WJR on the World
NSA Surveillance: Top 10 Points

1. If you understand what NSA is doing, then it is clearly a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  However, few if any of the commentators I have heard, including friends, have any clue as to what is being done.  This is why there is such a split here between the tech community and others.  I have been writing software for over 50 years and have a Ph.D. in statistics, so I think I do understand.

2. Whether or not you understand what NSA is doing, it is quite likely that it has been valuable, even very valuable.  Thus, there is a legitimate debate over whether this violation of the Fourth Amendment is worth it.  It is not legitimate to argue over whether or not it is a violation.  That is a red herring issue.  We addressed these issues earlier in history with suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the Civil War and the wrongful detention of Japanese-descent citizens in World War 2 by ruling after the fact.  This is not a great track record.  However, maybe we should amend the Constitution to permit surveillance of this sort.

3. This is a generic tool:  It can also be used to find a list of people who, for example, are having an affair, dealing in drugs, thinking of getting divorced,…  The temptation is great to extend its use.  The IRS abuses are highly relevant here.  While it may be effective, it can never be perfect and thus will wrongfully identify many people incorrectly with any such query.  This is precisely why we have the Fourth Amendment: to prohibit such general searches.

4. The author of the Patriot Act said it is clearly a violation of the act he wrote which was written expressly to prohibit this.  Why more attention has not been paid to this mystifies me.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/jim-sensenbrenner-nsa_n_3397440.html  The biggest problem with the Patriot Act is obscurity.  No one can disclose and no one has standing to sue.  This is the denial of the basics of democracy.  As long as those doing it say it is legal, it is by the terms of the act.  So, the President and others are correct because no one has the knowledge, information or standing to question. 

5. Similarly, the fact that Congress has been fully briefed is also irrelevant.  I am sorry but I doubt there are many members of Congress who can understand the breadth and depth of what this system can do.  Same for members of the Federal judiciary at all levels.  Briefing does not imply anything except one sided communication.  Anyone who disagrees is prohibited from saying anything.  That cannot mean consent.

6. This is a very old debate.  Thirty years ago I got involved in whether or not to classify an index of unclassified information.  It is the same point.  The judicial precedents are about pen registers recording numbers dialed.  Having a database of every call made is a far different thing and stretches the law beyond belief—but you need to understand Big Data.  How many Federal judges do?

7. There is horrible violence done here to faith in government.  I am not by any means an enemy of government.  We need government.  Government can do great good.  However, government also does some things very poorly, and we need to be careful in asking government to do what it can do and not what it cannot.  It is absolutely clear that the executive branch was at best misleading in its public responses to questions.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/06/11/sen-wyden-clapper-didnt-give-straight-answer-on-nsa-programs/  The position seems to be that the government will tell the truth unless it believes in its sole discretion not to do so.  I think this is sad.  For an Administration with so much faith in government to so seriously dent public faith in government is tragic.

8. Any program this big becomes self-promoting.  Think President Eisenhower’s prescient admonitions about the military-indstrial complex.  This is a multi-billion dollar undertaking.  Careers are at stake.  Retirements are at stake.  And, the nation is at stake.  Complex issues when transparency is missing.

9. The business community is abuzz with the reality that Big Data can power companies to greatness.  Big Data is turning metadata, each atom of which is individually worthless, into knowledge.  That is why calling it metadata is so misleading.  If you steal a truck full of silver dollars, it is treated as a felony.  If you steal one silver dollar, it is ignored.  That is the case the defenders are making: forget that we are collecting billions of the records.  Just ask: can we take just one?  The answer to that, for right or wrong, is clearly yes.  Those precedents are ancient.  They are not the same.

10. The greatest damage done to the country may be economic.  The Internet industry has undoubtedly been good to America.  Who will trust a U.S. firm now?  See David Kirkpatrick’s wonderful post.  http://techonomy.com/2013/06/did-obama-just-destroy-the-u-s-internet-industry/

  1. rnomad posted this