The Path to Tyranny is Short

October 20, 2021 | PUFP Staff

Nate Thurston and Charlie Thompson from the “Good Morning Liberty!” podcast were featured during a session sponsored by People United for Privacy at the Freer Future Fest in Nashville, Tennessee. Listen to their podcast episode from the event, No Liberty Without Privacy. You can also watch videos of the discussion here.

Americans’ right to life, liberty, and property is precious. Since our nation’s founding, countless Americans have given their lives to protect the rights and freedoms our Founding Fathers fought so hard to include in the United States Constitution, including the right to privacy. Without privacy, Americans would not have the right to free speech or freedom of assembly, and without these, Americans would not be able to come together, to share information, or to effect change – all of which are critical to guard against a tyrannical government.

Today, many Americans choose to exercise their First Amendment rights by privately donating to charitable and nonprofit organizations. From charities that assist the homeless and less fortunate to nonprofits that advocate on issues important to their local communities, through their donations, individuals are able to join other like-minded people, and together, amplify their voices in support of — or opposition to — any given cause or charity.

Yet for decades, politicians have sought creative ways to strip individuals of their constitutionally protected rights, including privacy. One such approach has been to force charities and nonprofits to disclose the names and home addresses of their donors to the government for inclusion in an online database accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection.

Protecting all Americans’ right to privacy – and their right to donate to the causes and charities they support without their names being disclosed to the government and targets placed on their backs — is essential for a healthy democracy. Without privacy, Americans would have no recourse against the government when it moves in to take away other rights.

How Do We Get To Tyranny?

Politicians commonly justify their trespasses against our rights in the name of “transparency” or “accountability” or “safety.” All things that sound nice, right? As it relates to forced donor disclosure, politicians claim that Americans need to know — that they deserve to know — the names and home addresses of individuals who donate to environmental organizations, the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, a state think tank or local church. They claim knowing this information will bring transparency to how policy is influenced, that it will make government better.

In truth, politicians want this information to be able to target both the organizations that disagree with them and the individuals who donate to those charities and nonprofits. Without the right to privately support a cause or charity, individuals must risk being targeted, harassed, and intimidated for their beliefs, and charitable and nonprofit organizations will inevitably be limited in the good work they can do.

While most people like the idea of transparency, the question is often who needs to be transparent: individual, law-abiding Americans or the government? It should come as no surprise that the government practices their privacy rights, and often has more privacy in comparison to individual Americans. Consider this: In 2018, legislators in Washington state passed a bill to hide their records from the public, removing themselves from requirements under the voter-approved Public Records Act. Shortly after, they passed another bill that required nonprofit groups, charities, and causes to report the names and home addresses of their top donors to the government.

To be clear: Privacy is for the people, transparency is for the government.

Privacy Matters, Even if You Think It Doesn’t

Sadly, some people are not concerned about their privacy, or they fail to understand how the loss of privacy would destroy our democracy. They believe that government intrusion into our private lives would only impact the privacy of criminals. But many fail to recognize how such power and information could be used (or abused) against the American people by future politicians who may hold different viewpoints. Today’s government officials who seize those rights could just as easily become the target of those in power tomorrow.

Chipping away at Americans’ right to privacy, and their right to free speech and association — all under the guise of transparency or better government — isn’t a slippery slope, it’s a cliff. Without the right to privacy, Americans will no longer be able to assemble, to speak freely, or to effect change, and in time the government will cease to be “by the people, for the people.”