Friday, December 06, 2013

"Collect It All"... They Really Mean It

A few months ago, I argued that

The National Surveillance State doesn't want anyone to be able to communicate without the authorities being able to monitor that communication.  Think that's too strong a statement?  If so, you're not paying attention.  There's a reason the government names its programs Total Information Awareness and Boundless Informant and acknowledges it wants to "collect it all" and build its own "haystack" and has redefined the word "relevant" to mean "everything."  The desire to spy on everything totally and boundlessly isn't even new; what's changed is just that it's become more feasible of late.  You can argue that the NSA's nomenclature isn't (at least not yet) properly descriptive; you can't argue that it isn't at least aspirational.

What’s interesting, too, is that the National Surveillance State doesn’t even recognize there could be anything fundamentally wrong or objectionable about any of this.  Here’s their latest logo:

If we ever do come to live in a world where the government will be able to monitor every meaningful thing we do, we won't be able to say we weren't warned.

If we value freedom and democracy, we citizens need to engage in a national — an international — conversation about whether we want any government to be able to monitor all the communications, Internet behavior, and physical movement of everyone in the world.  If you're glad that conversation has begun, thank Edward Snowden.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Patriots and Authoritarians

As predictable as it is, it's still shocking to see Britain's parliament haul in for questioning Alan Rusbridger, the head of The Guardian, rather than looking into the extremely serious revelations of metastasized, unaccountable UK spying Rusbridger's newspaper has reported on.  In essence, in response to Edward Snowden's unprecedented revelations, the UK government has decided to investigate journalism rather than the unchecked growth of the surveillance state.  If I put this kind of thing in a novel, people might not believe it, and yet here it is, actually happening.

At one point during the inquisition inquiry, a Labour MP named Keith Vaz actually asked Rusbridger, "Do you love this country?"  Unsurprisingly, Rusbridger assured Vaz that he does.  But I wish Rusbridger had gone further.  He might usefully have taken a page from the CIA's "Admit nothing, deny everything, make counteraccusations" playbook (yes, they really do teach this, and yes, it really is effective), and assured Vaz that he obviously loved this country more than Vaz does.  In doing so, Rusbridger would have usefully accomplished at least two things.  He would have:  (i) shifted the focus from his supposed lack of patriotism to Vaz's actual lack; and (ii) provided a teachable moment about the difference between patriotism and authoritarianism.

Authoritarians don't love their country.  They worship the state.  These are not the same thing.  I would have loved Alan Rusbridger to point out the difference to the goose-stepping parliamentarian, and by extension to anyone else ignorant of the difference.

Sadly, I'm sure Rusbridger and others will have plenty of other opportunities.  I hope they'll fully avail themselves.