Is Transparency the Answer?
I had a debate with someone I respect last night about the Manning/Snowden cases. While we both seemingly agreed that what the two leakers did was wrong and they should face their fate for doing so, our discussion focused on whether there should be more transparency in what the U.S. government is doing as it taps into our emails and phone calls. Clearly, it is upsetting to know what you think are private conversations and communications are being intercepted and analyzed. Presumably, we are all being categorized. And in many ways judged not for what we’ve done, but for what we say or think. Is that right?
The Constitution guarantees that our homes and persons will not be searched without cause and due process. As Sen. Rand Paul has opined, PRISM is a gross violation of those rights. Yet it continues to have bi-partisan support in a Congress that is more often than not polarized with partisan interests and focuses only on what will look good in reelection campaigns. One can’t help but speculate that the support on both sides of the aisle must be based upon information not shared with the public. Do some politicians know overriding benefits from programs like PRISM that justify the means to their ends? I am hard pressed to think of any other conclusion. Without doubt, there are few Republicans who would not salivate at the chance to jump on the bandwagon and accuse President Obama and the Democrats of abuse of power. But with the exception of Sen. Paul and a few other usual suspects, the Republicans are clearly not united when it comes to PRISM. What legislation has been proposed would not stop the NDA programs.
Don’t get me wrong. It upsets me to no end when I realize that the NSA has intercepted all of my international calls, emails, and posts. While they say that communications within the United States have not been intercepted, I accept that with a grain of salt. I never trust government to tell us the whole truth and believe and as a cynic believe that much, if not most, of what government says is a lie. As I said in my last post, politicians have great difficulty telling the truth and survive elections more on lies than honesty. That’s the political system. And while every once in a while we luckily elect a true leader and visionary, no one in Congress or on the Hill today meets that description.
Not is the NSA spying easily explained (much less the data collection by many others as well). An excellent Q&A can be found on the wbtw.com website. Before anyone concludes what’s been done or what is next, the post is a must read.
So PRISM continues. Is it better that we know? Perhaps. But how much do we really know? How much do we need to know? Certainly not everything. Nor should we. There is clearly a line where secrecy is necessary for national security. While we’ve had some terrorist attacks, none of which are justified or acceptable, we’ve also enjoyed relative peace in a very violent world where our way of life is despised by many. Secretly tapping the conversations and communications of terrorists and would be murderers is a key component to our safety as is keeping much of those activities secret.
Take for example the current global travel warning through August. This is the first time in history the United States as systematically closed embassies over concern of what must be considered legitimate and credible terrorist threats. No doubt authorities were tipped off on much of the threats by the surveillance they’ve undertaken since 9/11. That’s the positive side of the intrusion into our privacy. It’s a price we may have to pay.
Nor is a lot of what’s happening something new. The CIA, NSA, and just about every other spy organization in the world have been tapping and watching citizens for decades. The digital revolution simply makes it all more efficient. While there is certainly a line that can and, perhaps, has been crossed with this new efficiency, it’s understandable that such organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity to gather intelligence.
Yes, it upsets me that my privacy is under attack. I don’t like it. While it would be hard to find someone more distrustful of government than me, for some reason I’ve come to accept the compromise. Perhaps it has to do with being in New York City on 9/11, personally seeing the attack, watching the Towers fall, and knowing innocent people who died. Perhaps it is because I believe those who continue to perpetrate terrorism are truly intent on destroying our way of life. So we need to fight back in every reasonable way we can. To do that we need to catch them. And intercepting what they say to one another is a key weapon in our battle.
The sacrifice of transparency for safety is a deal I’m willing to make.
We Expert Doug Wood