Trusting (federal) authority: our own and views worldwide

Inspired by thoughts I had about this question I asked in another thread:

A couple of things occurred to me:

  1. This doesn’t seem to be a very common point of view, no matter what one’s political persuasion.

  2. This view feels to me (and please correct me if I’m wrong) more common in Europe and other Westernized countries than here.

If there indeed is a big difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world in these terms, where did it come from? Is it an actual case of American exceptionalism (sort of)? Is there any reason we SHOULD trust the federal government more, either with our personal information or in any other way?

I’m not at all sure that you’re right here. It’s true that many European governments do keep more detailed and systematic information on the population than is common in the US, and this is uncontroversial, but that’s not what your quote refers to. Your quote seems to me to address the possibility that the state can access personal information about you held by third parties - banks, insurance companies, your doctor, your phone company, etc, etc. I don’t see any reason to think that the citizens of other western countries are any less concerned about this than Americans are.

For what it’s worth, we know that there are concerns in Europe about the adequacy of the protection of data privacy under US law, and this poses obstacles to the transfer of personal data from the EU to the US. That’s not really consistent with the idea that European are blasé about protecting their private data, compared to Americans.

I’m not sure I want to be limited strictly to third party information here, especially since the quoted statement doesn’t. As you said, there seems to be less controversy over this kind of thing in general.

My impression is that European are less concerned about the government gathering personal information, but more concerned about the security of personal information held by third parties. Does that mean that, in general, it averages out? :slight_smile:

Point 2 is simply not correct – other political cultures draw different boundary lines defining what personal information the government is and is not permitted to gather, but the principle that there are boundary lines beyond which the government may not go is universal among Westernized countries.

Power corrupts. Too much power in the hands of an institution leads to Inquisitions, torture, the holocaust, mass incarceration, etc. It’s not that the federal government cannot do good it’s that power must always be constrained otherwise the source of power becomes a target for ambitious, unscrupulous actors.

Why this simple historical truth, which is taught by the way in school, is so hard to comprehend or accept is puzzling. My only explanation is that the motivations of those who choose to denigrate the concept are unseemly.

As UDS has already pointed out. How do you define “in general”. In Norway the government has a register of all citizens with DOB and current address and a national ID-number. Anyone wanting to work in the country has to acquire such a number. This is considered a necessity for a regulated state and for taxation purposes and is totally not controversial.

But that’s not the same as the government having access to “any and all personal information”. We also have a vocal data-privacy oversight authority and strict laws about who can build databases with the personal information of others, for what purposes and what restrictions on security, privacy and scope that have to stay within.

The government are not exempt from these laws, and the oppositions to changes in these laws to “increase security” is just as vocal as what I can observe in the US.

So what definitions are you actually operating on to draw your “general” observations?