Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Regarding the NSA...

In the great hoohaa over the leak, some really important ideas are being missed or lost in the frothing.

IMHO, one original purpose of the 4rth amendment (which still remains as an important purpose) was to prevent harassment of opposition by government.  We have since assigned it other values as well: I have no problem with that.  But the current practices of the NSA are not consistent with what I think of as one original purpose.  The ACLU is doing the right thing to challenge this in court.

The amount of information gathered by the NSA probably exceeds that of the East German Stasi (secret police) and various other police state secret agencies.  The difference is that it is automated and easier to use and abuse on ANY scale.

We need public accountability of our secret organizations: the Google and other pleas to make public how much and what sorts of information they are providing are important.  But they are tiny, piecemeal steps when we need an overall policy.  And the fact is that Google makes it money by knowing everything about you that it can.  Google may well attempt to do privately the same thing the NSA is doing, by buying other private data (or perhaps in the future creating a consortium.)

Libertarians will be outraged because it is government doing this: but why should ANYBODY, including private parties, be allowed to do this?  We need better ideas and laws about privacy and record keeping that apply to corporations and individuals, as well as the government.  We should not allow Google or other corporate giants to accrue similar amounts of information, which of course then could be sold to or subpoenaed by government or others who wished to harass you.  But libertarians are famous for not doing anything about it.

Conservatives are not truly outraged.  But even the dumbest might be outraged if you tell them the NSA could make a pretty good guess as to who has guns, how many, and what type.  I don't know for sure if the NSA could know that, but it is plausible.


Lorraine said...

I think there's a principled sort of libertarian for whom government contractors (and in some cases even "corporations" in general) don't count as part of the private sector. That said, there are also completely unprincipled people such as Peter Thiel, who is heavily invested in the skunk works, who self-identify as libertarians.

Public accountability of secret organizations is a cruel joke at best. What is really needed is transparency, which is a considerably stronger claim than accountability. If you'll pardon my use of Randisms, whenever I hear accountability, I ask "accountability to whom?" If it's true that sophisticated queries against world communication and commerce in the aggregate are necessary for getting the best possible protection from "terrorism" (a claim I reject, but for the sake of argument...) then the analytics needs to be crowdsourced. Let us all take a crack at that "fire hose" of data. The fact that the "sources and methods" are classified is a far bigger problem for me than the fact we have no privacy. Privacy is a technological impossibility, anyway.

Mike Bast said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Bast said...

And, of course, I've already seen the obligatory "Government isn't voluntary, Google is". Principled means "follows the script", it seems. It's not a problem because government does it. It's either a problem or it's not.

David Moisan said...

I've been wanting to make a joke like the one often made about George W. Bush and the search for "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. "Do they have these weapons?" George: "Yes, we kept the receipts!"

Something like, to Google, "Does the NSA have your database mirrored?" Sergei: "Yes, we believe in transparency. Here's the purchase order and letter of agreement. And the invoice!"

Snowden is no hero and is below nothing to me, but I have always thought the NSA, FBI, could just as easily go through the front door by writing a check. Small wonder Rand Paul would rather not have that conversation.