I have been thinking about the surveillance issue a lot over the past few days, and have read a large number of opinions on whether what the NSA is doing is right or justifiable or constitutional.
I think that many people are missing something of the point. The documents we are reading about were never supposed to be released. It is akin to hearing one side of an argument. It is always easy to agree with a single side, you are missing all of the counterpoints which support the opposition’s position.
In the case of surveillance, in the absence of documents that support the need for this level of surveillance we can only speculate about how we got to the Verizon request and PRISM from the Patriot Act. To have a valid public debate, we would need to have access to the FISA court’s proceedings and the analysis of the original signals which led to PRISM.
I don’t feel as though anyone can really say whether or not we should have a program like PRISM, or if we need the massive data mining operations that the NSA has purportedly been undertaking, because all of the documents which would educate us about what is actually happening in the world around us are classified.
What I can say is that I would guess that the justification for this level of intrusion is quite strong. That being said, in the future, we may be glad that what started with carnivore, and has progressed to PRISM has been in place. We just can’t know.
It is unacceptable for our government to just say “trust us, it’s for your own good.” That is not the principal upon which our country was founded. The federal government’s contract with the public is a partnership, not a patriarchy. It would be best for everyone if the federal government’s bias were set back to “what can we have have declassified” from “how can we classify this?”
There is no reason that I can see as to why much of the intelligence leading up to this which is ancient now has to still be completely classified. Some representatives and members of the intelligence community have said that if they redacted the documents to support PRISM, what would be left would be meaningless. Even just the volume of documents could indicate to the public how much support there is for surveillance.
Classifying everything is a cop out. Yes, obviously if we applied the full process of public scrutiny to the realm of homeland security things would take longer, the NSA and DHS would have to respond to legal challenges from all comers. That would be a good thing, we’d probably all end up back where we are today, but we would all be agreed that this is the right thing for the our country given the current environment. Instead, where we are now, is like a mother dragging a kid by the collar to eat their broccoli.
Also, what some have proposed, ceasing use of Facebook, Google, what-have-you, is ridiculous. It is equally ridiculous to call them complicit to something evil or other childish ideas of how companies work. No one at these companies wants to violate the trust of their users in so blatant a way as to immediately destroy their business. To do such a thing would be in breach of their responsibilities to their shareholders. It wouldn’t even make financial sense.
The opposite is actually what is more likely, they will make much more money by doing nothing to exploit your data as far as the government is concerned, rather by using it for marketing intrusions. The only explanation for why they would allow this is that they have no choice. This database is precious to them, if it found its way to a rival company or government it would do real material harm. Even having this double access system is a giant risk, secret or no. They would never do this voluntarily.