Category Archives: civil liberties

Random Thoughts on the NSA and Metadata

big brotherThere’s a part of me that’s hesitant to say anything about the NSA scandal. It involves a lot of things that I’m not clear about, such as how you comb through the data without snooping on folks. I still think this story is forming and we don’t know the whole scope of things. That said, I do have some musings which are sure to bug people on all sides. So, here goes.

  • Whenever I hear libertarians complain about this, I have to wonder what they think is the proper response when terrorism happens. More often than not, the answer is that such things like 9/11 won’t happen again or the chances of terrorism happening to us are slim. I would agree that a 9/11-style attack was probably a one-shot deal. But in the years following 9/11 we have had other smaller scale threats such as the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner over the skies of Detroit, or the guy that wanted to set off a car bomb in Times Square and of course, the Boston Marathon bombings. So, how does government best respond to these threats? How do we try to protect the American people and yet uphold the ideals we cherish? How do we keep the balance? It bugs me that libertarians don’t really have an answer for this, which leads me to think that their answer is basically to shrug it off. I hope I’m wrong, but I do wonder.
  • Are we really surprised the government would start sorting through our data? In an age where Google and Apple collect tons of our data, it would only be a matter of time before the government got into the act. The internet and mobile technology is a wonderful thing, but it has also left us more vulnerable to be followed.
  • We have to start thinking about what privacy means in the Internet age. I tend to think we have an expectation of privacy that made sense 40 years ago, but not now. In an age where we freely share our history on Facebook and where Google can provide us with ads based on our searches, we have to think about what privacy means now and we also have to think about the trade offs of taking part in this new age.
  • These next few points are Via Peggy Noonan. Politicians tend to look at terrorism through the lens of self-interest. No politico of either party wants to be the one that gets blamed for some major attack because they didn’t do anything. As much as the public might say they are upset at government snooping, I tend to think the public will also punish any politician that appeared to not do respond to a threat. This means, any politician is going to do something that could be incredibly stupid in order to save their hides.
  • A growing surveillence state might thwart some attacks, but it can also not notice other potential threats. The most obvious example are the Tsarnaevs. All of the apparatus of the security state for some reason didn’t pick up what was going on with these two brothers. The state might be powerful, but it isn’t God and it isn’t perfect.
  • The collection of data could very well be used for bad purposes. The president and Congress can swear on a stack of Bibles that the data is secure, but the people collecting the data are human. The information could be used to threaten innocent people. The temptation for overreach and abuse is high.

I know this isn’t a self-righteous blog post expressing anger either way. But then our post 9/11 world leaves me with more questions than they do answers.