Regarding former homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff’s Nov. 1 Washington Forum commentary, “Invading our own privacy”:
Using my tweets as his foil, Mr. Chertoff asked whether social media is creating an “informant society” akin to the Stasi or Red Guards, suggesting that a debate about Twitter might be more apropos than a debate about government authority to eavesdrop on its citizens.
That is absurd.
Totalitarian regimes use more than smartphones. They use methods familiar to both former CIA director Michael V. Hayden, whose conversation I overheard recently on an Acela train, and Mr. Chertoff: imprisonment without trial, torture and warrantless spying. Indeed, the homeland security slogan — “If you see something, say something” — seems like it was borrowed from Soviet archives.
It is my right to tweet anything I wish. In a free society, the risk of ridicule and criticism is our censor. Indeed, just as it is easier to publish in the era of social media, it is also easier to criticize the publisher. Free speech, with all of its messiness, is a critical part of our democracy, whether it comes from a pamphleteer named Thomas Paine or a tweeter on a train.
Further, the debate about the limits of government power that Mr. Chertoff made light of should be cherished, not belittled.
Free speech and debating the limits of government power are part of our country’s DNA. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”
Tom Matzzie, Washington
The writer is a board member of MoveOn.org Political Action.