Favorite

Let's have the surveillance state debate 

One diverting aspect of The Guardian-inspired hullaballoo over NSA surveillance has been watching people bicker about it on Facebook. In the old Soviet Union, people walked in the woods or hid in the bathroom with the faucets running to whisper forbidden thoughts. Here in the USA, people post them online along with cute kitten videos and photos of Reuben sandwiches.

Recently, I advised my Facebook friend Theo Jordan how to conduct an intrigue without government spooks catching on. Have a third party buy a pre-paid cell phone anonymously, use it no more than twice, and then hide it in the backseat of a New York taxi. The Feds will go nuts tracking it over five boroughs, while you get busy digging holes. Theo, I should stipulate, is a dachshund with an active fantasy life. We've never actually met.

Meanwhile, some joker who hides behind the name of a character in a Henry James novel excoriates Democrats who haven't joined the Edward Snowden-Glenn Greenwald Chicken Little Brigade. "Watching all the Obots turn into good Germans would be funny," he writes "if it weren't so horrifying."

Achtung, "Lambert." You and Theo can use fake identities on Facebook, but The Shadow knows. Privacy in the 18th century sense vanished with the Internet, and it's never coming back. It's childish to think otherwise.

Yesterday my wife dropped my binoculars, knocking them out of whack. Before I figured out how to fix them I priced a new pair on Amazon. This morning, Facebook sent me an advert for Chinese-made Bushnells costing far less than the originals. By tomorrow, they'll be back to selling me patent medicines somehow involving pretty women with preposterously large breasts. They don't know that I suffer from maladies their "weird secrets" purport to cure, but they definitely know my age and gender.

MasterCard recently shut me down because their computer algorithm correctly deduced that a guy who spends most of his money buying cattle feed in Arkansas probably wasn't buying a huge HDTV in Mexico City. Amazon knows that I've read all the Henning Mankell "Kurt Wallender" novels and thinks I may have a thing for Scandinavian murder mysteries.

OK, enough. Here's the thing: The good news is that the most dramatic "revelations" in the Snowden-Greenwald stories turn out upon further review to be somewhere between greatly exaggerated and entirely false. Yes, NSA vacuums up telephone "metadata" and sifts it for suspicious patterns. USA Today revealed that in 2006. There was a big political fight about it, which the libertarian side lost. But no, they aren't listening to your calls, and when the histrionic Mr. Snowden says he could have eavesdropped on anybody in the USA, he leaves out that doing so would have landed him in Federal prison, where he probably belongs.

As the New Yorker's Jeff Toobin asks, "What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications."

Secondly, NSA has no direct "PRISM" link into the servers of Google, Yahoo, and the rest. Upon detecting suspicious activity, it must seek a search warrant, whereupon the companies isolate the information sought and deliver it to an electronic "lockbox" for collection. The Guardian simply got this wrong, and was very slow correcting itself, while Greenwald himself made characteristically shrill attacks on everybody who questioned it.

It's the difference between me leaving, say, my tax return in the mailbox and FBI agents covertly turning my home and office upside down in my absence. Day and night, legally speaking.

Anyway, let's think this through. The New York Times' estimable James Risen was absolutely correct on "Meet the Press." "We haven't had a full national debate about the creation of a massive surveillance state and surveillance infrastructure that if we had some radical change in our politics could lead to a police state."

However, the genie won't fit back in the bottle. Like nuclear weapons, computer technology is here to stay. What with Al Qaeda posting articles on its website teaching freelance jihadists like the Tsarnaev brothers to "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," and Chinese hackers stealing industrial and military secrets by the truckload, unilateral electronic disarmament would be folly. An unmonitored Internet would be a conspiracist's playground.

For once, Thomas Friedman may be right: All that might be necessary to provoke a fear-based authoritarian political response in the US would be a couple of mass casualty terror strikes on the 9/11 scale.

So let's definitely have that debate. Always mindful, however, of two things: First, the great enemy isn't methodology but lawlessness. When J. Edgar Hoover targeted Martin Luther King, he used not NSA computers but tape recorders the size of electric typewriters.

Two, cyber warfare beats the other kind hands down.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Trump unfit

    Even as an oligarch, President Trump turns out to be breathtakingly incompetent. Is there any reason to suppose he's even loyal to the United States? Does he even understand the concept? Trump is loyal to Trump, and to his absurdly swollen ego. Nothing and nobody else.
    • May 18, 2017
  • America's pastime

    Sometimes, the most important things that happen at the ballpark are only tangentially related to the games themselves. I speak as one who hasn't missed a televised Boston Red Sox game this season, and may not between now and October. Win or lose, I'm in it for the stories.
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Not again

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal.
    • Jan 14, 2016
  • Never wrong

    Quite a few people make noises about leaving the country if the wrong person gets elected president. I've been making discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Kinsale, County Cork, myself — from whence my people emigrated after 1880.
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
    • Jul 28, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • Raw feelings in the Arkansas Justice Building over workload, pay

    Strained relations between the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals broke into public view this week. I expect more to come.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Trump unfit

    Even as an oligarch, President Trump turns out to be breathtakingly incompetent. Is there any reason to suppose he's even loyal to the United States? Does he even understand the concept? Trump is loyal to Trump, and to his absurdly swollen ego. Nothing and nobody else.
    • May 18, 2017
  • America's pastime

    Sometimes, the most important things that happen at the ballpark are only tangentially related to the games themselves. I speak as one who hasn't missed a televised Boston Red Sox game this season, and may not between now and October. Win or lose, I'm in it for the stories.
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

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 Viewed

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • As the Investigator has moved on to mind-reading--denouncing Lyons for what she imagines he must…

    • on May 25, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • And now the mainstream media is saying it is OK that they leaked the information…

    • on May 25, 2017
  • Re: Not leaders

    • Oh, Ms.Tolbert - You are sick at what is happening NOW. Where was this moral…

    • on May 25, 2017
 

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