End of the Year Thoughts on: NSA and Privacy

Aside from this one piece, I haven’t done a lot of public talking about the whole thing where the NSA ate the entire Internet and then seemed surprised that people were annoyed once it was discovered. So in the spirit of not leaving 2013 with it completely unobserved, a few thoughts.

1. First things first: I’m inclined to agree with the idea that what the NSA is doing, i.e., sucking up every bit of information possible from the online world when and wherever it can, is a gross and egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution (specifically the 4th Amendement, although I suspect there are other Constitutional issues as well), and also a really bad idea with respect to everyone else on the planet. And while in one sense you may wish to admire the chutzpah of a governmental organization that will, say, bug the cell phone of the leader of one of the US’ closest allies, apparently just because they could, out in the real world, this is how the Internet fractures and Balkanizes and the potentially greatest tool of human expression we’ve yet seen shatters into nothingness. So, yeah. Dumb across the board.

2. I am utterly unsurprised the NSA did it, for two reasons. One, the whole last decade of OH GOD OH GOD THE TERRORISTS ARE COMING FOR OUR FREEDOMS gave the NSA (and anyone else) carte blanche (it’s not for nothing the NSA’s employee talking points for Thanksgiving were heavy on playing the “9/11″ card); Two, anyone who thinks that an organization that’s given a mission to collect data unencumbered by any real oversight or public knowledge won’t in fact go as far as they possibly can in that mission doesn’t really understand either human or institutional nature. Why did the NSA do it? Because they could, because no one told them not to, and 9/11 OUR FREEDOMS THE TERRORISTS OH GOD THE TERRORISTS.

3. I’m not going to attempt to excuse Obama’s acceptance of the continuation of such a wide net of data collection, which started under Bush, but I will say that I suspect if Obama had publicly tried to reel back the data collection, we’d have seen a huge freakout on the GOP side of things, proclaiming that Obama was undermining our ability to protect ourselves 9/11 TERRORISTS DEATH OH GOD AND ALSO BENGHAZI. Please note this does not suggest that Obama was planning to rein this stuff in (I don’t see any indication of that), just that if he had, this would almost certainly have been the response. I also believe that such a response is part of the the reflexive “we hate everything Obama does” thing the GOP does; if a GOP president were to suggest reining things in, the GOP response would be more measured. Lesson: partisan politics suck, especially these days.

4. I could be wrong about this but I don’t really get the sense the US general population gives much of a crap about any of this in anything but the most abstract sense; it’s largely a concern of tech and politics nerds. I also pretty strongly believe that to the extent there is negative feeling about this sort of massive data collection, it’s paper-thin at the moment, and that pretty much all you would need to get the general population to go along with a permanent surveillance state, especially one that, generally speaking, is utterly unconcerned about them on an individual level, is another large terrorist attack. This is, as you might expect, one of the scarier things to me, on an intellectual level, about all this NSA stuff.

5. But then on a personal level I also understand why it seems the vast majority of people don’t seem to give a crap. It’s because for most people, what’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is that the government knows you look at porn online. And, well, shit. Who doesn’t know that? Who among us over the age of thirteen has not used the Internet to procure pictures of hot objectified humans who tickle their particular triggers? If we just all own up to the fact we look at porn, for most of us, the spectre of Big Brother becomes less of a thing in our lives.

This is not to say the massive governmental dragnet of data isn’t a real problem. It is (please see point one). It’s to say most people probably aren’t that concerned because they know they’re actually pretty boring. And maybe these folks are even right, so long as the US government remains generally blandly unconcerned with their day to day lives. But you know, we have ample examples of the US government deciding people are enemies of the state just for doing things they have a Constitutional right to do, so it’s well within reason not to assume the US government will remain blandly unconcerned.

6. An amendment to the US Constitution that explicitly allows for a right to privacy would likely help make it clear that programs like this are not to be tolerated, but the chances of a Right to Privacy amendment passing are close to zero, since that would essentially shut the door on the long attempt at rolling back Roe V. Wade, and there’s no possible way social conservatives are ever going to let that happen.

7. The US is correctly getting blowback from the NSA’s adventures, but let’s not pretend that every country that had the ability to do this wouldn’t (or didn’t, or doesn’t) do this. Let’s also not pretend that if the NSA stopped these programs tomorrow, programs like these would continue elsewhere (hello, China!), and that ultimately that’s going to be part of the argument that the NSA (and other governmental organizations) will make — and continue making — to authorize these sorts of programs in the future.

In short: If you weren’t already assuming that everything you do online isn’t already tracked, recorded and remembered forever, and will continue to be so, you’re probably utterly naive. The real question will be if you ultimately care.

80 thoughts on “End of the Year Thoughts on: NSA and Privacy

  1. I agree completely, sir.

    In other words, yeah, we’re fucked. *colorful descriptions deleted because R-rated*

    And I see no way out of this mess. No way at all. Hell, the NSA even spies on World of Warcraft.

    Although, if we fire the entire government–basically, forcibly remove Congress, the entire executive branch, the NSA, and the CIA from power, and just start again, maybe we’d have a chance.

  2. Yeah, well, I do care. Because everybody has done something that’s maybe not even illegal but that would nevertheless be embarrassing to have made public, and most of us have done something that we could in principle be prosecuted for even if the statute of limitations has long since expired and we were really young at the time.

    I hate that the government has such a degree of leverage over us that it can act as the ultimate blackmailer.

  3. yeah, partisan politics sucks. Even when you have a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, approved by the Supreme Court, and now, that President is bypassing the entire constitutional system to make line-item changes to the ACA, which is clearly NOT permitted under the Constitution. The President can only approve or veto, he cannot make line-items changes, nor can he change the law after the fact. But apparently, the Democrats, who determined that the “nuclear option” was a good thing, agree with him, since nobody wants to call him on the carpet for exceeding Presidential authority. Of course, if the Democrats somehow lose their majority in the Senate, will they be screaming when the Republicans use the 51% majority rule for filibusters against them? Probably. I watched partisan politics all the way through my adult life, the one thing that I can say about it is that it’s the same damned thing no matter who’s in power. As for the NSA monitoring me, I hope they have plenty of 5-Hour Energy and Red Bull, because I have a pretty damned boring life. What is there to do in small-town West Central Ohio when your money is tight? No, I don’t look at porn on the internet……that’s what they make DVD players for…..;)

  4. I’ve never labored under the delusion that the internet is private. As you, and others, have pointed out, the internet is trawled by many countries, as well as by private companies.

    Before the internet, folks freaked out about mail order companies buying their address, or phone lists. Before that, it was door to door salesmen and polsters. Hell, a proportion of the population still goes a little paranoid about the census-takers–anyone remember the last one, predicted to end in death camps and black helicopters by a certain crowd?

    As communications and transportation modes change, so does data collection. I suspect most of us have more privacy now than our parents or grandparents did, simply due to the number of people and massive quantities of info-noise.

  5. I’m a Libertarian, and I make an effort to acknowledge when elected officials(who usually aren’t Libertarian)do things that I support.

    We should all probably look at as much Rule 34 stuff as possible so the NSA won’t be able to figure out what we are really into.

  6. Fuzznose:

    Your comment is directly relevant to the post exactly how? It kinda just seems like you took an opportunity to soapbox on a topic that is only tangentially related.

  7. The fact that every nation-level government is doing this all at once is about as annoying and disturbing – to wit, very much so – as any one of them doing it. It would be of much benefit to humanity in general if ’twere rolled back to “only when authorized by constitutionally proper warrants”. As for the private sector players…their backing off with their boilerplate terms-of-service phrasing in order to give themselves similar excuses for similar behaviour? Also not very welcome.

    But this is an old complaint, shared between us.

  8. We don’t need new rights, we just need the government to enforce the rights already guaranteed. The Fourth Amendment protects paper communications in the mail. The government needs to apply the same protection to electronic communication in email. Freedom is the ability to make choices about one’s own life without interference from others. The Fourth Amendment is a conscience right which is the corollary of the First; the First Amendment allows an individual to say and believe what they wish, and the Fourth Amendment allows the individual to say what they wish to whom they wish to say it, not to anybody else, to allow someone to interact with others freely without being judged for their private thoughts and beliefs.

    The things that the government uses as excuses for violating liberty are things that hurt people, like terrorism and pornography. But those are crimes, where we have in law a presumption of innocence. (The Fifth Amendment also supports that, saying a person is not required to give evidence against themself.) Probable cause, judicial review, and warrants were always required before violating someone’s privacy.

    We need leadership at the executive and legislative levels to make this happen. Someone running for office needs to say that privacy matters. Until someone is elected on a platform including privacy, the NSA is going to do what it’s told.

    There was an article in the news today about how companies are starting to demand that their data is not stored in the US, and that US technology companies are starting to lose sales because they have collaborated with US anti-privacy measures. That’s interesting. Europe has strong privacy legislation, and if it becomes a matter of jobs and business opportunities, the US might have a motivation to support privacy as well.

    In 2011 and in June 2013, a majority of Democrats voted not to continue provisions in the Patriot Act and a majority of Republicans voted for the status quo. If representation in Congress reflected the will of the people, the Patriot Act would already be scaled back. Eventually political leaders will figure out that Americans are in favor of liberty and that fighting terrorism doesn’t require infringing the rights of innocent people.

  9. As one of the concerned minority (?) my concern, like Theophylact, is that most everyone has something actionable in their closet. That goes double for your average politician, which means the NSA has potential leverage to push on. Don’t want to vote for that appropriations bill, Senator? You sure about that?

    Something I read the other day said that pre-Snowden whistleblowers have accused the NSA of wiretapping Obama as early as 2004, as well as Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, John McCain, David Petraeus, and a Supreme Court justice who either wasn’t specified or I’ve forgotten.

    My concern is that, if this is true, what exactly is our democracy worth? We can vote for the candidate we like, get them elected even, but if the NSA can steer them, what difference does it make? The whole train of thought only leads deeper into tinfoil-hat country: DOES the NSA really do that? If so, do they only care about their own budget and concerns? If they weigh in on wider issues, who’s pulling their strings? Gaaah, I’ve slipped down the rabbit hole!

  10. Dude. You practically turned yourself into a pretzel trying to blame the possible Republican reaction to Obama trying to reign in the NSA for his unwillingness to do so, even while you admit that he never gave the slightest hint of reigning them in, and in fact, expanded the NSA’s power.

    Bravo.

  11. So John, great to hear your thoughts on the NSA and privacy. Now can we hear about the IRS discrimination scandals and the utter failure of Obamacare? Not just the roll-out; the fact that a net 5 Million people have lost coverage and that premiums and deductibles have risen dramatically while coverage (the doctors and hospitals the insured under Ocare have accessed to) has shrunk.

    And it is an issue related to the NSA and privacy. Opposition to Obamacare is based on the same principles that opposition to the NSA spying is: a understanding of the relationship between the citizen and the State as being one of the citizen is the sovereign. Hence, the State has zero right to order it’s bosses to buy something they don’t wish to in a way they also don’t wish to.

    Plus, it’s connected to the NSA scandal by the lying and the incompetence of Obama and the Democrats.

  12. As someone who was within 500 feet of two explosive devices on Marathon Monday in Boston when they detonated, I find your comments on terrorism disappointing at best and stupid at worst. There are a lot of people in this world who think they get to go to heaven if they kill as many of us as possible. We need to take that seriously. Perhaps the fact that you live in a rural area in Ohio has dulled your senses to that reality.

    That being said, I agree with your overall point that the NSA debacle is a massive overreach that violates the Constitution. Your attempts to connect this to the GOP are laughable, but not unexpected. The President has tried his best but is ultimately not up to the challenge of running our country. It is probably difficult for any supporter of his to come to grips with that.

  13. @Alex in Toronto: The Patriot Act (while bad) isn’t the problem; the problem is the lawless President who does anything he wants and the Senate Democrats who support him. Even the Patriot Act’s author is concerned about the out-of-control Obama NSA. Yes, that’s a bit like the guy who started a trash fire in his backyard now worried that his neighborhood is on fire; but it still realizes the problem of the last few years. And remember, this level of out-of-control didn’t happen under Bush; it took Obama coming in to give us spying on allied leaders and every, single American citizen.

  14. The problem isn’t that there would have been a GOP freakout. There would have been had he acted publicly, but (i) he didn’t need to act publicly and (ii) there is enough support for reining in the NSA that he could have easily dealt with the GOP attack. He chose not to rein in the NSA because he likely was concerned about GOP attack if he reined in the NSA and there was a terrorist attack.

    Unfortunately, this is likely here to stay and will tend to be expanded beyond preventing terrorism to other truly objectionable people.

  15. I am not an Obama supporter but come on, as John pointed out this started before Obama and he just merrily rolled it along. Any person who was president would have done the same I believe. We live in a world where as long as we have our toys and entertainment we just don’t care anymore. Be it for the NSA, drones, fracking, etc. We have allowed ourselves to be lulled into a sense of complacency.

  16. Please, under Bush we had “warantless wiretaps” of specific individuals; under Obama we are all warantlessly wiretapped. He took a bad program and made it a 1000 times more intrusive.

    And the argument that Obama expanded the program because he was “afraid” of the GOP? Have you seen what has happened this year? On the government shutdown he did far better than the GOP in the polls (though it did cost him support). And he was willing to go against the GOP (well, except the “Neocon” wing) AND the American people on attacking Syria.

  17. I care about what the NSA is doing. On the other hand, I already operated on the assumption that nothing I do online is private – behemoths like Google (for example) are already tracking everything I do and using stealth tactics to learn way too much about me (and, no, I don’t use Gmail or Chrome). I don’t trust them with info on me any more than I trust the gov’t.

  18. However clueless and naive people from a year ago may seem now, I’d say there’s a difference between knowing you’re being recorded (which everyone should know) and believing that the government has already, in secret, successfully constructed a massive cross-referenced searchable data mart of most internet activity, accessible by thousands of analysts, that is actively being used in a coordinated fashion across many levels and branches of law enforcement to, among other things, build criminal cases against American citizens with falsified evidence trails. A year ago, talking about that makes you a conspiracy theorist. I dread to think what next year’s “naive” will be.

    Related to that: one piece of this you don’t touch on that I think is very important is our duty to make sure channels are opened, and kept open, to allow citizens and the courts (including an appeals process) to accurately monitor and audit the uses to which collected information is put, as well as to protect whistleblowers when their actions merit it. I can’t see any better way to protect ourselves and each other (though erecting walls of red tape can also help). In any case, not even trying would just make us lazy, cynical victims, so I hope we make an effort.

    As for the porn stuff: part of me wishes that the government would just do a massive public dump of every person’s browser history just to get it out of the way. As long as it’s every person. I’d enjoy seeing a list of the most-frequented sites of every Senator, Joint Chief, and Cabinet member.

  19. The thing I find most interesting is that no one seems to be paying attention to the fact that the NSA is collecting information that IS ALREADY BEING COLLECTED by private corporations and no one seems to be upset about the fact that their information is owned by Facebook or their wireless provider, public service, cable company, Amazon, etc. We are all supposed to be horrified by the fact that the government has this info, but we have voluntarily provided that same info without a care. Do I think that the NSA is right or that it is necessary for them to have that information? No. But I think that privacy in the age of the internet is a myth.

  20. Ugh. Count me a concerned minority who thinks it’ll all just get worse and worse, no matter who’s president. Either secret, “secret” (whistle-blown), or advertised…sigh. ;-(

    BTW shouldn’t “Let’s also not pretend that if the NSA stopped these programs tomorrow, programs like these would continue elsewhere” be “wouldn’t”? To simplify the phrasing to be clearer, don’t you mean “Let’s not pretend that if the NSA stopped, similar programs elsewhere wouldn’t continue”? (Am I making sense, or just horribly tired?)

  21. Andrew: As someone who was within 500 feet of two explosive devices on Marathon Monday in Boston when they detonated, I find your comments on terrorism disappointing

    Invoking your proximity to a terrorist attack isn’t a reflection of your special insight into international politics, terrorism, or constitutional law; its a reflection of your fear mongering.

    at best and stupid at worst. There are a lot of people in this world who think they get to go to heaven if they kill as many of us as possible. We need to take that seriously.

    If you want to talk about taking terrorism “seriously”, the first thing you have to acknowledge is that it is, practically speaking, impossible to stop an attack like the Boston marathon bombing. The two perpetrators were acting as a lone wolf attacker, acting on their own, and using extremely low tech weapons. It would be nearly impossible to design a survellance system that would have a high rate of success of precog-precrime detection good enough to catch that sort of attack before it happened.

    Secondly, any “serious” discussion needs to address not only the potential benefits of any proposed solution but also any unintended negative consequences of that solution. Sure, someone could argue that an Orwellian system as described in 1984 might possibly be able to reduce crime, but at a cost that Orwell warned us about.

    The fear-based reactions to terrorism is almost always some kind of “Tragedy of the Commons” in the cost/benefit analysis view of things. People supporting the current spy-on-all-americans program are thinking they they get all the benefit of making terrorism go away, but that the potential worst-case cost of Government Abuse of such a system is spread out over the entire population, exactly the way an individual gets all the benefit of grazing his cattle on the Commons, but the cost is spread out over everyone.

    I believe this tragedy-of-the-commons styled calculus is exactly why voters aren’t all that upset about the spy program. They think they will get all the benefits (no terrorism), and they think they will never pay any personal cost (the state won’t misuse the spy program to come after them.)

    And thirdly, when looking at the cost/benefit analysis, there is the “fantasy” that the spy programs have been useful, and then there is the reality that there has been absolutely nothing to support the notion that these spy programs have actually been useful in preventing anything that couldn’t have been prevented with normal, run of the mill, old fashioned get-a-warrant, style police work.

  22. The thing is, there are not anywhere near enough man-hours to look through everyone’s data. The vast majority of that is going to sit in records for years and get destroyed without anyone checking because the vast majority of us will never be considered dangerous. Whether or not you agree with their data collection (and I don’t agree, because it violates everything I was taught when I was a mil there), it’s not going to be a problem unless you associate with actual terrorists (or shady FBI guys).

    And I know everyone wants to scream at me about their rights – I agree the collection is wrong and should stop, I just think less panic would be good. You know, a rational middle road where we solve this calmly.

  23. saruby: That’s a fallacious argument. It assumes corporate and governmental power is equal (it’s not). It assumes that the laws placed on corporations and governments are equal (they’re not). Taking the hipster position of “privacy on the internet is a myth” makes assumptions about reality and existing legal frameworks that are ignorant at best. Corporations collect your data to sell you things, governments collect your data so that they can crush you when you become a problem (which is a set that includes terrorist and political enemies.) Now it’s an incestuous relationship where big corporate monoliths are swinging the government around against competition and governments are siphoning up corporate data under the lie of national security. Bruce Schneier really nailed it when he said “we are living in an age where corporations and governments are using each other to circumvent the laws placed upon both.”

    People are *correct* to be outraged at data collection that the government does, even if it looks superficially similar to existing corporate data collection, because they are fundamentally not the same.

  24. lumi: it’s not going to be a problem unless you associate with actual terrorists

    Seriously???

    http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/26/4774960/nsa-reveals-intentional-abuse-of-surveillance-database

    And that’s just some of the abuses they were willing to admit.

    Here’s a couple of the abuses we’ve found out have been committed by the military in the last few years:

    US Kill Squad Killed Afghan Civilians For Kicks While High

    US Troops Execute Iraqi Children Then Call in Airstrike to Destroy Evidence

    Anyone who thinks there won’t be any problems with the surveillance system is either ungodly naive or kidding themselves.

  25. saruby: no one seems to be upset about the fact that their information is owned by Facebook or their wireless provider, public service, cable company, Amazon, etc.

    No one???? Seriously?

    I think this can be translated to “I’m going to make sweeping generalizations that aren’t true simply because it will support the point I want to make”.

  26. lumi: if you’re counting on being the needle that doesn’t get found in the haystack, then you’re mis-characterizing the problem. The history of surveillance and active efforts by government intelligence agencies to suppress political dissidents in the U.S. disagrees with your analysis: it’s not that your number won’t be pulled, it’s that it won’t be pulled until the government decides, without due process, without trial, that you are a terrorist, and that category has included civil rights movement members in the 60s, Occupy Wall Street members, and most recently, Muslim “radicalizers”, including 1 U.S. citizen, most of whom *did not have any ties to any terrorist groups*, among others.

    So no, it’s not “keep your nose clean and you’ll be fine.” It’s “keep your nose clean and never, EVER cross the government and you’ll be fine.”

  27. I care, but I’ve almost given up. I used to only do business with companies that didn’t require loyalty cards, etc. But that’s become almost impossible.
    When the Patriot Act was first debated and every time it’s been reauthorized, I have written to my Representative and Senators and asked them to vote against it. I vote against those who continue to support it.
    I write my Representative and Senators regularly to ask them to hold the NSA and Homeland Security accountable. (along with various other things.)
    I try to respectfully have the conversation with others and encourage them to hold our elected officials accountable.
    Not enough people care to make a difference. I don’t really know what more to do at this point.
    Martin Niemoller said:
    “First they came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    I’m afraid we’ll be in the same position.

  28. A relaxed attitude to surveillance might be fine, if the Government could be relied on to get surveillance right; the trouble is, the data (by it’s nature) isn’t carefully checked and pretty certainly contains a lot of garbage.

    There’s a similar problem with the “No Fly” list – now around 10,000 names. Very admirable, very zealoius, and protects everybody from those nasty terrorists, but what were those 10,000 people doing in the 1990s? They can’t all be under 14 years old, and I don’t recall the 1990s sky being full of falling aircraft. Odd, that.

    Will

  29. Unnullifier: “So no, it’s not “keep your nose clean and you’ll be fine.” It’s “keep your nose clean and never, EVER cross the government and you’ll be fine.””

    It’s not even that. NSA spies have already been shown to be using the Agency’s capabilities to spy on girlfriends, potential dates, exes, and more. Google up “loveint + NSA” for a sample.

    Give people this power without oversight, and they will abuse it. They will abuse it to put neighbors they don’t like in their place; they will abuse it to advancer their personal political agendas; they will abuse it to get a leg up in social competition; they will abuse it to get even with exes, or to make life miserable for an ex’s new flame; they will abuse it for the thrill of exercising power; they will abuse it for wholly imaginary reasons that only they believe; they will abuse it, in short, simply because they can.

    Stasi, Gestapo, Okhrana, Cheka, KGB; the whole history of secret policing tells us what will happen. Innocents will get swept up; people from marginalized groups will get swept up; non-conformists will get swept up; the consequences will range from inconvenience to broken lives.

    There will be people, like lumi above, who say that nothing will happen if you keep your nose clean. They will be wrong. There will be people who say of those surveilled, or arrested, or disappeared, that they must have done something wrong; even at the height of Stalin’s purges, there were people who believed that. It was, and will be, a false belief.

    Ordinary Germans are upset (I live in Berlin, and read the newspapers, and listen.) at what the NSA has been up to, and not just listening in on what Chancellor Merkel had to say. They have experience with this sort of thing. We Americans should learn from others’ mistakes, and take heed.

  30. The thing is, there are not anywhere near enough man-hours to look through everyone’s data. The vast majority of that is going to sit in records for years and get destroyed without anyone checking because the vast majority of us will never be considered dangerous.

    Well, I worry since the current President has used secret data to go after civilians (James Rosen). The agencies he controls have gone after dissenters (IRS scandal where national bosses ordered “people in Cincinnati” to release private information of Tea Party groups to ProPublica). I worry since the current President is a bitterly partisan hack who wields power based on hate and fear.

    I mean, what came first: Obama acting like Nixon or being as popular (poling) as well as NIxon at this point in his presidency?

    Well, we know that: acting like Nixon.

    Would you want Nixon to have unfettered access to all your emails, phone calls, tweets etc?

    of course not.

  31. I love that other government s are shocked, SHOCKED!, to learn there is gamb . . . er spying going on. All are doing their own and many use the US and NSA as a resource and were well aware of the NSAs capabilities. That shock is simply cover to placate their own people.

    I also love that people who just KNOW that the NSA lies when they say they don’t listen or read individual conversations unless the see contacts with suspicious people think a new law would stop the NSA. If they are willing to lie about it now why wouldn’t they continue to do so in the future? How many people went to jail for Iran-Contra? How many politicians involved got voted out of office (or impeached)?

    Outside of those additional bits I think you are pretty spot on. BTW – As an IT security guy I did a brief contract for NSA back in the late 90s. I found them to be dedicated decent people that I enjoyed working with. I had a vague understanding of the work they were doing (though they did not speak about it much to me) and I understood how they worked around some of the rules then in place. I was not comfortable with what I was pretty sure they could do then and the tools they have today make that look pretty innocuous.

  32. What worries me the most is how the information collected can be abused. Most of us probably have nothing worse than surfing a few NSFW websites or calls to a paramour. But what happens when a politician, with a skeleton or two in the closet, says “Let’s reign in this program” is confronted by an NSA official threatening to expose them? Can you imagine any politician putting their re-election chances at risk?

    I’m sure most NSA employees are decent people but there are already there are reports of NSA employees spying on spouses, ex-lovers, etc. We’ve seen how power went to the head of J. Edgar Hoover with his creation and abuse of secret FBI files. People are people. Most are good. Sadly, some aren’t.

  33. In re: Point #7. I very nearly laughed myself incontinent last week, when Binyamin Netanyahu demanded the NSA stop spying on allies and agitated for the release of Jonathan Pollard in the same breath.

    As for the rest, I think you largely have the right of it. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 intitiated a real sea change in the way the US Government perceives data collection and individual rights, and I don’t think we are ever going to be able to put that genie back in the bottle.

  34. You gave Obama a very gracious pass. He did not just continue, he expanded the practice and when presented with the opportunity to rein it in, he refused. Say what you like about Bush the Younger, Obama has not climbed to a higher moral ground.

  35. Shortly after 9/11, one of the Sunday kids’ cartoon sections in a local newspaper had a series of questions for children. The one that still gives me chills: “What rights would you give up to help keep Americans safe?” Each multiple choice answer listed a Constitutional right. “None” was not one of the options.

  36. I don’t expect (or want) our government to stop spying on our enemies. I don’t expect our government to stop spying on our friends, although we can hardly hope for them to like it. I expect (but don’t want) our government to spy on suspected criminals in the US without a warrant, though that’s in violation of the Fourth Amendment. I neither expected nor wanted our government to spy on ALL OF US.

  37. Not only can the NSA use information to control members of Congress, but powerful politicians with connections to the NSA can obtain information for their own purposes. We have already seen Tom Delay use Homeland Security to find the absconding members of the Texas legislature in the redistricting fight a few years ago. Seems to me that the ‘connected’ can find out all sorts of things about their opponents that they couldn’t do before–a new level of ‘oppo research.’ This will happen, guaranteed, if politicos can get into the system. And they will.

  38. I’m gonna skip my thoughts on privacy (been said above, I think).
    Say there is this lucrative contract. The NSA has the data that’s been made electronic about the bids. A money hungry NSA employee/contractor notices that a company that’s done a few shady things would benefit from that data. Does that employee suddenly inherit money from an uncle who didn’t exist a year ago?

  39. Concerning point #3… Obama is every bit as culpable as Bush, period. Obama sold many people on “change” and this is one (of many) in which he let things continue or happen
    which are very much “government as usual”.

    I also think the media and politicians are more concerned about it all than the average joe in this country. The average joe in this country is more concerned about themselves, twerking and other social issues.

  40. I think that I come at this from a slightly different perspective than most, because my wife is one of the people on the inside there. She says (and I absolutely believe, because I know her) that the organization is told over and over to follow the law and that they are carefully briefed on exactly what is and is not permitted under the law. While there will undoubtedly be people who abuse their power, I think the vast majority of the people there are following the law and doing their jobs to the best of their ability. This isn’t “Evil NSA trying to TAKE OVER THE WORLD”, it is “Should we change a bad law and how can we make it better?”

    Personally – I think that the law is poorly written, that the oversight is functionally non-existent and that we need to change things immediately. Vilifying the NSA is completely missing the point – they have and will continue to use every tool they are given to do their job. If we let them, they WILL read every email because they are the good guys in their story and they know that what they are doing is an attempt to keep people safe. The problem, of course, is that the power to snoop can be so easily abused.and so we need to set limits, just as we do with the police. So where is the line? What should we allow and not allow?

    (( By the way – this is NOT a partisan political thing, except to the extent that the current situation is made worse by the difficulty that congress will have in passing ANY legislation. Blaming it on Bush or Obama or the evil republicans or the socialist democrats is just flaming. ALL governments of all political stripes have to wrestle with this and nobody has a good answer yet. So… lets suggest one? ))

  41. @theoplyact – I’m astonished that you didn’t see the cognitive dissonance in consecutive sentences:
    —-
    I expect (but don’t want) our government to spy on suspected criminals in the US without a warrant, though that’s in violation of the Fourth Amendment. I neither expected nor wanted our government to spy on ALL OF US.
    —-
    So, they shouldn’t spy on you, because you’re not a suspected criminal? Well, prove it. Oh, you can’t.

    That is one of the most egregious issues here – people have been prosecuted from data picked up by spying (on completely unrelated criminal activites – mainly drug smuggling, not terrorism), but the agencies involved go out and make up a plausible cover story as to how they got tipped off, to avoid mentioning the source of the intelligence. That is a glaring breach of the Fourth Amendment, right there.

    And for those Obama bashers – I’m amazed how he can be such an evil genius mastermind and so incompetent at the same time. It’s truly staggering.

    For Scorpius – apparently Obama is using the POTUS time machine again, according to the NY Times via Snowden the cell phone spying on Merkel started in 2002. Which would be your boy Bush, I think.

  42. Re Point 3:

    If Obama’s excuse for continuing and expanding Bush’s surveillance programs is that failing to do so would lead to right-wing criticism, then that’s the weakest excuse ever. Fear of right-wing criticism doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) stop him from doing a number of other things right-wing people don’t like.

    By the way, this illustrates why the right-wing tendency to denounce everything he does and to blow things out of proportion (e.g. calling him a traitor) is downright counterproductive. Because when the right has an actual reasonable criticism about Obama, it’s hard to get people to listen. Look at this very thread: when people start screaming about IRS records, Benghazi, and other nonsense, and it’s clear they would attack Obama whatever he did, I’m just not going to take anything they have to say seriously. Which is too bad, because the president does need to be taken to task for allowing these programs to continue.

    In short, when you say “Obama is a horrible, awful, evil president” in response to every action he takes, then those criticisms start to lose meaning, and your ability to persuade people is compromised. (The left made the same mistake with Bush, by the way.)

    That said, I really have lost a lot of respect for Obama because of his continuation of these surveillance programs. The man is a student of constitutional law and a former activist. He has to understand why these programs threaten the fabric of our democracy. It’s really disappointing to see him violate those principles in the name of political convenience.

  43. I’m concerned. On the other hand, it seems to me that businesses, i.e. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, et al., do very similar things and label it “data mining” and we don’t seem to get too chuffed about it. (I actually find this a bit more annoying than the government, because, wow, it affects me already with the pop-up ads on Facebook).

    One problem with the government doing this is there tendency to overreach (which clearly they’ve already done). Oh, we want to track terrorist phone calls in the U.S. Good. No, how about, oh, 20 companies are bidding for a government contract. Shall we suck up all their phone calls and start sifting through them? Hey, it’s election time. Let’s track all the phone calls of the opposing party’s top people.

    It’s not a very difficult reach for them. It’s not hard to imagine someone from, say, the NSA, coming to an up-and-coming Chief of Staff or president and saying, “So, I’d really like to be the Ambassador to the Caribbean. I happen to have transcripts of your presidential opponents’ phone calls and emails outlining their budget, strategy and schedule, as well as their various contacts, during the primaries. What do you think?”

  44. Someone out there should thank me for not posting a 7-page essay on this subject, especially as I’m clueless on politics. As to mom’s actions however ( erm, ‘mom’ being any version of NSA), I’m more interested in seeing the courts getting involved, all hopefully by a juries of porn sneaking peers. Mom might have a hard time.

  45. I believe this is one of many generational splits around technology and its role in our lives. Old fogies like us grew up thinking some things should be private. We still worry about privacy and dislike the over-sharing that can be part of social media. We remember Watergate. We know that what you share can be used against you.

    Kids under about 30 are so accustomed to technology, the privacy ramifications are invisible to them. They don’t worry about online privacy because they’re so accustomed to sharing absolutely everything. When I tell my kids not to give personal information on line, they just roll their eyes. It isn’t until they get blowback, like being fired after a rude tweet about their boss, that they start to understand.

    Gee, that sounds like parenting over all… :)

  46. @Deby: Hardly “invisible”. Fannish types under 30 are pretty conscious about maintaining the divide. In fact, I’d say that greater familiarity and integration with the online world leads to better compartmentalization, whereas less experienced users have no idea how to adjust privacy settings, how to increase security, or who comprises the potential audience for a communication.

  47. debyfredericks, research suggests that it’s a bit more complicated than that. On one hand, younger folks are more likely to have shared various types of personal info online [1]. On the other hand, younger people are more likely to use various strategies to protect and restrict their info [2] [3].

  48. (This may be removed.) Why must this get complicated? As to privacy issues, let’s pretend we have an anonymous boy who hypothetically puts a single sock between his mattresses for reasons he wants to remain obscure. One day mommy discovers it. What should mommy do? In an OK scenario, I guess, mommy washes it, folds it, and puts it back and, erm, lets, things to remain obscure. (drat) This is all hypothetical. Now, once we get all grown up, what would we most wish from the NSA, especially regarding our, erm, socks?

    I vote that we would want our socks left alone, period. Barring that, we’d want assured obscurity. But if mom insists on being mom, I suggest we take her to court.

  49. Let’s be clear: it’s not what the NSA is doing, it’s what the President ordered the NSA to do. The NSA, like any intelligence gathering organization provides a product ordered by the Chief Executive.

    It seems to me that characterizing this issue along the lines of “the NSA is spying on everyone” is pointing the finger in the wrong direction. The President is spying on everyone using the NSA as it’s tool (which is what the NSA is, a tool).

    Now I am not making a case against the program or the NSA. Just like I wouldn’t make a case against the IRS. The problem with all of these organizations is that they can be used by a chief executive for their intended purpose in a non-partisan manner, or they can be used against people in a partisan manner.

    Ultimately it comes down to do you trust the person you give the power to.

  50. As to privacy issues, let’s pretend we have an anonymous boy who hypothetically puts a single sock between his mattresses for reasons he wants to remain obscure.

    So what you’re saying is that American citizens are children and have to be watched over by a benevolent but all-seeing mommy government?

    See, that’s the problem with hypotheticals. I tend to think of the American people (under 18 excepted for the purposes of this discussion) as adult citizens of the nation, with a substantial number of rights, rather than helpless children.

  51. The Pew poll has for many years asked: “Does the federal government threaten you rights and freedoms?” Normally 2/3rds answer no, but in recent polls over half are answering yes.
    The public cares more than you think.

  52. “Obama’s acceptance of the continuation of such a wide net of data collection, which started under Bush” May I assume by the above that you’re specifically referring to this specific method of broad data collection? I only ask for clarification b/c large data collection by intelligence agencies predates former president Bush by more than a few years. I’m not justifying that, just saying it’s been around for a rather long time.

  53. The fine print in these documents is fantastic:

    If someone leaves the US, the NSA stops assuming they’re a US citizen. Whatever limited 4th amendment protections the NSA has implemented, they don’t apply them to overseas communications by default.

    If someone overseas, without these protections, communicates with someone inside the US, the US person’s information can be “inadvertently” collected. Then, it can be used like any other collected data.

    And US taxes pay the NSA’s lawyers to come up with this reasoning – and push it as far as it will go…

  54. Larry: Vilifying the NSA is completely missing the point – they have and will continue to use every tool they are given to do their job. If we let them, they WILL read every email because they are the good guys in their story and they know that what they are doing is an attempt to keep people safe.

    http://www.thenation.com/article/blackwater-founder-implicated-murder

    The owner of Blackwater, Erik Prince, “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.” And look where that got us.

    Do you think that just because someone sees their own sins as salvation that they are not to be villified?

    Oh and this: my wife is one of the people on the inside there. She says (and I absolutely believe, because I know her) that the organization is told over and over to follow the law and that they are carefully briefed on exactly what is and is not permitted under the law.

    My god man. Do you read the news at all?

    http://www.allgov.com/news/controversies/nsa-director-alexander-admits-he-lied-about-phone-surveillance-stopping-54-terror-plots-131007?news=851326

    The NSA director lied to congress. Not to hide vital information that would put american lives at risk, but to hide the truth that NSA spying doesn’t do shit to stop terrorism. He lied to hide the ineffectiveness of the program. He lied specifically because the truth would cause the useless program to be reined in.

    Why in gods name would we trust anything that anyone in the NSA is telling us at this point?

    Scorpius: I worry since the current President is a bitterly partisan hack who wields power based on hate and fear.

    It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing. –Macbeth

    Oh Scorpius, watching you hoist your mainsail and launch headlong into battle against an abusive state would be quite admirable except and until one realizes that yours is a ship that cannot tack into the wind, that you only attack when the winds blow towards the left, that your lookouts can only see wrongdoing from the left, and that your guns are likewise fixed in their direction to the left.

    At which point, you instantly transform from an honorable warrior fighting to defend principles greater than yourself, and you turn into an opportunist, an unprincipled partisan, whose enemies aren’t defined by their deeds, but by whose team they belong to. Your side can do no wrong and anyone not on your side can do no right.

    Would that this country had but a few captains half as devoted to defending principles as you are to attacking the left for any opportunistic reason whatsoever.

    And please, spare me your pretense of being an “independent” voter. No one believes that, not even yourself.

  55. I think I’ve made it clear that I’m in the “Snowden is a whistleblowing patriot” camp. It’s a surprisingly cold one, with little firewood.

    Sitting here reading this thread, and it’s late at night/early morning, and I’m trying to figure out how to say what I’m seeing here and stuff, and then I come to Don Whiteside:

    Well this sure brought out the ODS sufferers, didn’t it?

    Well, that’s pretty much perfect. Except I also wish my browser came with an ODS filter, because of garbage like this:

    I worry since the current President is a bitterly partisan hack who wields power based on hate and fear.

    Not only a lie, but a stupid lie. Rather than address this, I will simply recommend to you Greg’s comment here, which to my mind speaks wisdom about this particular line of bullshit. And yes, if scorpius is an independent, I’m a Time Lord.

  56. Okay, an outsider’s view on the whole thing

    1) I’m Australian. If it turns out the US NSA has data about me, I’m going to be slightly ticked off, because really, dudes, boundaries, national-style. If ASIO wants that shit, let them do their own dirty work – your guys shouldn’t be required to do so. Alternatively, if I’m somehow judged to be a threat to the USA… well, I’ll just be over here in my little corner having the world’s largest giggle-fit, because, seriously… My life is dull enough to ME, and I live the blasted thing. I cannot delude myself into the Adrian-Mole-style hope that it somehow looks more interesting when written down.

    2) On the other hand: Google has some of my information. Amazon has some of my information (about two moves out of date, and probably fairly inaccurate as a result). Coles, Woolworths, and the IGA have some of my information (they have records linking a particular bank transaction card/credit card number to various purchases, and whether those purchases were made at a manned register or a self-check-out). There’s at least two game companies have some of my data, and my bank has lots and lots of it. Medicare here in Australia has a record of every time I’ve been to a doctor’s office in the last seven years (or however far back their records run); my medical data for those seven years is scattered across at least three private practices in two different capital cities. Our Department of Human Services (apparent departmental motto: Have you been serviced yet?) has access to my data on the Medicare database, and the positive ream of data about me that Centrelink collects as part of determining whether or not I’m eligible for Social Security benefits at the present time. Plus, of course, there’s my partner’s record, which is tied into mine. The Tax Office here has data about the money I’ve earned and the taxes I’ve paid; the Department of Employment and Training has data about my job search; the state Department of Transport has information about my driving and vehicle ownership histories. I’m listed in credit databases, in databases on rental tenancies, in databases about my educational history.

    If ASIO here in Australia takes all these databases (particularly the various government ones) and puts the information together, then they’ve broken the law. If they hand all this data to the NSA, though, and say “can you guys collate this and hand it back to us with any extra information you’ve got?” they haven’t broken the law here. So I’d be worried more about the likelihood of data collation and matching being off-shored or outsourced than anything else.

    3) If my country’s government wants to put me into a position where I’m not a threat to it (or rather, where I’m even less of a threat than I currently am) then there are countless means they can utilise before they have to go to the trouble of getting me arrested for sedition. I’m on unemployment benefit – all they need to do is reduce the rate of the dole and I’ll be one of tens of thousands of people who won’t be able to make any sort of sustained political outcry because we’ll be too focussed on things like getting enough to eat. I’m already mentally ill – I come with a built-in plausibility denial tool – get me locked up and institutionalised (it’s an old favourite). Heck, all they’d need to do is something they’ve already threatened – putting all people on unemployment benefit on Income Management (look it up yourselves) and I’d be effectively cut off from the internet.

    Now, I can live my life in paranoid anticipation of this next disaster, but it isn’t going to do me any good. One of the things I’ve had to learn (as someone with a chronic anxiety problem, and co-morbid depression) is that worrying about “what if” is, for me, a profoundly unhealthy thing to do. So I have to start with the most obvious question: “is this happening now?” Then the next: “is there anything practical I can do about it?” The third question I have to ask myself is: “Am I likely to do anything about it, given my extant patterns and habits?”; which leads to the fourth: “If yes, how do I get started?; if no, why am I wasting my time worrying about this?”

    Yes, my country’s government may well be Spying On Me With Rays. However, short of going into total paranoid headcase territory, there’s not much I can do about it – and of course, going into total paranoid headcase territory is likely to make them more interested rather than less. So I’ll let them continue trying to sip from the firehose that is the internet, and just hope the agent detailed to my case has a high threshold for boredom (sorry, mate, but this is about as good as it gets, really!).

  57. Oh Scorpius, watching you hoist your mainsail and launch headlong into battle against an abusive state

    Great sentence.

  58. My 2 cents:

    Snowden is a well-intentioned idiot. I agree with and support his intentions–but seriously, man, releasing classified data about ongoing missions? That’s putting real peoples’ lives at risk. Chelsea Manning released relatively low-security but embarrassing stuff that put absolutely nobody’s life at risk, and you saw what they did to her. Seriously, Snowden, what the fuck were you thinking? And running to Russia? The only reason you’re still there is because Putin wants to stick it to Obama. You’re never going to have the chance to leak stuff again, and now you’re in Russia, where you’ll get disappeared humanely if you piss off the president.

    So yeah, Snowden’s got good intentions, but really poor execution.

  59. @Greg: I think you mistook my point. Of course people stretch the rules and abuse their power. That is something that has always happened and always will. The REMEDY is clear laws that set limits…. limits that are simple enough that the analysts at the NSA know they are being told to do something illegal.

    The problem here is that the analysts doing this stuff don’t think they are abusing their power. They have been told that the law supports what they are doing BECAUSE IT DOES! Or at least the government lawyers are telling them that it does. If the law were changed, they would either have to stop or be committing an illegal act that could send them to jail.

    I admit that I prefer to believe that most people are not ruthless / intentionally dishonest / criminals and that I even extend that rosy view of humanity to most people that work for the government. Without that kind of rosy view, however, we are doomed anyway. The only defense we have against the government secretly abusing its power is other people in the government ratting the abusers out. That hasn’t changed. It was true before the internet when the president was wiretapping his political opponents and it is just as true now.

  60. DAVID, I was driving off a cliff the other day and I found something you might be interested in.

    http://www.site.ww2mv.com/M24_Chaffee_For_Sale.html

    943 M24 Chaffee Tank – Serial Number T2883. $365,000 or BEST OFFER

    The tank also comes with a LIVE 75mm Barrel and LIVE Registered Breech. Proper Transfer required.

    Larry: The REMEDY is clear laws that set limits

    You’re killing me. The problem isnt that the laws aren’t clear enough. The US military committed war crimes on a massive scale in Abu Graib, Bagram, Gitmo, and numerous unknown black sites, war crimes that went all the way from the lowest private to the president of the united states. KSM was waterboarded by Americans 183 times in March of 2003. KSM’s torture sessions were video taped, and then when the investigations started, those video tapes were illegally destroyed.

    The geneva convention sets clear limits: Torture is a war crime. America knows waterboarding is a war crime because America pushed for the conviction of Japanese soldiers waterboarding American troops during WW2. And yet, America clearly tortured thousands of prisoners, a hundred or so pow’s are known to have been murdered while in American custody, and then Americans destroyed any evidence they could destroy when the legal investigations started.

    The problem isn’t that the goddamn law isn’t clear enough.

    The problem is that some people don’t give a fuck about the law.

    For example, the NSA director LIED TO CONGRESS to hide the uselessness of the program.

    I think the vast majority of the people there are following the law and doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

    Look. This is invoking the “few bad apples” argument with regard to NSA spying and whatever abuse they’re committing. People already tried to apply that argument to Americans torturing prisoners of war in Irag, Afghanistan, and Gitmo. And its nonsense. Even though the majority of American military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan did NOT commit torture, there were enough people who were, from the privates to the generals to the president, that we managed to torture people on an industrial scale.

    I admit that I prefer to believe that most people are not ruthless / intentionally dishonest / criminals

    Again, the problem isn’t neccessarily “most people”. The problem is that there are positions of power in the government and in the military, and those positions of power attract not only good people who understand the law and uphold its principles, but those positions also attract religious zeaolots, political mobsters(), and violent militants. The problem is that the system HAS TO BE DESIGNED AND CONSTRAINED so that if these assholes get into a posiition of power, that the damage they can do is minimized. That requires checks and balances, oversight, and some level of transparency.

    What happens when the system is destroyed to the point that these checks and balances are removed is you end up with people like J. Edgar Hoover abusing his power to control politicians and trying to bring down good people like MLK Jr, and there is no way to stop them.

    So, you can believe that most people are not ruthless, but you have to acknowledge that some people are, and they will be drawn to positions of power like moths to flame. And so we HAVE to design the system to take into account that we may get some ruthless, dishonest, criminals in positions of power, and make sure there are ways to minimize the damage they can do.

    Checks and balances include things like the three branches of government. The NSA is under the executive branch. A check against abusive surveillance would require a different branch, i.e. the judicial branch, i..e getting a warrant for a search by showing a judge sufficient evidence to support probable cause.

    Having an NSA superviser tell their NSA underlings to “do good” isn’t oversight and isn’t a check against abuse.

    It is not enough to think happy thoughts and hope only good people go into positions of power within the state. If that were a viable option, we could simply do away with the entire govenrment we have now and replace it with a benevolent dictator.

    The road the NSA is going down right now has removed all the safety checks against abuse. Even if your wife and all her coworkers at the NSA are “good” people now, the system they’re pushing for will be unable to deal with the zealots, mobsters, and militants that will naturally be attracted to such power. And then, it might be far too late to fix it.

  61. DAVID, I was driving off a cliff the other day and I found something you might be interested in.

    My God, you found me a tank with an actual working gun. Hallelujah! You were right.

  62. Invoking your proximity to a terrorist attack isn’t a reflection of your special insight into international politics, terrorism, or constitutional law; its a reflection of your fear mongering.

    I see… so because I was directly affected by a terrorist attack my opinion is disqualified. By that logic, anybody who lived in New York or DC on 9/11 should also be silenced on the subject of terrorism. Of course, you didn’t list your qualifications in international politics, terrorism, or constitutional law either… so can I safely disqualify your opinion until you present a resume?

    Then again, it seems you only skimmed my comment because you missed the part where I mentioned that I agreed with Mr. Scalzi’s overall premise because the, “NSA debacle is a massive overreach that violates the Constitution,” but hey, at least you tried!

    If you want to talk about taking terrorism “seriously”, the first thing you have to acknowledge is that it is, practically speaking, impossible to stop an attack like the Boston marathon bombing. The two perpetrators were acting as a lone wolf attacker, acting on their own, and using extremely low tech weapons. It would be nearly impossible to design a survellance system that would have a high rate of success of precog-precrime detection good enough to catch that sort of attack before it happened.

    Secondly, any “serious” discussion needs to address not only the potential benefits of any proposed solution but also any unintended negative consequences of that solution. Sure, someone could argue that an Orwellian system as described in 1984 might possibly be able to reduce crime, but at a cost that Orwell warned us about.

    The fear-based reactions to terrorism is almost always some kind of “Tragedy of the Commons” in the cost/benefit analysis view of things. People supporting the current spy-on-all-americans program are thinking they they get all the benefit of making terrorism go away, but that the potential worst-case cost of Government Abuse of such a system is spread out over the entire population, exactly the way an individual gets all the benefit of grazing his cattle on the Commons, but the cost is spread out over everyone.

    I believe this tragedy-of-the-commons styled calculus is exactly why voters aren’t all that upset about the spy program. They think they will get all the benefits (no terrorism), and they think they will never pay any personal cost (the state won’t misuse the spy program to come after them.)

    And thirdly, when looking at the cost/benefit analysis, there is the “fantasy” that the spy programs have been useful, and then there is the reality that there has been absolutely nothing to support the notion that these spy programs have actually been useful in preventing anything that couldn’t have been prevented with normal, run of the mill, old fashioned get-a-warrant, style police work.

    I can’t and won’t argue that stopping determined terrorists is very challenging. Some will always slip through, particularly when they feel we are vulnerable. Were it up to me, I’d reduce large surveillance programs and instead convince others of our willingness to use strength in retaliation, but that kind of behavior is against the delicate sensibilities of people who are left of center.

    As for the large surveillance programs: There are some people we should be watching closely. The Tsarnaev Brothers fit that bill, as do other immigrants from countries where terrorism is more common. Do I wish that step wasn’t prudent and the world was different? Yup–but it’s not. Projecting my feelings won’t change the determination of others to do harm to people in our country. For that matter, I think we should be closely watching militant right wingers who are in the same mold as Timothy McVeigh since they have proven they are also capable of mass murder using explosives. If a group of people has a statistically higher potential of being a mass threat to hundreds or thousands of our citizens, we should be watching them. It won’t stop all of them, but it will at least slow them down.

  63. Andrew: I see… so because I was directly affected by a terrorist attack my opinion is disqualified.

    I’ve had some proximity with two terrorist attacks in my lifetime, but I didn’t invoke them because ultimately they’re irrelevant. It doesn’t disqualify my opinion, but it doesn’t give me any special insight either.

    I’d reduce large surveillance programs and instead convince others of our willingness to use strength in retaliation,

    This doesn’t disqualify your opinion either, but it does indicate you have no idea what you’re talking about. We deployed massive military force to Iraq, and all that did was shatter the country. Al Queda wasn’t there when we invaded, but they started coming in after we got there. And then there was the massive terrorist recruiting campaign poster that was Abu Graib, a prison originally used by Saddam to torture and murder political opponents, before it was used by American troops to torture and murder political opponents. As well as the whole “We’re invading Iraq because of WMD’s” bullshit which burned up any and all political capital we may have had from the rest of the world after 9/11.

    No, the problem isn’t a lack of strength.

    The problem is that those most pushing for use of “strength” are usually the ones least interested in whether the application of force makes sense at all, whether it will make things better, or whether it will make things worse. The problem is those most pushing for a violent solution are often brainless shitheads like, Thomas “Well, suck on this!” Friedman, who also caused the invention of the phrase “Friedman Unit” for constantly arguing, over nearly a decade, that the war in Iraq would turn around soon and we just needed to give it “six more months”. The problem is fuck-nuts like that think the only thing we need is more power (and possibly a demonstration of more power) and then everything and everyone will finally fear us enough to leave us alone.

    Mohamed Atta was studying to be an architect and then Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath attack on Lebanon, resulting in the first Qana massacre, caused him to commit himself to martyrdom. America’s torture campaign in Abu Graib was a massive recruitment campaign for Al Queda. America’s rather lackadaisical use drones in Afghanistan and into Pakistan, killing civiliians during wedding ceremonies and killing civilians during funerals, has certainly been another recruiting tool for anti-American terrorists.

    The problem is moronic use of force, which America has demonstrated over and over since 9/11, only makes the problem worse.

    Just to turn the tables a moment, it can be helpful to remind Americans about the Revolutionary war against the British, and the fact that the “Boston Massacre” involved the deaths of five people. That is all it took to significantly turn the hearts and minds of colonists against the King. Five people killed. And it was a mob of 200 people that had surrounded british troops in a garrison and were throwing stones and snowballs at the troops when a british private was knocked to the ground and angrily shouted “Damn you, fire!”, the rest of the troops fired, 5 people were killed, and the colonies became galvanized against the British.

    In the last decade, America has tortured thousands, murdered hundreds of prisoners, and showed an overwhelming indifference to the civilians killed by American bullets, bombs, and drone missiles. And that is the problem.

    We are making terrorists far faster than we can kill them.

  64. DAVID: Hallelujah! You were right.

    Greg: You could have manned-up and shrugged it off as simply not knowing, lesson learned, move on. But now you’re just acting like an ass, getting mad at me because you screwed up.

    Yeah, I was right all right.

    DAVID: I’m not arguing with him at this point any more so much as mocking him.

    You were mocking me for a year for something I was right about. Anyone with even the tiniest amount of stones would have made at least an indirect attempt to apologize for being such an ass.

  65. Scrolling down this thread, I was just thinking “Wow, this is getting bad. I wonder how long before Scalzi pulls out the—oh, he did.”

  66. You were mocking me for a year for something I was right about.

    Oh, I know. The entertainment value was spectacular.

  67. Oh, I know. The entertainment value was spectacular.

    This is really a classic troll sentiment. Are you sure this is the impression you want to give?

  68. It’s clear from reading this that there is a Titanic sized iceberg of ignorance as to the effects this debacle has had in Europe. Angela Merkel is someone of extraordinarily restraint, who constantly seeks to keep communication flowing freely for the benefit of all.

    She went absolutely apeshit, and she stunned the German population precisely because she went apeshit, and she never, ever does that.

    Of course, she grew up in East Germany, and thus has hands on experience of a police state; she really isn’t going to fall for the crap excuses peddled out by people who cannot imagine why close exposure to the Stasi might not be something which makes her want to do it again…

  69. Xopher: This is really a classic troll sentiment.

    It was a classic troll sentiment when david said something factually wrong, and when pointed out that he was wrong, rather than admit it, he doubled down on his attacks to try and misdirect attention away from his error and avoid having to admit he was wrong

    That is straight out of the he-who-shall-not-be-named professional troll playbook.

  70. John, you were correct about my post, I had meant for it to go to a different thread, so when it posted here, and I didn’t notice (or pay attention or whatever), it became a very long rant that had little relevance to the topic of the thread. I’m not going to try to repost it on the intended thread. Sorry to the group for putting it in the wrong location.

  71. The discussion here has been pretty politicized and I’d like to avoid that if possible. I apologize I’m late to the party, but I haven’t been online since before the holidays.

    What I’m most concerned about is that there are many people in today’s world that live and have their entire lives online, that if we were sufficiently advanced would be content being a socket in a machine, and even for those that wouldn’t go that far, that have the Internet pervade every aspect of their lives.

    I really don’t think we are that far from your Google or Facebook ID being as accepted a form of identification as your SSN is in real life and not just online (really, if the biometrics were worked out and cheap enough, I’m pretty sure we’d switch within a generation).

    So the fact that the NSA just downloads EVERYTHING is much more than just a surveillance, it’s a rape of your life’s most intimate details and secrets. There are entire segments of my life spent online, entire relationships with people met online, entire aspects of who I am that are entirely expressed online and have no analogue to the unplugged world.

    I really don’t hold much with slippery slope arguments (unless you have if-then statements that can be clearly proven of course, because that’s just a normal argument), but I don’t think we’re on a slippery slope to a real world surveillance state or being held without trial for crimes we didn’t commit, I think we’re already there.

    It’s more than upsetting and I can’t see a path to a world that I want to live in and raise children in, and now there’s no safe escape to a virtual world. I can’t even read a book without the government tracking its purchase if it’s done online.

    And then there’s the question of corruption. It’s possible that you could win an argument saying that the government needs this ability to instantaneously have on hand all records of your entire life (although I would disagree with the scope and the ease and the spending), but who runs the program? People. And people suck. If men were angels, we’d have no need of government, but men are not angels and they’re the ones running the government. There have to be checks and balances and rights.

  72. You know, if a person is so convinced that the NSA folks in black shirts (and roping down from black helicopters) are going to come for them in the night (yeah, right) it’s really not that easy to protect yourself. One, don’t say stupid things in email or on the phone concerning explosive devices or poisonous gases, to begin with! You can use freely available encryption software on any email you don’t want people to see. and no, unless the NSA has quantum computers ( and they don’t, since they hardly employ the best physicists in the world) the NSA can’t break that encryption. Of all the myriad things to worry about in the USA, this is pretty near the bottom of my list. And just to annoy folks: Snowden OBVIOUSLY fits the definition of traitor and should rot in jail for at least 20 years (yeah, start screaming now bc I almost certainly vote for the same people most of you vote for). The fact that Snowden hasn’t had a fatal accident tells you that you don’t have all that much to worry about (unless you ARE talking to that FBI agent in your local bar). I think the Patriot Act is/was a horrendous idea and ought to be ended, NOW, but no electable government is about to do that any time soon, regardless of what they call themselves. So far, thru two different presidents who could hardly be more opposite, there’s not ONE SHRED of evidence that any innocent American has been tangibly harmed by the Patriot Act (yeah, that obviously could change, which is why I want it ended). In summary, go twist your knickers about something important!

  73. You know, if a person is so convinced that the NSA folks in black shirts (and roping down from black helicopters) are going to come for them in the night (yeah, right) it’s really not that easy to protect yourself.

    I love the typo. I think you meant “it’s really easy to protect” yourself. The rest of the post just reads like a parody of every secret policeman ever.

  74. NOTE: I accidentally posted this comment on “My 2013: A Quick Recap” blog entry. It was meant to appear here :-)

    ——-
    A long thread of abuse of democratic freedoms and institutions as well as constitutional rights started with 9/11, continued with the Iraq War — which was a war for oil and natural resources disguised as war on terror — manifested in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, contributed in creating a sense of lawlessness under a president who was not astute enough to comprehend the forces around him and a vice president who could not care less, allowed for widespread oversight with the consequent financial turbulence (aka subprime mortgage crisis) and led to overreaching big-brother surveillance programs like the one of NSA.

    There was a broad failure of democracy in the US during the last decade. Institutions failed in their role and obligation to protect fundamental freedoms, the citizens and the state, and prevent an utterly unnecessary war. And the echoes of the failure still persists in the political atmosphere today, polarizing sides, and restricting a president with rather good intentions.

    If I may quote from my recent book, which is a satire of our current political and economic structures (or woes):

    “I am sorry I am so late,” Cocky said. “I had a terrible hiccup problem.”
    “How did you cure it?” a senator asked.
    “There is fine nuance in the question,” Cocky grinned. “It goes to the heart of the matter. For there will always be difficulties, suffering, and all sorts of pestilence. Thus, we have to ask this question. How do we deal with them? How do we cure ourselves and our land from a disease?”

    For more information: http://www.fairkryn.com

  75. “OH GOD OH GOD THE TERRORISTS ARE COMING FOR OUR FREEDOMS”

    and

    “9/11 OUR FREEDOMS THE TERRORISTS OH GOD THE TERRORISTS.”

    Sorry for the delay. I just caught up on the rss/email feed.

    The fact of the matter is that there are terrorists. They do not want us to be free. And they are more than willing to bring the fight to our back yards.

    The other fact is that the existence of those terrorists is not sufficient justification for the NSA and friends to shred the Fourth Amendment and other sections of the U.S. Constitution. It isn’t sufficient justification to spy on our allies and their leaders.

    A nuanced response would recognize that these facts are not mutually exclusive.

    The items quoted above are a silly response to a serious set of problems.

    B/R,
    Dann

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