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The real power of the western democracies lies not in the governments doing what they want, it is in the people being free to do what they want. Free people made a thriving movie industry, which is something the government could never create. Can you imagine if we had a federal agency that tried to make movies to compete with Hollywood? Free people made the computer and software industries. Free people made the insurance industry. Free people made the auto industry. Free people made public key cryptography. Free people invented airplanes. Free people made the Internet what it is today (maybe it was created as a government project, but it is hardly a government thing right now). Freedom to do what we want without excessive government interference makes us successful and ultimately more powerful.
The governments need to be strictly limited, or they will destroy our freedom and power. Seriously, does anyone still wonder why the western democracies have become so powerful? It is because they are designed to guarantee the freedom of the people. The people, doing what they want, create very powerful industries, technologies, and social structures. The problem with all this spying is that it threatens our freedoms. With nearly complete information available to the leader, there is too much potential that the leader could abuse the power. First, the leader abuses the power to silence his/her political opposition. Then, the leader abuses the power to silence the backlash from the people supporting the opposition. Then, the leader abuses the power to hide his/her corruption, abuses, mistakes and problems. This is not a question of "if" but "when".
People sometimes think that, because a problem occured when people were free, maybe the freedom is to blame. I agree with *you*, danheskett. I believe we should always resist the presumption that any agent of the executive should be allowed to act without oversight and accountability to combat terrorism. That is a recipe for disaster in the form of dictatorship. So if anyone out there is struggling to find the answer, here it is: "It's freedom, stupid!" Less freedom will not make us more safe. It will endanger us! In this particular case of government access to encrypted data, it will make our computers more vulnerable not only to the government but to the terrorists! A free and secure populace will protect the government, because it is free and secure. A subjugated and oppressed populace will not protect the government.