We Asked for This

The NSA snooping story is fishy. Here’s Ed Bott at ZDNet:

. . . a funny thing happened the next morning. If you followed the link to [The Washington Post‘s] story, you found a completely different story, nearly twice as long, with a slightly different headline. The new story wasn’t  just expanded; it had been stripped of key details, with no acknowledgment of the changes. That updated version, time-stamped at 8:51 AM on June 7, backed off from key details in the original story.

Crucially, the Post removed the “knowingly participated” language and also scrubbed a reference to the program as being “highly classified.” In addition, a detail in the opening graf that claimed the NSA could “track a person’s movements and contacts over time” was changed to read simply “track foreign targets.”

David Simon, meanwhile, gauges the reaction:

You would think that the government was listening in to the secrets of 200 million Americans from the reaction and the hyperbole being tossed about. And you would think that rather than a legal court order which is an inevitable consequence of legislation that we drafted and passed, something illegal had been discovered to the government’s shame.

Nope. Nothing of the kind.

And how is that then? It appears that an already-existing, already-controversial program has been given a Hollywood style treatment. Bott again:

The real story appears to be much less controversial than the original alarming accusations. All of the companies involved have established legal procedures to respond to warrants from a law enforcement agency or a court. None of them appear to be participating with widespread surveillance.

So what went wrong with the Post?

The biggest problem was that the Post took a leaked PowerPoint presentation from a single anonymous source and leaped to conclusions without supporting evidence.

And now back to Simon, who tries to put things into sane perspective, reminding us that the collection of call records and the scraping of emails is not the same as surveillance and recording, if for no other reason than that there’s not enough human and computer power to take on such a massive task.

There is a lot of authoritarian overreach in American society, both from the drug war and the war on terror.

But those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed and ideologically-motivated enemy. And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks. After all, we as a people, through our elected representatives, drafted and passed FISA and the Patriot Act and what has been done here, with Verizon and assuredly with other carriers, is possible under that legislation.  . . We asked for this. We did so because we measured the reach and possible overreach of law enforcement against the risks of terrorism and made a conscious choice.

Simon does acknowledge in a later post that there is a substantive difference between the Verizon phone records being given to the government, and the kind of monitoring that PRISM does to Internet activity, which requires more oversight than it currently has. But this is still not really news.  

I’m trying to keep my own apathy about this in check, as I imagine what my reaction would be if there were a Republican administration running the executive. I assume I’d be presuming guilt and nefarious intent. I hope the fact that I am far less freaked out by the current administration running such an operation (which, again, turns out to be nothing new anyway) will inform and mitigate any future knee-jerks.

We simply can’t each have ubiquitous presence and expression on the Internet and also expect airtight privacy for all of our activity. We just can’t. As Simon says:

We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course we do.

Of course we do. So let’s pick which one is more important to us, or more accurately, let’s adjust the dials to the mix of privacy and security that better suits us — based on what this thing actually is, not simply as it’s portrayed. We asked for this, and maybe we don’t like what we got. So let’s ask for something else. 

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