A Further Perspective

Oops, Maybe Government is Tyrannical

Americans should know there is no guarantee of personal privacy with the government.

By 5.17.13

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Less than two weeks ago President Obama stood in front of graduates from The Ohio State University and told them to reject those who warn of government tyranny.

“Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems,” he said.

To young, idealistic people his words likely sounded insightful -- until last week. That’s when it became officially impossible to deny that the government abuses its power for political gain.

Practically overnight people labeled conspiracy theorists by the elite were proven prescient interpreters of how big government operates when news broke last Friday that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny in their tax-exempt applications. The media pile-on against the administration is so ferocious Fox News could run live feeds from its competitors without losing a beat.

It should be so because the partisan treatment of hundreds of groups is stunning.

Ginny Rapini saw the IRS in action firsthand. The volunteer coordinator for the NorCal Tea Party applied for 501(c)(4) status for her group in July 2009. In the spring of 2010 the IRS asked for more information. She sent in the information immediately but didn’t hear from the IRS again until January 2012, she said. At that point the agency sent the group a list of 19 questions, including a request for the names of donors, every email the group sent and minutes of each board meeting, with the requirement that everything be returned within two weeks or the agency would consider the application void, she said. She sent the IRS 3,000 pages of information prior to the deadline – but did not include the names of donors. “I think they wanted to intimidate me, but instead they made me mad,” said Rapini.

After Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) spoke about NorCal’s problems with the IRS on the floor of the House and wrote to the agency, she got a favorable response to her application in the summer of 2012 – three years after the initial request, not unlike many other organizations treated to years of silence in between harassing questions.

What makes the IRS’s actions even worse is that top officials knew about the inappropriate questioning of conservative groups since 2011 but didn’t say anything about it to Congress. Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, was fired earlier this week, and should be the first of a long line of people held accountable for the agency’s flagrant mistreatment of political opponents by one of the most powerful government agencies.

On top of the IRS scandal, the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week admitted to secretly taking records of incoming and outgoing calls on work and personal phones of Associated Press (AP) reporters, its main lines in New York, Washington and Hartford, CT., and for the AP number in the House of Representatives. It took records on more than 20 lines in total in April and May of 2012 – lines used by more than 100 journalists.

Asked by National Public Radio how many other news media phone records the DOJ had taken Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I’m not sure how many of those cases…I have actually signed off on…I take them very seriously.”

So, confidential sources are not confidential if the government wants to know who they are. Whistleblowers beware.

That all of this is happening as the IRS is in the middle of hiring potentially thousands of new employees to write and enforce ObamaCare regulations should make everyone afraid. It is also happening while the IRS is in the middle of creating a giant information center with other federal agencies called the Data Services Hub to assist with rolling out ObamaCare that will provide one stop shopping on everything but what color underwear someone is wearing for the day.

The government promises, “Protecting the privacy of individuals remains the highest priority.” But after the last week, Americans should know there is no guarantee of personal privacy with the government or impartiality in how their information is used. It should also put Americans on notice that their political party could determine the quality of their health care. Welcome to the real world, Ohio State graduates.

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About the Author
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives.  Write her at marta@martamossburg.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.