are up in arms over the National Security Agency's massive database containing information about whom we call and what we do on the Web. Defenders of the program say, "So what?" Unless you're a terrorist, no one in the government will ever bother to access that information.

That's not good enough, say civil libertarians.

"At least 850,000 people have security clearances that give them access to this information," Tiffiniy Cheng of Fight for the Future recently wrote on The Huffington Post. "That's the size of Boston. Imagine if they leak information about a politician or business leaders' personal life -- what about a prominent activist? The opportunities for abuse and blackmail are endless; despite what some members of Congress have claimed, the history of government surveillance programs is riddled with abuses."

Farhad Manjoo of online Slate magazine agrees. The "fundamental problem" with the NSA's surveillance program is that it's amassing an all-too-tempting stockpile of information. "Someone has access to that data, and that someone might not be as noble as (Edward) Snowden. He could post everything online. He could sell it to identity thieves. He could blackmail you. Or he might blackmail politicians, businesspeople, judges, TSA agents, or use the data in some other nefarious way."

One needn't be a privacy absolutist, never mind a paranoid conspiracy theorist, to believe that this is a legitimate concern. One can even support the NSA's PRISM program and still want significant safeguards against abuse.

What I have a hard time understanding, however, is how one can get worked up into a near panic about an overreaching national security apparatus while also celebrating other government expansions into our lives, chief among them the hydrahead leviathan of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The 2009 stimulus created a health database that will store all your health records. The Federal Data Services Hub will record everything bureaucrats deem useful, from your incarceration record and immigration status to whether or not you had an abortion or were treated for depression or erectile dysfunction.

In other words, while the NSA can tell if you searched the Web for "Viagra," the Hub will know if you were actually prescribed the medication and for how long. Yes, there are rules for keeping that information private, but you don't need security clearance or a warrant to get it.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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