Sunday, June 09, 2013

On Govt Invasion of Privacy ... by gimleteye

Yesterday, NY Times OPED writer Charles Blow published a piece that expresses my fears and reservations about the invasion of privacy by our government and elected officials. The more we learn about the massive invasion of technology to track our every movement, the more clear it is that all the steps are in place to turn technology and surveillance against citizens, for any reason that conforms to an algorithm designed to screen out certain people, even certain opinions.

That the US government is now pursuing the source of the "leak" to the UK Guardian, that triggered the current round of upheaval about the fate of our civil liberties points to the direction of a showdown, but only if Congress will take up the cause of liberty. It is an immensely tricky political business of dialing back the national security state. Witness the difficulty to ratchet back the most simple screening measures of the TSA at airport security lines.

Are we willing to give up everything, in terms of data that connects us to the web, in order to prevent a terrorist attack? How would additional data mining, by the way, prevent those who would do us harm from resorting to carrier pigeons to deliver messages or stop a few lone wolves from wreaking havoc with homemade bombs in rice pressure cookers?

Some would say, we have to stop the government from lying to its citizens and covering up the erosion of civil liberties. In truth, the shadow national security state now involves tens of thousands of private corporations and hundreds of thousands of government employees and billions of dollars of infrastructure investment. As the Guardian points out, we are converging with China's manipulation of liberty. For a while yet, we can do something about it.

What's a citizen to do? Complain to your elected officials. Support organizations standing up for internet privacy. And vote for public officials whose platforms include dialing back the national security state. (read the full NY Times oped by Charles Blow, here ...)

New York Times
June 7, 2013
Of Slippery Slopes

Maybe I’m a bit pessimistic when it comes to governmental paternalism and the unrelenting erosion of civil liberties, but I’ve always assumed that someone or something — including the government — is tracking, or could track, everything I do in an increasing virtual reality.

This is not to say I believe that doing so is right or just or benefits a democracy as Americans imagine it. But a kind of Murphy’s Law ethos abides in me, convincing me that what can be done eventually will be done, for good or ill, because information is power and human beings bend toward power the way weeds bend toward the sun.

And power is just as blinding. Anything can be, and often is, justified in the glare of it. The threat of terrorism has become the broad rationale for the invasion of our privacy.

That’s why I wasn’t as surprised as many this week when it was revealed that the National Security Agency used secret warrants to get Verizon phone records and was, as The Washington Post put it, “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading United States Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”

In the wake of the increasing digitizing of our lives — much of it with our consent — and with the overreactive national security hysteria that has followed the attacks of 9/11 (namely, the Patriot Act), this kind of thing seemed inevitable.

Some of that hysteria has been quelled, although the law and law enforcement tactics it gave birth to are still in effect.

For instance, in January 2002 Gallup found that the percentage of people who said that “the government should take steps to prevent additional acts of terrorism but not if those steps would violate your basic civil liberties” (49 percent) was nearly the same as those who said that “the government should take all steps necessary to prevent additional acts of terrorism in the United States even if it means your basic civil liberties would be violated” (47 percent).

By 2011, only 25 percent of those polled were willing to have their civil liberties violated while 71 percent were not.

More recently, following the Boston bombings, there was bit of a relapse; a CNN/Time/ORC International survey found that 40 percent of respondents were willing to give up civil liberties to fight terrorism.

Still, people were more sensitive about the monitoring of cellphone activity and e-mails.

CNN’s polling director, Keating Holland, said this week that after 9/11, “54 percent of Americans favored expanded government monitoring of cellphones and e-mail. Now, the message is ‘hands off.’ ” He continued, “Only 38 percent said they favor expanding government monitoring of those forms of communication.”

And yet, that appears to be exactly what the government is doing.

Furthermore, the fact that this administration has continued or even expanded the practices began under the Bush administration is beyond unsettling and so far down the slippery slope that I can see the darkness of the valley.

Look at it this way: this administration is taking unprecedented steps to make sure that the government’s secrets remain private while simultaneously invading the privacy of its citizens.

This is a “Papa knows best” approach to security policy.

We are told that this has helped to keep us safe, and that any loss of civil liberties and sense of privacy is but collateral damage, inconsequential in the grand sweep of things. Many innocents must be violated so that a few guilty people can be stopped. It’s a digital stop-and-frisk, using data trends and a few successes to do huge damage.

Even if you trust these “papas” — and I fully trust no politicians — what happens when they are replaced by new ones, ones you do not trust, ones with whom you do not agree?

That’s the problem: beyond the present potential for abuse, these policies establish a dangerous, bipartisan precedent — spanning all branches of government — that are easily misused.

Not only can power be blinding; it can be corruptive.

Imagine what damage the power to indiscriminately collect endless amounts of private data on innocent citizens could do in the hands of men and women of ill intent. The world is no stranger to that kind of abuse.

This is not a right-left thing. This is a right-wrong thing. This is not about short-term damage to political prospects but about long-term damage to democratic ideals. This is not about any particular person or president or party but about principles and limits.

This is one of those rare moments where the left edge and the right one can meet: this government overreach is a threat to liberty.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Richard Nixon's "plumbers" wire tapped and listened in on ONE office. He denied knowledge of it and was found to be covering it up. He was threatened with impeachment. Instead he resigned.

Mr. Obama, please save our country the hassle of impeachment: RESIGN!

Anonymous said...

We were so focused on the capabilities of new technologies that we never imagined they would make us captives. Congress is the only way to scale back the Patriot Act. Unfortunately, they appear incapable of understanding the threat to our way of life, and lack the will and how how to scale it back. It is a time in our history where real Congressional leadership is needed. And I don't know how you get them to transcend their Democrat/Republican boundaries and secure the civil liberties for all Americans. It is our watch, we have a short window to make the change, and the door is rapidly closing. Once it is closed future Americans won't ever be able to open it again.

Patrick Henry said...

Give me liberty or give me a supersized whopper meal combo a six pack of bud ,eternal reruns of the Kardashians, the latest iPhone and a double latte Grande

Geniusofdespair said...

People READILY POST EVERYTHING ABOUT THEMSELVES on the Internet. Where are the secrets to be revealed? I can find your signature, age, names of your close relatives, your address, your court records, divorce date....some of you even list your date of birth. I know when some of you are on vacation, even if you are NOT my Facebook friend. How zany is that? The government is mining phone numbers calling suspected terrorists....less zany really in the scheme of things.

Anonymous said...

1984 happened already. Where were you when they installed red light cameras in the name of "safety"? Bit by bit our privacy and rights are eroded and all law abiding citizens nod their heads in agreement under the guise of safety.

Anonymous said...

It is true. People post their whole lives on the Internet, from what they do early in the morning when they wake-up until they go to bed. Many people crave attention and want no privacy, and have given everything about themselves to the virtual world and anyone who wants it.

CATO said...

G.O.D. are you now an apoligist for the Big O admimnistartion your last comments are worrisome If this hade been that damn idiot W you'd be up in arms (so would I) but no its Obama so now its "you idiots that post all your crap on Facebook are to blame."

Well what about choice (yes I'm PRO CHOICE) if you want to put all your shit out there then fine but if I don't (NO FACEBOOK FOR ME) then NO Adminstration R or D and its minions should be able to look at (or smell) my shit without probable cause and a warrant (SEE THAT PESKY 4th Amendment).

G.O.D. is a partisan the end is near.


Anonymous said...

Social networking has many dimensions and this is one unintended consequence that few saw. It was a trap that people walked into willingly. Kids, a whole new generation have put their whole teenage years on the internet. The technology was way ahead of cultural analysis of its implications. Wherever people fit on the thought continuum about civil liberties, we need to scale back. Bush and Co. had way too much information. Now Obama and Co. expanded it. Where will the next President and Co. go? We need to scale it back now.

Geniusofdespair said...

My position is: we are too late. I have been sounding the 1984 horn for years. Getting tired and getting hopeless.

Youbetcha' said...

It is time ... To pay attention to who you elect... Don't believe the campaign propaganda ... Research the candidates and their playmates... Isn't that what the Eye has been preaching for years?

Anonymous said...

Obama was the only choice we had, and it has expanded substantially under his administration. . .

Busty Heart said...

You advocated for big government to address your environmental regulations. Now we have created a monster. Big government is just as evil as big business.

Anonymous said...

Politicians are more vulnerable to these intrusions than normal folk because the power brokers need information to control them (and thereby us). Those who would enter politics to fix the system are the most vulnerable because they threaten the powerful most, and have not necessarily taken all precautions to hide their lives from prying eyes.

I pulled a series of public records requests recently to see who had looked for my non-existent criminal history. I got quite the unhappy surprise (!). I learned that any idle cop can look you up in the FBI's and FDLE's databases on a whim or on a private request from a boss or friend. Now the coverup is going full swing. For real.

If you really don't want to be followed or snooped on acquire this book: "How to Disappear Completely" (pay cash if you really DO want to disappear). It was written before big data, but will give you sobering view of how your private information is obtainable by ordinary schnooks. Act now while we have a chance.