Favorite

Big Brother is not retreating to 18th century 

Let's cut to the chase: if Big Brother wants you, he's got you, Act 215 telephone "metadata" notwithstanding. This disconcerting fact of modern life has been true more or less since the invention of the camera, the microphone and the tape recorder.

See the excellent German film "The Lives of Others" for details. The Stasi managed to collect vast libraries of gossip and slander against East German citizens entirely without computerized databases. It wasn't people's smart phones that betrayed them to the secret police, because they didn't have any. Mostly it was colleagues, neighbors, friends and family.

Similarly, when J. Edgar Hoover's FBI wanted to dig the dirt on Martin Luther King, they bugged his hotel rooms and infiltrated his inner circle with hired betrayers. Once the target was chosen, technological wizardry was secondary.

I am moved to these observations by the fact that the Republican National Committee has now joined the Snowdenista left in pretending to be outraged by something they manifestly do not fear.

The same GOP that rationalized torture and cheered the Bush administration's use of warrantless wiretaps as recently as 2006 now denounces the National Security Agency's "Section 215" bulk collection of telephone data as "an invasion into the personal lives of American citizens that violates the right of free speech and association afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Oh, and the Fourth Amendment too. See, keeping a no-names database of phone numbers called, date, time and duration threatens fundamental privacy rights, although actual wiretapping evidently did not. Never mind that Republicans in Congress approved it.

It's easy to suspect that for the RNC, it's all about who's in the White House. The End.

However, there's an equivalent amount of exaggeration at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Partly for dramatic effect, people talk about data collection as if it were equivalent to surveillance. Here's the estimable blogger Digby Parton on the "chilling effect" of NSA data-hoarding:

"It›s the self-censorship, the hesitation, the fear that what you say or write or otherwise express today could be lurking somewhere on what Snowden referred to as your 'permanent record' and come back to haunt you in the future. The collection of all this mass data amounts to a government dossier on every individual who has a cell phone or a computer. It's forcing journalists, teachers and political dissidents to be afraid of doing their jobs and exercising their democratic rights. It's making average citizens think twice about even doing silly things like search Amazon for pressure cookers or take a look at a controversial web-site."

I don't think Digby herself is afraid for one minute. I know I'm not. Are you?

She adds that "no matter how much you may trust Barack Obama not to abuse that information it was only a few years ago that a man named Dick Cheney had access to it."

Point taken.

Oddly enough, that's pretty much what President Obama had to say in his speech proposing NSA reforms: "Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us. We won't abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached."

Accordingly, Obama proposed several reforms calculated to make misuse of NSA data more unlikely. He accepted the suggestion of his own commission to take telephone records out of NSA's control. Instead, the data would be stored either by the phone companies where it originates or by some third party as yet undefined.

To access that database, NSA would need an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. No intelligence bureaucrat would be able to spy on his ex-wife or your mother-in-law strictly on his own say so.

The president also proposed adding citizen advocates to the FISA court specifically to defend civil liberties — making that body function less like a grand jury and more like a court of law. He added a presidential directive explicitly forbidding NSA from spying upon domestic political critics.

Obama would also sharply limit the number of people whose records can be searched even with a valid FISA warrant.

Taken together, these are fairly substantial reforms. As a pro-cop liberal, I worry that forcing NSA to gather data from hither and yon might prove too cumbersome in an emergency. Sometimes, though, perfect efficiency ill accords with democratic values.

Meanwhile, however, the Eighteenth century ain't coming back. Anybody who imagines that NSA data gathering and cyber-espionage are going away may as well yearn for a world where there are no hostile, anti-democratic powers or mad religious extremists eager to bring down the Great Satan through whatever combination of sabotage and mayhem they can inflict. Indeed, we must pray that our adversaries are as fearful and intimidated by U.S. intelligence agencies as are some of our more imaginative countrymen.

Favorite

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Hillbillies

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Lost in Real America

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America — that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • Killer's failure

    Has any murdering terrorist ever failed more dramatically than Dylann Storm Roof? Like any punk with a gun, he managed to slaughter nine blameless African-American Christians at an historic church in Charleston, S.C. Intending to start a race war, he succeeded only in shocking the moral conscience of the state and nation.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Obama takes long view

    Right now, it's beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he was so prematurely awarded in 2009.
    • Jul 23, 2015
  • Trump and political correctness

    So I see where candidate Donald Trump and former Gov. Sarah Palin are complaining about "political correctness," the supposedly liberal sin of being too polite to tell the unvarnished truth. Me too. I've always laughed at the follies of self-styled "radical" left-wing professors.
    • Sep 3, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Hillbillies

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Lost in Real America

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America — that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Weakening NATO, the military alliance that has brought stability and prosperity to the west since…

    • on January 21, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Good one, Al. Hell hath no fury, and all that happy horse-shit. I hope Gene…

    • on January 20, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Make that "old hack."

    • on January 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation