In today's Sokesman Review we have an op-ed piece by Froma Harrop who essentially has no problem with secret government surveillance of Americans.
1) Admit that we are powerless to stop this new technology. (We don’t have to like it.)
It's not the technology we're powerless against. It is secret, unchecked programs. It is government doing as it pleases to target people. It's about government using this secretly gathered information and lying about it.
2) Stop confusing capabilities with actions. The U.S. government is capable of leveling Mount Rushmore. That does not mean it has any intention of launching drone attacks on South Dakota, no matter what your local tea party chapter says.
It's the actions we don't know about that are the problem and Edward Snowden has shown a light on them. We have an administration and political leaders who have lied about what has been happening only to be exposed by later revelations.
3) Recognize that this surveillance is key to national security. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was not alone in warning that a cyberthreat will “equal or even eclipse the terrorist threat.” Other governments and bad people are racing for domination.
Whether we trust government, don’t trust government or simply want more oversight, this is serious business. It’s hard to count how many bloggers have likened the sort of information being culled today with the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s collecting nudie photos of political leaders in compromising situations. Those were relatively innocent days.
Here's she's conflating secret government surveillance of American citizens with terrorism. The national security trump card is well worn. Those "innocent days" included using information for blackmail and targeting innocent citizens.
4) Appreciate that we do have safeguards. When the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court berates the National Security Agency for violating the rules, that’s an example of checks and balances in action.
The FISA court may be able to chastise the NSA and other government agencies, but it cannot force them to do anything. Only Congress and the President can and they have failed miserably.
5) Admit that commercial spying is a privacy matter, as well. Retailers follow your cellphone around the mall. Macy’s knows how much time you spent in the shoe department. Amazon.com knows all about your interest in socialism and passion for manga cartoons.
Of course, the telecom companies know whom you called and for how long. If the issue is privacy, what makes a business conglomerate more honorable than the government?
We as citizens have more enforced laws protecting us from commercial monitoring of our phone and Internet use than we do from government intrusion. We have learned that commercial companies have acted as surrogates for the NSA and other agencies, providing them with access and data on a wide ranging scale. Plus, data was being gathered in violation of the law.
6) Call out media sources hurling thunderbolts at NSA spying while spying on you.
The New York Times recently ran a red-hot editorial railing over the agency’s “inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans.” On the right side of the editorial’s Web page was a list of article links labeled “Recommended for You.” Now, how would the New York Times know what Froma might want to read?
Again, whether lawful or unlawful, it's the secret surveillance of Americans and the secret use of that information that's the issue. Not the browser cookies.
7) In assessing government surveillance activities, distinguish between a “who” and an “it.” A computer is an “it.” The fact that it is ruffling through all the metadata – phone numbers, email addresses, Internet searches – or even keeping the content of such communications in a vault for five years should not overly concern us.
When an actual human being takes a look, then it’s time for questions. When the system works properly, the NSA still needs a warrant to look at content.
A computer may be an "it", but it's ruffling through all the metadata because it can do so quickly and efficiently. Whether "it" or "she" looks at the data, there should still be controls over what data can be gathered, how it can be gathered, and what it can be used for.
I hope these seven steps help. We recently learned that the NSA has cracked the encryption tools protecting the privacy of Internet communications. Two responses: 1) Now we know it can be done. 2) Better us than them.
The NSA didn't crack Internet encryption tools. It broke them from the start and made everyone vulnerable for their purposes.
Better us than them?
Ride The Night in Providence, R.I.
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