As a matter of fundamental principle, I fail to understand why people putatively concerned with privacy are so comfortable with having to report to the government the details of everything they earn — and to explain how they earned it, from whom, where, and when — but so terrified at the prospect of the state’s discovering that they’ve been reading Dan Brown.
Certainly, the requirement that certain “social welfare” groups justify their eligibility if they intend to take advantage of exemptions from the tax code is a reasonable one. Moreover, to have an income tax is inevitably to have an IRS. But, given this, what explains the comfort with the income tax in the first place? Why is the IRS less worrying to the Left than is the DHS? Especially in light of this abuse, why is the ACLU not calling for the creation of a tax system that does not require individuals casually to share so much private information with the state? If national-security concerns, as Feingold insisted, cannot trump privacy, then why can the state’s economic convenience?
Both the IRS and the DHS may ask pretty much whatever they please, and both may conduct capricious and invasive investigations without too much in the way of probable cause or oversight. But if anything, the IRS is considerably the more intrusive of the two — and it is set to become even more so as Obamacare wraps its ugly tentacles around us all. As a matter of course, I am required annually to hand over a great deal of my personal information to the state, not because I have done anything wrong but as a condition of my existing and earning a living. Contrarily, I will likely come into the DHS’s purview only if I do something wrong, if they target the wrong person, or if the security services cast too wide a net. When they next expire in 2015, the more worrying components of the PATRIOT Act should certainly be revisited and expunged. But, while they should not be on the statute books, it remains true that these components have almost never been used. The IRS, meanwhile, abuses its power daily. Where is the conniption?
It’s not just books. USA Today reports that the IRS asked the tea-party groups for the “names of donors,” for “a list of all issues that are important to the organization” (along with the organization’s “position regarding such issues”), for records of conversations members had, and for information as to whether members had any intention of running for public office. As my colleague Andrew Stiles recorded yesterday, the IRS even went so far as to instruct a teacher within a conservative educational group to “to identify the students I’m teaching and what I’m teaching them.”
Vigilance, we are told, is the eternal price of liberty. Without doubt, our overzealous security regime deserves our attention. Still, while we’re at it, we might stop ignoring the monster in our midst.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.