My thoughts on the NSA Spying Scandal
In the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attack, civil libertarians have consistently warned that Americans were granting the US government and the US president specifically too much unchecked power. Americans seem to have accepted the loss of civil liberties as a trade-off for increased security. But now that it is apparent that every electronic communication of every American is being logged by government, with the meta data stored indefinitely, it might finally be clear how much liberty Americans have ceded to their government.
Personally, I have been alarmed both at how brazen these power grabs have been and how docile and unconcerned Americans have been while their basic liberties have been stripped. During both the Bush and Obama administrations, there have been numerous scandals concerning the loss of basic freedoms in America and America’s prosecution of the so-called War on Terror abroad. But each scandal has passed in due course, with government emboldened by the apathy of the citizenry. Clearly, government believes it can pretend to care about civil liberties, yet do anything it wants because it can weather these storms again and again.
This is how I explained the latest scandal to Credit Writedowns Pro members yesterday:
“The NSA data grab law relies on the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861, which is supposed to apply to surveillance of communications originating or ending outside the United States. Here, however, the NSA has turned to surveillance of US citizens irrespective of whether communications originate within the country or overseas. Moreover, the FISA court order explicitly states, “IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that no person shall disclose… that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under this order”, meaning that this surveillance is to be done in secret. Finally, experts in US intelligence are saying this is a standard renewal of a long-standing data grab that the US has had for at least 7 years. So we should assume that all of the major phone carriers are receiving and complying with these requests and have been doing so on a continual basis since 2006.
“So what we have here is unlimited US government surveillance of US citizens’ communications without a specific pretext. The NSA is currently building a giant data storage facility in Utah, the biggest in the world. The goal both there and in this specific data grab is to simply collect and store as much data as possible in the hopes that predictive analysis will catch up over time, allowing the US to connect the dots on terrorist activity. In the context of the just beginning trial against government leaker Bradley Manning and recent scandals over US Justice Department spying on journalist, it is clear that the so-called surveillance state is now well-advanced. There may be no turning back the clock on government surveillance in the digital age despite sentiments to the contrary expressed by Al Gore. Digital media facilitates greater government information discovery just as it is supposed to increase individual productivity. This is the double-edged sword that our always on, cloud-centric digital culture has created.”
Government can track every electronic communication, every financial transaction you make and store that data forever just in case you later turn out to be considered an enemy of the state. So far, government appears to be just tracking the transactions and meta data. By law, government cannot actually ‘listen in’ without probable cause or due process. However, the American drone strike program tells you that due process can and will be circumvented when deemed appropriate by those without any accountability. Let’s be clear: it is the apathetic American people who have created this mess. They have allowed their government to operate in a veil of secrecy without any basic checks on power. If Americans don’t wake up and start demanding change, it will get much worse.
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