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Americans to US Government: Snoop, Baby, Snoop!

The US media and the pundit class, everywhere from the NYT to The Atlantic, are elegantly and beautifully wringing their sensitive hands over the NSA snooping scandal. Woe, alas and alackaday seems to be the reigning sentiment. Freedom is dead. Big Brother rules the roost.

Outside the Beltway, however, a new Pew poll finds that a majority of the American public is rather nonchalant about the whole thing:

A majority of Americans—56%—say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority—41%—say it is unacceptable.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, conducted June 6-9 among 1,004 adults, finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy.

This data should only be surprising to those who don’t understand the deeply held Jacksonian instincts of many ordinary Americans. When their personal safety is on the line, their priority is to do whatever it takes to defeat the enemy with the minimal amount of lost life at home. If that means drones, or a little internet snooping, it’s worth it to avoid the loss of American life.

Of course, not all Americans are Jacksonians, and even those who are don’t feel that way all the time. The poll found that 41 percent of Americans aren’t happy with telephone record tracking. Even more strikingly, 52 percent don’t think the government should be allowed to “monitor everyone’s email and other online activities if officials say this might prevent future terrorist attacks.” America is a big place with lots going on. Hamilton, Jefferson, and Wilson all have their followers, and the rise of the security state has spawned a kind of resurgence of civil liberties-based Jeffersonianism among both liberals and conservatives. But all told, a majority of Americans like what keeps them safe—drones, spying, and all.

Here at Via Meadia, as usual we drift somewhere in the middle ground. We get the civil liberties concerns, and we also note that more than one aspiring tyrant in world history has used public fear to overthrow republican institutions. At the same time, the 51 percent of Americans who think the terror threat is serious enough to justify emergency measures aren’t panicky nut jobs to be dismissed with contempt.

On issues like this one, the devil is usually in the details. Better congressional oversight, reviewing and perhaps tightening the legal safeguards in place, and strict controls over how the information is accessed need to be part of the answer. The attacks of 9/11 opened the door to a challenging world with difficult trade-offs and sticky new problems. The internet, a public space that many of us have grown used to thinking as private, raises difficult questions of privacy and law enforcement.

At times like this we are glad we have an adversarial political system with competing parties and branches of government working to keep one another in check. As liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, and the three branches of government compete with one another, the ability of the government as a whole to crush public freedom in the name of security is limited by the rivalries built into the system. Even in this strange new age, America’s constitutional system of government remains the greatest bulwark of both our national security and our civil liberties.

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  • wigwag

    I don’t think much of Tom Friedman or Andrew Sullivan; they’re the tweedle dee and tweedle dum of banal bloviating. But they both get the contretemps about the NSA revelations exactly right; its a faux scandal. The only real scandal here is the idiocy of the New York Times editorial page and the rest of the progressive glitterati in blowing the whole thing out of proportion.

    Friedman and Sullivan both link to a marvelous blog post by David Simon, the creator of the hit HBO show, “The Wire.” No sane person who reads Simon’s post can conclude that the whole thing is anything other than much ado about nothing.

    Here’s a link to the Simon’s post.

    • Philopoemen

      Simon’s argument essentially hinges on:

      1) He’s willing to give up liberty for temporary safety

      2) He thinks it’s impossible to actually interpret aggregate data, comparing it to people at desks listening to telephone calls

      He’s wrong on both counts. Maybe you (and certainly Simon) aren’t all that familiar with computing and “big data”, but if you were you would not be as nonchalant as you are.

      • rheddles

        Illuminate us on what we should fear.

        • Corlyss

          In this case, competence. They collect so much data they can’t turn it into information without a lot more people or some algorithm Google is probably working on right now to tease out more precise information about Democratic-leaning voters.

    • Corlyss

      “I don’t think much of Tom Friedman or Andrew Sullivan; they’re the tweedle dee and tweedle dum of banal bloviating. But they both get the contretemps about the NSA revelations exactly right; its a faux scandal. The only real scandal here is the idiocy of the New York Times editorial page and the rest of the progressive glitterati in blowing the whole thing out of proportion.”
      Agree completely.

  • wigwag

    I went back and read the article from the Atlantic that Professor Mead links to in this post. While I don’t agree with it, the article is definitely worth a look. It makes the point that the NSA case resembles Kafka’s “The Trial” a lot more than it resembles Orwell’s “1984.”

    I don’t think the NSA program resembles the plot of either book, but to be fair, the secret FISA court is somewhat reminiscent of the tribunal hounding Josef K. in Kafka’s novel. The same thing might be argued about the military tribunals in Guantanamo.

  • ljgude

    You hit the nail on the head for me WRM because my head is Jeffersonian and my heart is Jacksonian. I come by that combination honestly – both my parents were Ivy League educated, but decided to farm so I grew up in the back woods on 300 acres believing it was my natural right to go where i pleased and to shoot anything I didn’t like. My Jeffersonian side can see that we haven’t figured out how to rein in datamining with due process and it isn’t clear what else the boys at the NSA have been up to because evidently Mr. Snowdon is not done with his revelations yet. But my Jacksonian side has no problem with using all the technology and cunning we have to stick it to the terrorists. And I have no illusions about Obama who evidently thinks the Tea Party is radical and the Muslim Brotherhood moderate. I think you point in exactly the right direction when you argue that our constitutional system with its checks and balances and adversarial political system still hold the best hope of working through the assimilation of information technology into the fabric of democracy. In the mean time, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

  • qet

    I could not disagreee more with Via Meadia’s assertion that as to this “issue” (a description unworthy of the gravity of the matter) “the devil is in the details.” While Via Meadia’s well-considered hesitation and fence-straddling are for the moment the only publicly correct reaction, it will not do to attempt to put the matter to rest by simple typologizing and calculating. The results of the poll are owing not to citizen typologies and calculations but to popular indifference. Our concerns are far more with the next smartphone release and HBO miniseries than with being active citizens and policing our own government. Not even the wise structures erected by the Founders can survive eternally purely by inertia. The Hamiltonian enthusiasm for the administration of society by an all-powerful central government was decisively rejected in the Constitution, typologize that how you will. The passage of time and the quantum leaps in technology have not eliminated the passions and temptations to which people remain subject, and vast databases of national surveillance programs will sooner or later prove too tempting for the State to resist. For this country and no other, the State as Panopticon is contradictory of our fundamental political logic, and urging an understanding of the NSA program (and of the recent SCOTUS decision that the state is free to create a vast national DNA database of its citizens) based solely on a calculation, on a weighing of the calculated costs against the calculated benefits, is to have abjured the very principle of this nation. But it is too late to reverse course (hence the correctness of the fence-straddling). As Rousseau wrote, once a man is dead one does not call the doctor.

    • wigwag

      Based on what evidence do you conclude that the the willingness of the majority of Americans (at least from what we can ascertain from the polling) to accept the NSA program is the result of public indifference rather than rational calculation? Is it so inconceivable to you that the public can agree with the NSA, the Obama Administration (and before that the Bush Administrstion) and their elected congressional representatives that the program significantly enhances security while only modestly impinging privacy rights?

      Perhaps people of good will can disagree with the program but surely the fact that most Americans disagree with you isn’t a sign that they are indifferent to their liberties. After all, many of these same Americans are highly attentive to their Second Amendment rights; if they are not “indifferent” to those why do you automatically assume that their failure to be outraged by the NSA program must be a sign of indifference?

      I think they’ve made a perfectly rational calculation; while a ledger of all the telephone numbers they’ve dialed from their cell phones residing forever in government computers isn’t exactly the same as having them reside forever in the computers of the telephone companies, its close enough if it prevents another Boeing jet from crashing into a skyscraper in an American city.

      Do you really believe that the only way to arrive at that conclusion is to be indifferent to the true sentiments underpinning tha American form of Government?

      • qet

        I cannot prove my assertion of popular indifference any more than you or anyone else can prove that consideration has been given and calculations performed. Your point re the 2nd Amendment is a good one. My response is that, like the right to abortion, the 2nd Amendment has a small but stable active political constituency. Remember that not too long ago we were being assured via polls that 90% of the American people wanted a universal background check law to pass Congress but that it was defeated by a small nefarious interest group of fanatics. Be that as it may, I think it is safe to say that (the ACLU notwithstanding), there is not a defined and stable political constituency for 4th Amendment issues. Until they are directly and personally adverseley affected, most people will not spend much time agonizing over aggrandizements by law enforcement agencies, but by then it will be too late. Finally, my objection has less to do with the existing state of the surveillance program on 6/12/13 than with the trajectory of the matter. I mentioned the DNA database as a part of this trajectory. The State will not cease developing and expanding the scope of these programs if we give either the encouragement or even the toleration that we seem to be giving these programs. So, I worry.

  • lehnne

    This is an astonishing parochial interpretation. This is not a domestic issue but impacts countries around the world that communicate and conduct commerce with the U.S. The downside ramifications are unknown. The faith in our government to keep citizens safe from terrorism is misplaced at best. The vaunted three branches of American politics are in the business of keep themselves safe.

    • Andrew Allison

      While agreeing that all three Branches are much more self-interested that in we the people, the issue is not foreign intelligence but whether the Fourth Amendment rights of American Citizens have been infringed upon. On balance, I’m inclined to think that the security apparatus has over-reached.

      • lehnne

        A clarification: the point I thought overlooked was that millions of people around the globe now know that their personal, professional and commercial Internet and cell phone activities are being captured and cataloged by the U.S. government and its data collection transnational corporations. They are dependent on the “magnanimity” of the U.S. I doubt that they are much concerned with 4th amendment violations of American citizens.

  • Philopoemen

    I should add that this matter does not only concern the USA. I am not American, yet I, as an internet user, have almost certainly been impacted in some way by this data-mining. Americans can be defensive of this project if they wish, but this will do grave (perhaps irreparable) harm to the USA’s status as keyholder of the internet. For years you have banked on your concern for liberty as a means to justify maintaining control of the web, but you have now shown the world that was this a farce and a bald-faced lie. In your quest for power and control, you have undermined the foundation of one of America’s greatest contributions to humanity.

    A case in point:

    • rheddles

      For years you have banked on your concern for liberty as a means to
      justify maintaining control of the web, but you have now shown the world
      that was this a farce and a bald-faced lie.

      Whose posts have been censored? What topics are you forbidden to discuss.

      • Philopoemen

        Is this the “if you have nothing to hide…” argument?

        • rheddles

          No. It’s the whose liberty has been impinged question.

          • Philopoemen

            Perhaps you have not been following the debate regarding “ownership” of the internet all that closely, but the USA’s stated rationale for keeping control of it was to prevent oppressive regimes from diluting its freedom and openness. It now appears that it was rather to maintain control of the infrastructure that allowed them to spy on the entire developed world. You are free to approve of your government’s decisions, but I, as a non-American, should not be subjected to constant surveillance by the American government.

          • rheddles

            OK, you couldn’t identify a case of anyone’s liberty being impinged. Can you identify whose freedom and openness have been diluted?

          • Philopoemen

            Ah I see, you’re simply trolling.

          • rheddles

            You may consider it trolling if you wish. But to my mind you are making allegations about what the US has done that is wrong and why the US should no longer control the internet. I am asking you to back up your allegations with facts.

            The closest I can find is your statement “I, as a non-American, should not be subjected to constant surveillance by the American government.” I understand your point. I as an American think I should not be subjected to what I consider to be an unconstitutional unreasonable search in order to fly a commercial flight. I am in the legal and practical minority on this. I am not going to change the policy and I am not going to participate in an abrogation of my liberty. So I have not boarded an airplane in a decade.

            However, I have always assumed that everything on the internet was passing through the NSA at some point. To think otherwise is naive or to be ill-informed in my opinion. Especially for someone who is not an American.

            You have not established that the NSA is doing any of the wrong things you have alleged. It has merely offended your sensibilities. When my sensibilities are offended I remove my self from the situation that is offensive. That is why I no longer watch television either. But I don’t have the right to ask everyone else to cease creating situations I find offensive.

          • Philopoemen

            I’m not sure why you don’t see (or at least object to) the hypocrisy inherent in saying one is maintaining control of a system to keep it free and open, while secretly monitoring “private” activity within that system. If Google were a Russian company, would you use it if you knew that the FSB were tracking your every move? If the bulk of the internet were Chinese, would you use it freely?

            To take my “liberty” complaint a bit further, let’s use a purely capitalist example: we are both currently using the services of Disqus, an american company. Their service is “free” to use, but we understand that Disqus will use the information we generate as a source of revenue. This is acceptable because that’s how we are “paying” for this service.

            But what happens when Disqus is obligated by US law to cede its data to the US government? That greatly undermines Disqus’ (and Google’s, Facebook’s, et al.) business model. I consented to this business arrangement because I want to comment on websites, not be a data node for the NSA. The US government is preventing me from using Disqus’ product as I had intended, and hampering Disqus’ ability to deliver it.

            A rough analogy would be that all american-built cars be required to have a government-mandated tracking device – why would anyone buy american when they can get a foreign-built car without that tracking device? Would the US government really cripple its own industry in a quest for people’s private information?

          • rheddles

            the hypocrisy
            inherent in saying one is maintaining control of a system to keep it
            free and open, while secretly monitoring “private” activity within that

            There is no hypocrisy because the issues are apples and oranges. The internet is free and open because the US runs it. If China or Russia ran it it would not be free. There would be topics you could not write about and words that would get you in trouble with the authorities.

            A totally different issue is whether you should have an expectation of privacy when you use the internet. You seem to think so and I do not. To me the internet is much more like a newspaper than a letter or a phone call. You are launching your comment or inquiry into the public marketplace of ideas or commerce. It’s as though you write a letter to the editor and then expect privacy.

            The US has not prevented you from doing anything. The US government does have and always has had the legal right to ask for information from common carriers and has done so under law. While some may not like what has been done, I have seen no allegations of laws broken. If that makes you choose not to use US carriers or the internet, you are free to choose to do so or not as you wish.

            As to cars, the US cannot mandate what is sold in other countries, but it can mandate what is sold in the US regardless of origin. And tracking devices are being pushed in the market by insurance companies and will be mandated by the government within a few years. That is why I will keep my 22 year old dumb car running as long as I can.

          • Philopoemen

            To me the internet is much more like a newspaper than a letter or a phone call. You are launching your comment or inquiry into the public marketplace of ideas or commerce. It’s as though you write a letter to the editor and then expect privacy.

            I will grant that this is logical re: Disqus, but what about email? Could one not expect the same level of privacy as with the postal system, in which I believe tampering with the mail is a federal offense in the USA?

          • rheddles

            I believe the government could collect the metadata from envelopes but could not open the envelope absent a court issued warrant which could be secretly issued. (I am not a lawyer). I agree that this is the difficult point but I do not know the law here at all.

            On the other hand, I believe the whole point of the NSA is to intercept as much non-American traffic as possible and always has been.

            Not sure where you’re from, but I believe every government that can afford to do so is engaged in traffic interception. I am certain that Canada, the UK, France Israel, Russia, China, Japan and Australia all engage in the practice.

            The age of gentlemen ended long ago.

          • Philopoemen

            The problem (or blessing) with envelopes (and telephone calls) is that it’s exceedingly impractical to monitor everything. On the other hand, with a sufficiently powerful server, the aggregation, analysis and cross-referencing of everything on the internet is trivial in comparison. That’s essentially what Google does, and they have but a tiny fraction of the US government’s resources, financial or otherwise.

            Again, perhaps I am more concerned about this because I work more closely to this field than most of VM’s readers, but the inferences one can make from enormous swaths of seemingly random data are frightening.

          • rheddles

            Google’s technical resources appear to now be superior to the NSA’s. That’s why Booz Allen had the contract with NSA, the government can’t afford to pay what the private sector can.

            I’m not too concerned about government workers making inferences. I am concerned with the actions they take based on those inferences.

            Finally, I would note that 25 years ago Scott McNealy said “You’ve got no privacy. Get over it.”

          • Corlyss

            Just changing the subject doesn’t mean you’re engaging in reasonable argument. Either you can back up your claims, or you can’t. If you can, do so. If not, maybe you better disengage.

          • Corlyss

            Assuming facts not in evidence, Phil.

          • Philopoemen

            Ah, so the rest of the world should all give the NSA the benefit of the doubt, then. American exceptionalism at its finest.

            Edit: this is interesting –

          • Corlyss

            I thought I was speaking clearly enough. There is no evidence that a single American has been targeted or jeopardized or lost a single right or liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

    • Andrew Allison

      On the contrary, the brouhaha in the US is about whether the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens have been violated. Others, such as yourself, should take the matter up with their governments.

    • jeburke

      An understandable worry. I’d point out, though, first, that (assuming reports about PRISM are accurate), it provides an electronic mechanism through which NSA can access internet data of specific targets following a FISA court order more efficiently than it might otherwise.We see from the Guardian story that the top four recent sources of the data delivered were Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan (the latter perhaps related to Syria?). That makes sense, of course, for a program aimed at US intelligence targets. The concern that NSA is snooping on German or French emails generally seems as exaggerated as the fretting about “spying on Americans.”

      Second, if NSA did not surveill its intelligence targets via PRISM, it undoubtedly would do it some other way — although the alternatives might be more difficult and expensive and less efficient. It might hack into streams of data or in some cases physically tap into fiber optic cables and intercept broadcast signals (bear in mind that it might very well be doing this anyway, in addition to PRISM). It is a fact that US law (like the laws of most other nations) permits intelligence gathering of all kinds outside the US, including the use of secret espionage. At least with PRISM, because of the potential for interception taking place on US soil of communications involving people inside the US, NSA must submit to judicual supervision and Congressional oversight.

      Third, US intelligence collection globally is frequently shared with allies and friendly nations, so that the US’s uniquely extensive resources can be a great benefit to Germany or Canada.

      Finally, keep in mind that the PRISM program does not change what data Google or Yahoo can be legally compelled to disgorge. It’s just a way to enable the companies to comply with subpoenas smoothly and easily.

      • Philopoemen

        That doesn’t do much to change the fact that the USA are undermining their basis for continued control of the internet. Where do we go from here? Does each country build their own internet, siloed off from the others to prevent espionage?

        • rheddles

          China and Iran are trying. It happens at a cost.

        • jeburke

          Amazing thing. Nation states still do things in their national interest. Anyway, this is not about US “control” of the Internet, is it? It’s about the dominance of such American companies as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook. That’s market dominance which comes about because of American technology innovation and business entrepreneurship. I’m not aware of any reason why a French or German company could not have achieved such dominance, not just within their own country’s borders but globally.

          I’m not unsympathetic to your concern and I’m sure these leaks are going to cause the internet companies some problems, but look, al Qaeda is known to have used Yahoo email for electronic dead drops. Is the US supposed to ignore hostile uses of Yahoo and Google because they happen to be successful US companies that everyone worldwide likes?

          • Philopoemen

            Are you really that afraid of Al Quaeda?

            Their US-based operatives have probably met in person as well. Is the US supposed to ignore hostile uses of verbal face-to-face communication? Speech analysis technology is rapidly advancing, and everyone has some kind of audio-recording device nowadays – where’s the harm in letting the NSA monitor an always-on connection to your cellphone’s microphone? Why not throw in facial recognition as well, if ever Google Glass-style devices become ubiquitous? Or Microsoft’s always-on Kinect camera for the Xbox One? Then the NSA can keep tabs on everyone, everywhere, 100% of the time.

            Wouldn’t you feel perfectly safe in that utopian world where the NSA is always looking out for you?

          • jeburke

            OK, that’s where critics like you always go when you have trouble mounting an argument: I’m afraid and the slippery slope will soon have NSA putting cameras in my bedroom. Prudent defense is not fear, and the NSA is not eavesdropping through my cellphone. Deal with reality, not fantasy.

          • Philopoemen

            I don’t think you understand how the underlying technology works. Perhaps VM was not the best forum for me to have this discussion.

          • rheddles

            Clearly you are more informed and intelligent than we mere mortals. That is why your arguments are so much more persuasive.

          • Philopoemen

            No condescension was intended; I merely want to stress than this is not “fantasy” as jeburke has stated. The capability is there, and your laws seem to allow it. People who aren’t very familiar with “Big Data” don’t usually realise how disturbingly insightful it can be.

          • rheddles

            But insight is exactly what intelligence agencies need. The problem is not that they have it but how they use it. That is why what really makes the NSA issue bad is Lois Lerner at the IRS as George Will pointed out this morning.

          • Philopoemen

            Intelligence agencies should be given the bare minimum of leeway that allows them to do their job in a satisfactory manner, and no more. Giving them the entire internet on a silver platter is taking it too far.

          • jeburke

            The underlying technology is not the issue. The issue is what the law does or does not permit and whether its safeguards are effective. The FBI or my local cops were capable of tapping my phone and recording all my conversations when the phone still had a “dial” and the phone company used electromechanical switches. But that was illegal without a warrant so they didn’t do it. Today, the FBI could technically and easily hack into my computer, hijack my webcam and record my internet activity and watch me as well. But they don’t because it’s illegal without a warrant.

          • Philopoemen

            That analogy doesn’t quite work. As things stand, it’s as if the NSA had already tapped all the phones in the country (and across the world), but the law tells it to “please only listen to the dangerous conversations”.

            The very premise is absurd; it’s putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

          • jeburke

            Nonsense. To actually tap my phone — ie, intercept my conversations or texts — the FBI/NSA would need a warrant from a court and Verizon’s cooperation in complying with the warrant. If you prefer to believe that both agencies, the court, the DoJ, Congress and the President are a pack of criminals, all ignoring the law, I guess you can. The analogy is apt. Fifty years ago, lawbreaking cops COULD physically tap my phone, either with the cooperation of a phone employee or simply by tapping into the wire outside my house. If they did, they’d be criminals. Similarly, post office employees could easily open and read my snail mail. They don’t because it’s a crime.

          • Philopoemen

            Again (and I say this without any pretension) I’m not sure you understand the technological background here. If the NSA has access to raw internet traffic, neither you nor anybody else knows which data they are looking at and what they are doing with them.

            If you were sitting in a restaurant and someone told you it was “illegal” to overhear the conversation at the table next to yours, how would anyone know whether you had actually listened in or not?

            You are putting your privacy at the mercy of the NSA’s good faith. If that seems acceptable to you, you are far more trusting of your government than I am.

          • jeburke

            Well, it is pretensious to pretend that you have some special insight into the “technological background.” Obviously, the technology exists to capture my activities on various technology platforms. That’s a kind of tautology.

            What matters is the law. The law expressly forbids the warrantless monitoring you fret about. I can’t help it if you don’t trust anyone.

          • Philopoemen

            The warrantless monitoring is already happening – that’s what I have been trying to explain. The NAS has access to the raw data but is instructed to practice selective reading and only look at what the “terrorists” might be doing.

          • jeburke

            If you think you know that, you got it from your crystal ball.

        • wigwag

          If the rest of the world doesn’t like the U.S. role in the Internet it can get together and try to come up with a new system that circumvents the role the U.S. plays now. It should be highly entertaining watching Europe, Russia, China, the Islamic world and Africa get it all figured out

  • bpuharic

    In a country where corporations are considered ‘persons’, and have huge power over individuals, including the right to violate what we would consider privacy rights, what difference does it make what the govt does? Our govt is now just an extension of corporate power, where the individual has few, if any rights at all. Corporations can snoop, probe, poke and vacuum up all the info they want yet no one protests.

  • close_reader

    Isn’t it simplistic to ascribe Americans’ supposed (and as yet unproved) indifference to government snooping merely to a Jacksonian v. Jeffersonian ethos?

    What about the late great Neal Postman’s thesis that we are “Amusing Ourselves to Death”—i.e., more likely to be influenced by a Huxleyan reality than an Orwellian one?

    Has sociology become so unfashionable that even a sophisticated observer like WRM ignores its great thinkers?

  • Corlyss

    I’m still waiting to hear something new, something that wasn’t revealed or presaged in the Bush administration when the Code-Pinkers and the Move-on.orgs were busy undermining the administration’s use of technology at least as sophisticated as that used by UBL.

    The only datamining that I see as a real threat is the kinds that allows Google, FB, Twitter, Apple, Verizon, AT&T, etc., to become wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic party propaganda machine. That is already here and manifest, while the threat of the kind denounced by civil libertarians today has yet to be realized. They’re all screaming before they’re hurt. Republicans already have been grievously injured by the cozy relationship between the aforementioned firms and a party prides itself on being a collaborator with our enemies.

  • Fat_Man

    “Why Expanded Government Spying Doesn’t Mean Better Security Against Terrorism”

    Posted By Barry Rubin On June 10, 2013

    “What is most important to understand about the revelations of massive message interception by the U.S. government is this: in counterterrorist terms, it is a farce.

    “There is a fallacy behind the current intelligence strategy of the United States, behind this collection of up to three billion phone calls a day, of emails, and even of credit card expenditures, not to mention the government spying on the mass media. It is this: ‘The more quantity of intelligence, the better it is for preventing terrorism’.

    * * *

    “Isn’t it absurd that the United States — which can’t finish a simple border fence to keep out potential terrorists; can’t stop a would-be terrorist in the U.S. Army who gives a PowerPoint presentation on why he is about to shoot people (Major Nidal Hasan); can’t follow up on Russian intelligence warnings about Chechen terrorist contacts (the Boston bombing); or a dozen similar incidents — must now collect every telephone call in the country?

    * * *

    “the two key elements of counterterrorism are as follows: First, it is not the quantity of material that counts, but the need to locate and correctly understand the most vital material. This requires your security forces to understand the ideological, psychological, and organizational nature of the threat. Second, it is necessary to be ready to act on this information not only in strategic terms but in political terms.

    * * *

    “So the problem of growing government spying is three-fold.

    * It is against the American system and reduces liberty.

    * It is a misapplication of resources. Money is being spent and liberty sacrificed for no real gain.

    * Since government decision-making and policy about international terrorism is terrible, the threat is increasing.

    If you don’t get value or enhanced security while freedom is being reduced and the enemy is getting stronger, $1 trillion certainly isn’t a bargain.”

  • jeburke

    Google has now laid out how it actually manages government demands for data and it’s drastically different from the hysterical version served up by the Post and Guardian;

    1) Like Facebook, Google never heard of “PRISM” before the news stories (which may mean simply that it’s a code name for a cluster of NSA activities, not a single awesome data-vacuuming system, as suggested by the media).

    2) Google responds only to specific court orders.

    3) It reviews each order carefully, determines what information it is obligated to supply and supplies it.

    4) Data is sometimes supplied through a secure online transfer, sometimes delivered on a disc or other memory device, sometimes even printed out.

    5) Google does not provide the government with any special portal, back door, drop box or other mechanism enabling NSA or FBI direct access to Google data.

    All that is consistent with a targeted program of intelligence collection, authorized by warrant, operated against foreign targets, not a Big Brother snooping on everyone’s email.

    Nonetheless, expect people to keep reciting as if it were holy writ, “The NSA is spying on Americans.”

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