Note: After a rabid debate about privacy vs. security on our internal message system, Alex and I decided to take the conversation about the National Security Agency public. In addition to the video debate above, we’ve included a summary and some new points below. Enjoy. (Also, never let your opponent write your headlines, Alex.)
Recent revelations concerning the NSA make it plain that the U.S. government feels that it has broad legal authority to conduct digital and telephonic surveillance on its citizenry. In my view, the NSA has gone far, far beyond what the Constitution allows. The right to privacy is not to be dismissed, or diminished.
I value the right to life and privacy equally, and I think we need to honestly weigh the risks to both. Recently, the Washington Post made headlines for leaking an internal NSA audit, which found that the intelligence agency broke their own privacy rules ‘thousands’ of times. Upon examination, most of these were typo infractions, where a spelling error caused agents to unintentionally pull up information that shouldn’t have been queried. I have trouble understanding what actual harm results from this infraction, especially compared to protecting Americans.
We do balance the right to privacy and the right to security, if you want to phrase it in that fashion. It’s called a warrant. That is the compromise between privacy and un-privacy. And they work. And have worked since time immemorial. Frankly, the idea that we need to remove that boundary, that check on governmental oversight I think reveals a very ugly perspective that places the state and its goals far ahead of those that comprise it. I am opposed that fundamentally as in my view the primary goal of government should be to protect the rights of its citizens, and not work to diminish them in secret.
I fully agree that we need better oversight and a lot more transparency, so both Congress and the media can ensure the NSA is doing its job. Generally, I think the government gets stupider with secrecy. But, you still haven’t answered the fundamental question of what actually happens when an agent mistakenly queries information, never sees it, and then discards the info into a data locker to collect dust. Does someone die? Do we lock people up in jail? What constitutional freedoms have we lost and why, exactly, do they outweigh the threat of stopping terrorists…or the harm from sending troops to attack the wrong people, because we had bad intelligence.
What happens. As we get to in the below video clip, I don’t get hit by a bus if the NSA removes my right to privacy. That’s really not what we are talking about. But I do begin to act differently. If I feel like I have no ability to think, write, and communicate in private, I think, speak, and scribble differently. Recall the last time you were on the phone in public. If you were having a conversation with a friend or business partner, you might have sought out a bit of privacy. Perhaps a doorway away from others. That’s what we are talking about: Your right to have your own thoughts, friends, and learnings without others having knowledge of them. You cannot, in my view, have a functioning democracy in a society in which the personal is pervasively public. What room is there for dissent when the state and its ruling parties can monitor all those that might wish to run things in a different fashion? The United States intelligence forces have a painfully tainted history of abuse, and political activity. I will not see them better armed with information and clothed in stronger legal authority. I damn them for wanting both. I’m myself, and the state can bugger off.
I see no shortage of people publicly critical of the NSA. No locked up journalists. All of the self-censorship fears seem like pure speculation. I agree we need much, much more transparency about everyone the NSA is monitoring and anyone questioned. But, this doesn’t mean I think they should stop, because I haven’t seen any actual harms. Stupid wars and terrorism suck. Those are real harms and that’s what I think the goal of any intelligence reform should be.
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