Big Brother calling

January 1, 2003 By    

Propane marketers consistently cite their frustration with overly invasive federal bureaucracy as a top concern and a primary reason for getting out of an otherwise rewarding business.

That’s one reason the National Propane Gas Association has added bodies and sharpened its focus on the legislative battlefront from its new Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Yet I fear this new year could launch Big Brother totalitarianism in doses unseen since the old Soviet Union, now that President George W. Bush’s has signed the controversial Homeland Security Act. The bill creates a vast new bureaucracy of 170,000 employees and unprecedented powers drawn from two dozen agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and the Coast Guard.

Many of these groups include the federal entities that think up and police the rules that regulate propane operations. Precisely why it does not include the Central Intelligence Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation the agencies most closely associated with securing the homeland ­escapes me.

James Bond movie buffs must get goosebumps reading the fine print of the 500-page Homeland Security Act. The bill authorizes a new Directorate for Information and Analysis and Infrastructure Protection to collect and integrate information from government and private sources and “to establish and utilize . . . data-mining and other advanced analytical tools.” It
also gives a half a billion dollars to a new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop new surveillance and other technologies to detect, prevent and respond to threats.

Grounded in the controversial Patriot Act, the bill permits local, state and federal employees to seek private e-mails, instant messages and other sensitive communications without any judicial orders or even a subpoena. Now doesn’t that make you feel safer, both as a businessman and as a private citizen?

Even as the government tears down the wall of privacy that Americans take for granted, the Homeland Security Act erects new barriers to keep Americans from finding out how the federal government is spending our tax dollars. Some opponents are calling its passage the most severe weakening of the Freedom of Information Act in its 36-year history.

I can’t help wondering how successful the NPGA would have been fighting this new Superagency over that multi-million-dollar surplus in the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness fund earlier this year, or the mandatory public disclosure of worst-case scenarios under the Risk Management Plan a while back.

Think the feds have been an albatross around the propane industry’s neck the last 25 years? In the name of national security, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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