Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Not ready to let go of the bone. Surveillance state, again.

Tom Tomorrow is wise. So is Charles Pierce.
… We are not the country we say we are. What we are arguing about is the distance between the two.
Sounds like a non sequitor, but think about it.

Harvard international relations professor Stephen Walt offers the best assessment I've seen of what current revelations portend:
Vigorous debate on key issues is essential to a healthy democracy, and it is essential that outsiders be able to scrutinize and challenge what public officials are up to. People who work for the federal, state, and local governments aren't privileged overlords to whom we owe obeisance; in a democracy, they are public servants who work for us. Right now, however, there are hundreds of thousands of public servants (including private contractors with fat government contracts) who are busy collecting information about every one of us.

Citizens don't have similar resources to devote to watching what our elected and appointment officials are doing, so we must rely on journalists, academics, and other independent voices to ferret out wrongdoing, government malfeasance, corruption, or just plain honest mistakes. But if these independent voices are becoming more vulnerable to retribution than ever before -- and via completely legal means -- then more and more of those voices will be cowed into silence. And the inevitable result will be greater latitude for government officials, greater corruption, and a diminished capacity to identify and correct errors.

In short, the real reason you should be worried about these revelations of government surveillance is not that you're likely to be tracked, prosecuted, or exposed. You should be worried because it is another step in the process of making our vibrant, contentious, and most of all free-minded citizenry into a nation of sheep.
Go read it all.
One more comment from me if you care about these matters: don't let yourself get fixated on Edward Snowdon, speculations about his motives, character, apparent unsuitability for the job he was doing, probably partial knowledge of what he was revealing ...

All of that is fun, sells papers and increases web hit counts, but it is a distraction. The story is what the NSA and its political enablers are doing. The other stuff is tabloid candy, a treat we are be offered to get our attention off the real issues.


Rain Trueax said...

Hey, if you can go again, so can I *s*. What I think is such things always happened but what bothers some citizens is it's government. Except... Puritan society, even old west where everybody kept an eye on everybody else and gossip could get someone hung because someone wanted their property, torture of supposed witches (still ongoing in some places, etc etc. Privacy is a modern notion and may not be sustainable because of the nature of humans and what they do to each other. How you find someone who is about to do something bad is by breaking privacy whether that's a friend who snitches on them for good purposes or the police who saw something and got suspicious. We don't wait until bad deeds are done to go after those we 'suspect' are evil doers. What it is about here is a balance.

And what gets me the more I hear about it is how low level the people are who have total access to data that they have no business having. We should worry about a rogue who does something bad with it as much as a snitch who turns it over in a moment of glory to the world for possible notoriety and fame-- for a moment. To find out how many low level grunts, and that is what he was, someone who never finished anything he started, have access to anything secret is disturbing. It's not just contracting firms although that's plenty to wonder about but even the CIA and FBI and recently more about the Secret Service who protect the President and the Secretary of State. Come on-- honor? Does it exist anymore at that level? How many government employees with secret access know what it is, understand the whole picture, or are they like he was-- lots of computer smarts but not much widespread understanding of the big picture?

So now we can worry over a million government employees who can access anything they want if they are smart enough computer wise and sell it to whoever pays the most? Okay,I am laughing but you know Americans love a conspiracy and this has a lot of potential to be a beaut. Conspiracies don't have to be untrue-- or true :)

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain -- nothing much to add to your comment except that I agree that privacy is a modern invention, at least as something individuals enjoy. For that matter, so are" democracy," "government of the people and by the people," "the consent of the governed," etc. modern inventions -- threatened by human frailty and technological progress as I see it. Individual privacy is probably dead, but individual autonomy and agency are going to need on ongoing defense.

Rain Trueax said...

Well we can stay off the Internet but I don't. I have a facebook account which I keep to friends and not friends of friends. It's for my kids and family stuff and if someone in the government wanted to look at it, they'd doubtless find it boring.

What gets me the most in all this is the contractors and not just for this but all kinds of government business. We know nothing about them and who they hire. This is disturbing and they say sequestration makes it more so.

Now Chicago is apparently contracting out education (Rahm Emmanuel who can't have helped make Obama a better person), building fancy prisons, often private and destroying our school systems. Now that's a conspiracy I can get worried about!

The problem with democracy is for the most part we don't have it. We have a representative form of government because the founding fathers did not trust ordinary citizens to research or do the work or be responsible on choices. Today we are stuck with two parties for the most part with a very similar agenda a lot of the time. We do get to vote in our states on some issues but nothing federally. Nobody asked me if I wanted the Iraq or Afghanistan war. They still aren't asking and don't much care. We vote for someone we think will do what they say... Fools are we a lot of the time.

Ken Hoop said...

I see dual loyalist Debbie Wasserman Schulz has echoed John Boehner, (for many years the leading recipient of AIPAC donations) in calling for hero
Snowden's indictment for treason.

Neolibs are every bit as owned as neocons.

Rebecca said...

Your quote from Steven Wait reminds me that you and I had to sue to find out why we were on the "No Fly" list. In the end, the judge told us we had no right to know whether we were on or off the list or why we'd been put on the list. On the other hand, as their employers, we did have the right to know the names of the public servants who compiled the lists.