Posner's argument -- that so long as the data is gathered by government computers, there's no privacy invasion -- is stunning.
The collection, mainly through electronic means, of vast amounts of personal data is said to invade privacy. But machine collection and processing of data cannot, as such, invade privacy. Because of their volume, the data are first sifted by computers, which search for names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., that may have intelligence value. This initial sifting, far from invading privacy (a computer is not a sentient being), keeps most private data from being read by any intelligence officer.So Posner claims that there cannot be an invasion of privacy because the actions in question are not executed by a sentient being but, rather, by a computer.
Does anyone think that Judge Posner would argue that there cannot be a homicide where the actions in question are not executed by a sentient being but, rather, by a time-bomb?
Of course not.
Posner -- and common sense -- would recognize that the illegal death caused by the homicide was in no way dependant on the instrumentality through which it was executed. And in the same way, common sense tells us that "the collection and processing" of "vast amounts of personal data" is an invasion of privacy, regardless of the device or devices used to gather the information.
And the fact that the nation is embroiled in an ongoing "war on terror" doesn't change that determination.
Guns are unquestionably a vital tool in the war on terror. And -- in a limited sense -- it's true that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." But those two facts do not mean that we cannot and should not limit the government's use of firearms.
In the same way, just because data collection is a vital tool in the war on terror and -- in the same limited sense -- "government computers don't invade privacy, governments invade privacy", that doesn't mean that we cannot and should not limit the government's use of computers to gather the personal data of U.S. citizens.