Montana Politics

Neil Livingstone Doesn’t Believe in Your Right to Privacy

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How would Republicans respond if a Democratic politician said something like what Neil Livingstone said today about the likelihood of a major terrorist attack in the United States? Livingstone said:

“There will be another catastrophic attack in the U.S. at some point, and these guys will eventually get it right,” said terrorism expert Neil Livingstone, a Republican candidate for governor in Montana. “They’ll strike at a very critical target. They may have a dirty bomb or radioactive dispersion device, or they might have some type of crude nuclear biological weapon. That day is going to come.”

A more cynical man than myself might suggest Livingstone, who runs a security firm targeted at the super-rich, might have a pecuniary motive for that kind of rhetoric, something the Los Angeles Times noted 25 years ago:

“Anti-terrorism is the fastest growing industry in America,” he says, “which is why it has attracted every type of bozo and thug along with some very good firms.” Although he regards himself as one of the more rational voices in the trade, others, particularly academicians, view Livingstone as an alarmist ideologue who advocates assassination and the violent overthrow of governments and scares up clients with high-decibel prophecies of germ warfare terrorism.

What makes Livingstone’s apocalyptic fear-mongering so dangerous, though, is the policies it is likely to inspire. If a political figure believes in the inevitability of a nuclear attack, he’s likely to push a radical agenda to reduce rights back home.

With Livingstone we’re talking about a candidate whose views are far out of the mainstream of what Montanans believe. After all, he doesn’t believe that we have the right to privacy in our own homes when we use the telephone or Internet. In an online debate posted at the Economist, he argued:

While most Americans have an expectation of privacy in their own homes, especially in terms of their intimate relations, the current debate does not revolve around such issues. Rather it concerns technologies that are, in most respects, public, where there is no presumption of privacy in a traditional sense.

Airline travel, the use of telephones and access to the internet are not rights, rather they are privileges and, as such, they are very much public activities and endeavours. Accordingly, some level of government oversight is not unreasonable in order to maintain the integrity of the systems that underpin such technologies and to prevent them from being used to harm others.

If someone wants to opt out and not be subject to government scrutiny, he or she can forgo airline travel, the use of the telephone and the internet, and even personal identification and credit cards.

Even Dennis Rehberg eventually figured out that Montanans value their right to keep their conversations private, without government spying.

Livingstone also offered this Orwellian defense of government intrusion into our lives:

Rather than railing against technological intrusions on privacy, Mr Barr should recognise that these same technologies may, in the end, reinforce privacy in the modern world. In other words, by contributing to the security of modern societies, new information and surveillance technologies may actually do more to promote privacy than to diminish it.

That’s right. According to Neil Livingstone, the best way to increase our privacy rights is to erode them. Mr. Livingstone may well have grown up in Montana, but he certainly doesn’t understand us. The people here you and I know aren’t willing to let some politician’s fear appeals limit our fundamental right to privacy in our own lives.

Tomorrow: Neil Livingstone defends torture.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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