Tag Archives: NSA

Surveillance State: Don’t Spy on Me!

By Christopher B. Daly     top-secret-stamp

[Update: here’s the report. More later. ]

As the White House moves to speed up its response to overreach by the NSA, it is worth reviewing exactly what the issue is. I write a lot on this blog about the First Amendment, because press freedom is one of my big themes. But press freedom is all of a piece with our other freedoms — freedoms which, by the way, we have as citizens. We don’t get them from the government; we don’t even get them from the Constitution. (We assert or articulate them in the Constitution, but that’s all). We have rights because we were endowed with them by our Creator, or because they are our birthright as free citizens of a free country.

One part of the Constitution that we need to keep in mind during the revelations about the NSA spying is the Fourth Amendment. Here is the text (as maintained by the National Archives):

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

At a minimum, that begins to define my relationship with the government by saying, Hands off. I have the right to be secure (not just to feel secure, but to actually BE secure) in my body, my house, and all my paper and electronic records. We start, then, with the premise that the government should LEAVE ME ALONE. If the need should arise to search me, or my place, or my stuff, then the government must first go to court and secure a warrant from a judge. To get such a warrant, some government agent must swear that there is “probable cause” to believe that it would be fruitful to search a particular person, place, or thing.

In my view, that single sentence should have kept me (and the rest of us) secure from surveillance and record-keeping about my activities, movements, affiliations, and all the rest. Instead, the Bush and Obama administrations embarked on a peacetime program of data-gathering about every U.S. citizen without so much as a by-your-leave — no warrants, no subpoena, no notice. If the president and Congress think this is a great idea, then they need to come to us, the people, the sovereign rulers of this country, and ASK US. They need to say, “Hey, would it be OK with you if we collect data about your every phone call and email and keep it indefinitely?And we won’t tell you when it starts or ends, and the legal rationale for it will be a secret, and we will get approval from a secret court that only hears from the government. Would that be OK with you?”

I would say, NO. I would say, LEAVE ME ALONE. I would say, DON’T SPY ON ME.

Thanks again to Judge Leon for his recent decision knocking the legal legs out from under the government’s position. And here is a fine analysis of that ruling by TNR’s Jeffrey Rosen.

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The online life

Here is a new piece by MIT prof and internet theorist Sherry Turkle.

Here is a new piece by NYTimes tech columnist Nick Bilton.

Here is a new piece about the NSA.

All of which prompt this reflection, from Ben Franklin, writing under a pseudonym as Poor Richard:

Three can keep a secret — if two of them are dead.

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Surveillance state: Private sector discovers privacy

By Christopher B. Daly 

Now comes a campaign from a coalition of high-tech companies who want the government to get out of the business of routinely spying on Americans in peacetime. They are organized under the banner of ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com (What’s the matter? Was the domain name EndGovernmentSurveillance taken?).

The founders include the biggest names in tech and social media in America: 

AOL (maybe I buried the lead: are they still in business?)

Apple

Facebook

Google

LinkedIn

Microsoft

Twitter

Yahoo.

According to a full-page ad in today’s NYTimes, the coalition members want the president and Congress to put an end to abuses carried out in the name of national security by the NSA and other government agencies. That’s great as far as it goes, and I welcome them to the movement to control the government.

While they are at it, though, those same companies would do well to honor their own customers‘ privacy and quit trying to pry more data and pics out of us to exploit for gain. Set a good example.

 

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Keller v. Greenwald debate: Reporting v. Advocacy

By Christopher B. Daly

Bill Keller, former executive editor of The New York Times and keeper of the flame of traditional reporting, has squared off with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who disclosed the Snowden leaks and an avatar of advocacy, in a debate over the meaning and future of journalism. Their debate is well worth reading and contemplating. 

Here’s my take: they are actually talking past each other. Each participant represents a different definition of journalism and cannot fathom the other’s values. As I argue in my book, Covering America, they come from competing visions of the essence of journalism, each of which has a long record.

Keller stands squarely for the tradition of responsible, dispassionate, nonpartisan, factual reporting. This was articulated forcefully by Adolph Ochs, the great-grandfather of the current Times publisher, when he bought the Times in 1896. Keller seems to believe that this tradition is the only legitimate one and that all others represent a deformation or corruption of “real” journalism.

Greenwald stands squarely for the tradition of journalism that prizes journalism for its ability to change the world. This is the polemical, analytical, interpretive form of journalism that considers advocacy the essence of journalism. Practitioners like Greenwald often look down on the reporting tradition as a weak, hypocritical, trouble-avoiding compromise.

It may come as a surprise that the advocacy tradition is actually older (much older) than the reporting tradition. In America, the first newspaper launched in 1704, and for more than a century after that, most journalism in America was a fact-free zone of argument and advocacy carried out by the likes of Sam Adams and Tom Paine.

The first full-time reporter in America (the obscure figure George Wisner of the New York Sun– pgs 61-62 in Covering America) wasn’t hired until 1833, and it took decades to establish the idea that the proper contents of a newspaper were value-free “facts” gathered by non-partisan professionals.

Personally, I don’t think one tradition is inherently more virtuous or more valuable than the other. I admire the best in both worlds.

 

 

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The surveillance state dodges a bullet

By Christopher B. Daly 

imgres3It was disappointing to see the vote in the House on a measure to rein in the NSA fall a bit short on Thursday. It was particularly disappointing to see my own Rep., the rookie Joe Kennedy, vote on the wrong side. (Was he taking one for Obama? Not worth it. Here’s a tip, Joe: Never vote with Michelle Bachmann.) Interesting to note that many of the Democrats in favor were members with tremendous seniority — they have seen presidents come and go, they are not afraid to buck the party’s floor leadership, and they have been lied to so many times by the surveillance state that they have just had it.

On the plus side, this rather hurried attempt to rein in the surveillance state came darn near passing. Getting 205 votes in the House is not nothing, and it certainly sends a powerful signal around Washington and the world.

Here’s coverage in today’s Times, Post and the Atlantic.

A look ahead, from the Times (quoting Rep. Jerry Nadler):

At the very least, the section of the Patriot Act in question will be allowed to expire in 2015, he said. “It’s going to end — now or later,” Mr. Nadler said. “The only question is when and on what terms.”

 

Secret stuff. You probably shouldn't even be looking at this.

Secret stuff. You probably shouldn’t even be looking at this.

 

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American revolution based on avoiding surveillance

By Christopher B. Daly 

During the current revelations about the extent of routine surveillance being conducted on American citizens by agencies ranging from the NSA to the Postal Service, it might be worth recalling how this liberty-loving country was founded.

In the 1760s and early 1770s, a growing minority of British colonists living in North America were developing longer and longer lists of grievances against the Crown and Parliament. These Whigs (or patriots) looked for ways to turn their concern into practical action to resist what they considered abuses of their rights as Englishmen.

Recognizing the power of information and coordinated action, they formed Committees of Correspondence — first in Boston and later in all the colonies. They eventually became tantamount to shadow governments, but they

Sam Adams, enemy of the surveillance state.  National Portrait Gallery

Sam Adams, enemy of the surveillance state.
National Portrait Gallery

began as a mechanism for sharing information, views, and debates. Immediately, the founders recognized a problem: most of the mail that passed through the British postal system was routinely read by postmasters. So, if the Whigs were going to get organized on a continental basis, they needed to find a way to escape from that surveillance if they were to avoid arrest and punishment.

The answer was the Committees of Correspondence, which developed a shadow post office to serve their needs. When one committee had an important message to send to another, the members dispatched a private post rider, who carried the message on horseback — from Boston to New York, say, or from Baltimore to Savannah. Alternatively, they might dispatch a loyal Whig aboard a ship carrying the printed or handwritten messages on his person.

One famous case in point: after the dumping of the tea into Boston Harbor in December,

Paul Revere thwarted postal surveillance.  By John Singleton Copley

Paul Revere thwarted postal surveillance.
By John Singleton Copley

1773, the Boston Committee of Correspondence dispatched none other than Paul Revere to carry the news to Manhattan. That was a trip of more than 200 miles by horseback, which Revere completed in less than a week, over pretty rough roads, as winter was settling in. Long before his famous ride to Lexington and Concord, the Boston copper- and silversmith made other, lesser-known but essential rides for the cause.

 

From the patriot point of view, this system was a clever, heroic, and indispensable work-around that was a vital means for advancing the cause of liberty.

From the British point of view, of course, this was an illegal conspiracy to commit treason. 

[Postscript: As soon as the revolution began, the (illegal) Continental Congress began trying to conduct foreign affairs in hopes of drawing other nations into the revolutionary battle against Britain. The Congress set up a “Committee of Secret Correspondence,” led by Benjamin Franklin. Members began reaching out to contacts in Europe, but of course they could not use the British postal system and the new revolutionary government had not established its own. So, they turned to private couriers, who carried the committee’s secret messages. Later, this committee was renamed the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Thanks to the U.S. State Dept Office of the Historian for that one.]

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Surveillance roundup

[NSA Out]*

*Now, there’s some metadata for you. Back in the day when I worked for the Associated Press, we had to “slug” our material with various directives, indicating who had access to the material and whether users were free to use another news agencies photos or had to use AP photos. We often labeled our “content” with warnings like the one above. I only wish I could label all my emails with a warning to the NSA to leave them alone. Until then, I am looking for a user-friendly encryption system. If you use one that you recommend, please leave a comment below. If you are from the NSA, stop reading NOW.

–If true, this statement from Edward Snowden is important, because it would have a direct bearing on his possible guilt under the Espionage Act.

–If sincere, this statement from a former judge on the super-secret secrecy court is interesting. Like Obama, this guy now welcomes a debate over our policy on secrecy (which was supposed to remain secret, thus preventing the very debate he now welcomes).

–If it weren’t laughable, this story about our allies would be poignant. [“I’m shocked, shocked, to find out that spying is going on here, Rick.”]

BTW, do you have clearance to read this? 

imgres3

If not, report yourself to the NSA immediately. Or to one of our allies. Or just wait and let your ISP or telecom company rat you out. 

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