The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders' commitment to privacy rights.
Some board members say the extensive data collection makes a mockery of the organization's frequent criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their practice of accumulating data on people for marketing and other purposes.
Some might say, this is rank hypocrisy.
Although this particular incident is likely transitory, there are bigger problems with the ACLU. My impession is that there are several:
- Partisanship. During the California recall campaign, the ACLU tried to prevent this democratic exercise using the absurd claim that the then-current voting system discriminated against minorities, even though minorities and whites used the same system. In short, minority voters were too stupid to follow the instructions. This lawsuit was a transpartently partisan effort to save Davis.
- Property Rights. Even though property rights are fundamental to human rights (imagine if everything you owned belonged to the government, which could take it away at will), the ACLU generally neglects these rights, because it's basically socialist in ideology, and instead treats government handouts as "rights".
- Anti-Religious Bias. The ACLU uses energy fighting any expression of religion in any way related to government, regarding any religious expression, even those of traditional American "civic religion" as a violation of the Establishment clause. In short, it wants to impose an extreme version of secularism.
- National Security. The organization ignores reasonable requirements of national security in favor of an "absolutist" view of civil liberties. Its alarmism over the "Patriot" Act is an example. Not all of the Act's provisions are unreasonable threats to liberty, given the threat to both liberty and life posed by Al Qaeda and its allies.
- Reverse Racism. The ACLU has favored racial preferences as general public policy, rather than taking a race-neutral approach to the issue.
These and other errors are serious problems, and prevent many like me from supporting the ACLU. Indeed, the very name provokes derision. And yet, threats to freedom of expression and opinion, and to property rights, abound, and merit an organization to watch over them. In my view we need not an "anti-ACLU" but an alternative ACLU with a view of these issues closer to the libertarian than to the left-liberal or socialist view. Is it likely to happen? Five years ago I would have said no, because the transaction costs involved in creating such a group would be too high.
Perhaps the rise of the Blogosphere makes a difference. The analysis, organizational work, and fund-raising involved are formidable. But stranger efforts have suceeded.