What do oxygen tanks, Clarence Thomas and shamrock shakes have in common?

On the way home this afternoon, I heard a story on All Things Considered about the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a group that was created by congress to act as a counterbalance to all the spying the government does on us in the name of safety and homeland security.

Apparently our elected officials are considering legislation to allow the CIA or FBI or whoever to monitor internet usage in order to find and stop cyber attacks before they happen, and take away even more of our privacy in the process.

I think the story concluded by saying that although this board has been around for a while the White House stalled in nominating members and now Congress is stalling confirming them, so nothing is happening.

The board certainly isn’t achieving what it was created to achieve, and it will be needed more than ever if this new legislation is passed.

I’m not quite sure if that was the point of the article or not because, as so often happens when I listen to Public Radio, a particular line or quote will get my imagination running and I stop listening.

Today it was this quote from Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon:

“[Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act] would allow law enforcement to look for evidence of future crimes, opening the door to a dystopian world where law enforcement evaluates your Internet activity for the potential that you might commit a crime.”

I immediately wondered, “What would that mean for authors?”

When I started writing a year ago, I found myself becoming fascinated by how authors research their books. I even posted about it last November.

If the government is going to start spying on people’s internet search history to look for potential future criminals, I’m afraid every writer out there is going to get locked up.

In just in the writing of my little project and novel, I have googled whether or not someone can die from a home oxygen tank exploding, strip clubs in Las Vegas, the mask from Scream, bipolar disorder, Clarence Thomas (why I googled him exactly is beyond me), medications that are advertised on television and McDonald’s shamrock shakes.

And that was in just a couple of weeks.

Some government lackey in charge of keeping track of Vermont internet usage could look at that and deduce that I was planning to put on a Scream mask, poison a shamrock shake with a medication from a TV ad, drug Clarence Thomas with it and take him to see a bi-polar stripper in Las Vegas before blowing him up with an oxygen tank.

And what would the search histories of mystery writers look like? Or someone who wrote horror movie scripts?

I think for the sake of all the writers in the country, Congress better start confirming members of that oversight board. Or all our future great works of literature will be written from a cell block.

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