dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Where were you on August 31, 2009? UPDATE

And what were you doing?  Most Americans are scratching their heads over revelations that the U.S. government in all of its branches has allowed data to be collected from our phones, e-mails, internet connections, and maybe credit cards. The government says it's necessary to protect us. Presumably from Terrorists. What exactly does it look like to be tracked. Well, we don't know because this all goes to a data dump for future investigations--if necessary.

But here's what it might look like: Malte Spitze, a politician from Germany's Green Party, sued Deutsche Telekom, for his records which Zeit on Line rendered into this fascinating graphic covering six months of his phone calls, e-mails, and internet connections. You can follow him from hour to hour, day to day, month to month, and as fast or slow as you please. Take a look.

As I recall Deutsche Telekom owns the U.S. cell phone company T-Mobile, though they have not been mentioned in the list of companies providing data.  HT: Pat Lang

 

UPDATE: Haaretz points to the Israeli connection in all of this. Plot thickens.

And the NY Times has this: Booz Alan is in charge of protecting NSA's secrets and making a lot of money: "Over the last decade, much of the company’s growth has come from selling expertise, technology and manpower to the National Security Agency  and other federal intelligence agencies. Booz Allen earned $1.3 billion, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue, from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year."

Would you believe this if it were in an espionage novel: "the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen."

 

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.

87 comments
Close

87 comments

Commenting Guidelines

  • All

As one more or less untroubled by these revelations of data tracking, heartened at least that there is a lawful process that observes checks and balances, I wonder why more people are not more troubled that faceless, profit-driven, unelected, and unaccountable corporations have so much data on us in the first place. Is the use of this data for intelligence gathering that has legal checks and may protect us the real scandal here?

"As one more or less untroubled by these revelations of data tracking, heartened at least that there is a lawful process that observes checks and balances."

Cough.....cough....

As James Madison said, "If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

And so it has come to pass....

But Madison devised checks and balances as a remedy. Take a lozenge!

SM: Perhaps you are untroubled because you believe J. Edgar Hoover is dead.

MOS: He is! But his wardrobe lives on! I don't disagree that we face the dangerous prospect of a surveillance state. It could happen. But it hasn't happened yet. We do face threats, and government has a responsibility. The failure of Bush/Cheney was not to trust our institutions against the threats. They eavesdropped without warrants. Obama trusts our institutions, it seems. So do I. And, in any event, I trust Obama more than I trust Verizon. Again I say: why are we silent in the face of the real scandal. How is all of this corporate data collection regulated? Where is my protection from Comcast? I'm far more worried about that than I am by a meta data analysis under judicial oversight.

What is comcast going to do to you? Except cut off your service if you don't pay your bills.

One of the government's arguments in gathering and saving all of this is that the Verizons of the world delete the info after six months--that's why the government is collecting it. They can't go back and get it six years later.

This is not the Orwellian State, I agree. The J.Edgar Hoover example, however, should remind us of the other nefarious and shadowy uses to which personal information can be put. To tell you the truth, I am a bit surpised by the casaul attitude that our Congressional lawmakers are showing on this (with some exceptions). There must be among them, some who would just as soon not have their calls and e-mails extracted from this treasure trove and presented to them in camera during a legislative battle or at election time.

To choose just one example, insurance companies have procured purchase records from the swipes of preferred customer cards at grocery stores, demonstrating that a particular defendant buys an awful lot of wine or beer and so may well have been drunk as alleged at the scene of an accident, to avoid paying out claims. The larger number ways this data in private hands can be abused is what really worries me. To Pathmark, my consumer behavior is another commodity they can sell to anyone who can afford it. Karl Rove's figured this out too, and uses this stuff to target voters. Very scary, and the world yawns.

That example deserves a yawn. You need to fail a breathometer test when the cops pull you over.

In looking up the spelling of breathometer just now, I notice that you can buy one to see if you, or your companion, are too drunk to drive. Your insurance company should have no complaints as long as you and/or your companion use the breathometer before driving away from the bar and you follow its dictates.

As the cookies chase me through my computer putting up ads for Give Us This Day wherever I go because where I go tells the cookies I may be interested in it, as indeed I am, since I already subscribe ... as that goes on, I wonder this:

I wonder if the government can determine which robocallers that are not politicians, polls, charities or people I have done business with keep calling me even though my number is on both the federal and state do-not call lists. (When I press 1 to talk to a "trained expert" they hang up on me as soon as I go off their script and ask for their name and address. This does not keep them from robo calling me again next week.) So I wonder if the government can determine who these creeps are and -- since I  already let the government know I don't want to hear from them --  drone attack them as soon as they dial me.

I mean, if the governmet spends all those tax dollars amassing all this information, why can't they do a simple, basic, useful thing for taxpayers with it?

Oh my the drama.  Once again words matter.  The government is not some nameless, infinitely powerful, other world force.  Not in this remarkable nation.  The government is us.  Unless, of course, you are one of those folks prone to give opinions (and get rich in the process) rather than participate.  Want to know how it got this way?  Grab a mirror.

Turn on the t.v.  If an arrest is made and the case sounds the least bit salacious or ghoulish, then by golly, we start the trial in the public square right away.  No time to waste.  Then the folks who really care deeply show up with cameras in tow and soon enough the victim's family members are edging towards suicidal ideation.  With a little effort we may be able to document the lead up to the tragic event on facebook and/or twitter.

Sweet Jesus, we sold our privacy out quite some time ago.  As for the NSA or any other branch of our government collecting data there is a very real question to be answered.  Do we need to concern ourselves with the possiblity a couple of more obsessed but not particularly talented individuals are planning to out shine those who hit the Twin Towers?  That is not a rhetorical question.  If not, problem solved.  If so, what's to be done and by whom?  Surely no one here believes it is possible to sit down with a fanatic, religious or otherwise, and solve the problem with a little chat.  The drivers for this idiocy have been millenia in the making and it is not possible to know when they will be resolved.  Do so wish it were today.

As for dragging the stunningly destructive J. Edgar into this, that's quite a stretch.  If you know of his peer in our government at the moment I suggest you aim some of that talented writing at him or her.  Arguing against their reasoning won't do the trick.  Other than to reach a short term goal, reason just ain't in their repertoire.  Most of those I would recommend for such treatment are not literally government employees though they surely seem to believe they could do a much better job.

Finally, how about dealing with Steven's more than helpful question about our having willingly sold our privacy to corporations.  I believe the source of the data in question is to a large extent private corporations.

Surely no one here believes it is possible to sit down with a fanatic, religious or otherwise, and solve the problem with a little chat.

I feel real bad for the loss of innocent life in the Twin towers attack. However, it is important that the US look at how its foreign policy and activities contributed to this conflict.

As far as trusting the US government - I really can't believe that anyone with even a cursory look at modern history would conclude that the US government has earned anybody's trust. Certainly, not at a global level and domestically the history of the US (e.g Trail of Tears)

Given its history, a high degree of mistrust is certainly in order.

I wonder if Commonweal and the Catholic community might reconsider libertarian ideology given this latest revelation.

I agree with MightBe that the threat of contemporary terrorism calls for some means of protection that would have been unthinkable two generations ago.  It is now possible for a few very clever terrorists to cause unprecedented damage. We need to know what they're up to in our midst.

But I admit that I am concerned about the relative lack of oversight of the snoops of various sorts in the Obama administration.  

<a href = "http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/11/just-asking/306288/"... Asking</a>, David Foster Wallace, The Atlantic

 

There is no room, truly, in a Catholic worldview for libertarianism. The Catholic tradition always has viewed government as a good because it is a power to pursue the common good of the community. The Catholic political tradition takes a very dim view of the kind of atomized individualism preferred by libertarians. Although I teach American Government surveys at a public institution, I am able to let this same view shape my presentation of the U.S. Government to students who, by and large, bend toward libertarianism. They have a typically college-aged fondness for their own freedom, and they live in a region where mistrust of the federal government abounds. I tell them what Madison tells us: government is a reflection of human nature, our virtues and vices. Good governments recognize and try to correct the vices while magnifying the virtues. This is the origin of the separation of powers, checks and balances. Sometimes Madison's scheme fails, yes. But what are you going to do? On this side of the Kingdom there is no recourse. All we have is each other. At least with government we can protest, publish, raise grievances, and vote. We together can correct it. Verizon is a feudal kingdom, by contrast. Short of taking our business elsewhere, an imperfect solution, there is no recourse. That's why we've developed the regulatory state over the last century, why the absence of any regulatory framework for this data collection is so worrying.

A hypothetical: Your health insurance company notices that you are buying a far-above average packages of corn chips and according to their records you are tending to the overweight. Their newsletter sends you a little pamphlet about the dangers of obesity, diabetes, and heart trouble conincident with what you eat.

How is this different from what your mother used to tell you about junk food, what your spouse should tell you, except that they over-indulge, your best friend would tell you except that they don't want to insult you, and your doctor tells you when you climb on the scale in her office.

Mom can't deny my claim.

Steven:

The Catholic tradition always has viewed government as a good because it is a power to pursue the common good of the community.

With all due respect, we are talking about the United States government. Hardly a beacon of checks and balances and respect for inhabitants of the land let alone the globe. Of course, this is true of almost every single government historically.

The Catholic political tradition takes a very dim view of the kind of atomized individualism preferred by libertarians

Atomized individualism is a charicature of libertarianism. There are strains of it and usually, on the left, it focusses on local control (subsidiarity) of decision making as much as possible.

Beside, the Catholic political tradition was shaped in a post-Constantinian environment when the state buttressed the truth claims the Church. The only time that stopped was with the Enlightenment and the rise of the nation state and no nation, ever, was so radical in drawing a sharp distinction between church and state as the United States. Pope Leo XIII, in fact, even directly criticized the US for this very reason in the encyclical Americanism. That was corrected at the Second Vatican Council.

The point is, I see nothing paricularly Catholic about marrying my faith to the government or vice versa. Respect of the role of each, yes but a healthy mutual tension is not a bad things.

As far as whether government is a force for good, neo-liberal Globalism is challenging this with free trade, etc. Yes, it is true that corporations are driving the global push but those same corporations pay for the very politicians to enact their policies. Thus, the democratic ideal is being strangled by a gang of ugly facts.

Your students are correctly intuiting this dynamic. What needs to occur is a counter-movement to check the role of government in terms of being overly intrusive in our lives and private communications.

Yes, ditto for corporations which are no different than government. But in this instance, we are discussing the activities of government.

 

Another hypothetical like Margaret's. This time the insurance is single payer, public, government insurance (as exists in Ontario).

The government has an interest in mining the data of its citizens in order to plan health interventions and project costs.

Suddenly, it is not the terrorist threat, but the obesity epidemic, or the diabetes epidemic, etc., etc. As a public health education matter, they do exactly what Maragaret says and send phamplets and information to people known to buy lots of soda, chips, and other foods high in empty calories.

Drilling down, they want to monitor whether or not patients will be compliant with directions around their lifestyle following expensive operations.

SM: Neither can your health insurance company, not on the basis of your grocery bills.

Neither can your insurance company, not on the basis of your grocery bills.

Sorry the edit function doesn't allow deletion of repetitive comments, blah, blah, blah!

GD: I've debated enough libertarians to know that it is as much fun as it is futile.  So I'll sally just one effort here.

The beginning of your problem is that subsidiarity "was shaped in a post-Constantinian environment" too. Almost everything in the Catholic political tradition is the fruit of Constantine.  So as a distinction, that's totally unhelpful.  You might as well sweep aside the whole political tradition and start from scratch.  But we can't do that.  Even Constantinianism is helpful to us, especially since it's been reconciled well to the Gospel and the pre-Christian tradition over and over across the centuries.  

Our tradition treats government as a good from the Law of Moses and David's kingdom all the way down to the United States.  The goodness of government, in this sense, encompasses even Nazi Germany and Castro's Cuba.  Hitler's Germany paved the Autobahn, and Castro's Cuba trained tens of thousands of physicians.  This is not allegiance to one government or another we are discussing, but allegiance to government as such.  When any government discharges those duties that are appropriate to it, we can see that government is good.  And, every government does that stuff.  Paving a highway system and promoting public health are goods of which even awful regimes are capable.  In that sense, they are good from the point of view of the tradition.  Government even in those cases, in this sense, remains a blessing.  Or, in the words of a sometime Commonweal contributor and Calvert House founder:

To the Christian philosophers, following the classical scholars, the state is not a necessary evil but a positive good. It not only makes day-to-day existence possible, but it makes that existence good…. For the Christian the state becomes a holy order with an end and purpose of its own. It is a perfect society like the Church itself. It therefore has a sanctity above all other human institutions.

Our question thus becomes: What duties are appropriate to government?  Here is where we encounter a real problem identifying subsidiarity with libertarianism.  Subsidiarity is not the idea that responsibilities should devolve down to the lowest level "as much as possible."  Rather, it is the idea that those responsibilities should be attended by the lowest level of government where the common good can be served most widely, most efficiently.  After all, the guiding principle of the Catholic political tradition is not subsidiarity.  Our guiding principle is the twofold principle of community and common good.  And, community is not the local community.  It encompasses everybody.  It is certainly possible that responsibilities can devolve down to levels where the actions of government cannot efficiently promote the good of the community, where the common good is frustrated.  That is why the regulatory state is defensible from the Catholic perspective.  The EPA enforces a uniform set of environmental regulations in 50 states: there is no getting around them.  The bank that issues your credit cards probably has a corporate address in DE or SD because, in that underregulated case, we devolve the decisions to lower-level governments and we all lose.  This is a grand example of how over-emphasizing subsidiarity can actually harm the common good of the community.

In the present case, the question is national defense.  Unquestionably, this is not a case where responsibility can devolve.  It is a fundamental premise of our constitutional architecture that foreign policy is a national responsibility.  So the libertarian's objection instead runs toward the defense of individual liberty.  But our constitutional tradition as much as the Catholic tradition teaches that individual liberty is not an absolute.  Always there are limitations.  The only question is whether the correct balance has been struck in the case of what the Obama Administration is doing.  Is our privacy limited by a concern for national security in such a way that these intrusions are permissible?  That is a question of prudence.  We can disagree.  

But casting aside all of the overheated shouting about this matter since it was disclosed, is it really so hard to believe that an algorhythmic analysis of calling patterns could helpfully point toward hostile agents inside the United States?  I'm the first to object to the 'security theatre' arrangements at the airports, and I recall well how much the national security and law enforcement professionals hated the Bush/Cheney eavesdropping scheme for all of the pointless wild-goose-chases it spawned.  I'm the first to agree that the Terrorists are the new Communists, who were the new Anarchists: there's always somebody we're supposed to be afraid of, and fueling those fears serves an agenda of misdirection.  But 20 al-Qaeda operatives lived in the U.S. for quite a while before Sept. 11, and our wars of the last decade have only increased the number of people who don't really like us.  It's ridiculous to be obsessed with that fact, but it's not ridiculous for our national leaders to worry about it.  That's their job (a good of government) and, overall, this program seems like a smart way to do it.  For now.  I'm heartened particularly that it strikes its balance between security and liberty by observing the system of checks and balances--a big improvement over Bush/Cheney, and quite Madisonian in its spirit.

What I still don't understand at all is the confidence that my health insurer's underwriters aren't always looking for a way to serve the bottom line, and if data that points toward my fondness for snack cakes saves them money they won't use that data against me.  I don't get that at all.  To my eye, we're far more exposed to harm at the hands of unaccountable corporations than we are when the President asks an independent judge if he can gather data for meta analysis.

Shameless plug: My full treatment of Catholics and libertarianism is here, if you're interested.  I smuggled this into the pages of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly as a guerrilla attack on the idea that the Catholic tradition tells us government regulation just gets in the way of banks and financial markets, who are serving the common good just fine on their own.  I haven't been invited to receive any FCS awards since publication....

This is a society that spends untold hours blabbing about EVERYTHING to EVERYONE via email, blogs, cell and smart phone, twitter, Facebook and who knows what else.  There are no personal secrets that someone doesn't think that everyone else whats to/needs to/should know about ... and is not reluctant to talk about at the top of their lungs on their phones in public.

Anyone who shops online or uses a credit card for anything is giving up way more personal information that can be obtained by government data mining.

A society that so willingly forces others to know everything about them has no real complaint about what this government is doing or is thought to be doing.

Grow up, America!   Your false outrage is just that .... false.

Here is an interview with the actual guy who released this information. Irrespective of how you feel about this issue, the public should decide whether this is appropriate or not. At least now we can have this discussion. But that is not because the government, in a transparent and open way, decided that we should have a free an open debate around security. It is because, Edward Snowden, chose to release this confidential information.

NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden; 'I don't want to live in a society the does these sorts of things'.

If this is not stopped now, or at least the policy made transparent, he says that it will become "turnkey tyranny".

 

 

 

"

NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden; 'I don't want to live in a society the does these sorts of things'.

 

Edward Snowden,29,  is a high school drop-out making  $200,000  a year as a NSA contractor and is now residing in a Chinese Hotel.

In fact, he's in Hong Kong...not quite China...probably safer than China.

"He said he came to Hong Kong, an autonomous Chinese territory, because he believed it was independent and had “a strong tradition of free speech.”

“The people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, of making their views known,” he said in the video interview. “The Internet is not filtered here, no more so than in any other Western government.”  Story here.

 

Obama trusts our institutions, it seems. So do I.

But Obama won't be president forever.  And it seems that you didn't trust his predecessor.  Will the data be destroyed at the end of Obama's term?

 

 

Stephen M. --

Thanks for your article.  You have courage talking like that in that lion's den of economic conservatism :-)  But there were a couple of other good articles there, I think, including a very good one on brain death.  Would that Catholic scholars had a place to meet where all viewpoints are welcome.

SM, unless I'm mistaken, your insurance company has to get a court order covering a specific cause of action between you and the company.  Here the only cause of action the government has is that we carry and use a phone, which in the absence of any other information, would not be sufficient to sustain a warrant.  And the reason the government wants this information is to put people it believes MIGHT BECOME criminals in jail; no need to actually commit the crime, big brother will save you the trouble. 

Jim, a good point. But there's not a Rolodex of phone usage data in the Oval Office. Presidents don't spend a lot of time with raw intelligence. This is about institutional behavior in the agencies, establishing a culture in the new climate. We were on the wrong track under Bush/Cheney. This program acknowledges the Constitution, sets it over the intelligence gathering. That's the right track, and we're on it. Good enough for now.

Steven M. ==

I learned over at your Catholic Scholars site that one of Hayek's main concerns about government was  that sometimes one  governmental agency would makes its own rules, execute them, and be the judge of those who broke their rules,  thus assuming the legislative, executive, and judicial functions which are proper to the larger government.  Plus such sub-governments might do so outside of the public's view.

Is this what has happened with the National Security Agency?  Has it become legislator, executive and judge-jury?  If so, I think that that mght be the fundamental problem with its behavior -- it has the potential to be a pseudo/counter/alternate government. 

I don't think we 've ever had privacy or anonymity.   Years ago, before everything was all over the internet, I received a call at my house from a US Senator who had been ducking my organization on some advocacy we were trying to push. (He called after he went the worng way on the legislation).

The phone account is and has always been in my husband's name and we have dfiferent last names. I'm sure the Senator didn't  put any effort or spend more than 5 seconds, if that, trying to find my contact info.

I think the governement has always been able to ifnd out everything they want about us, whenever they want to. 

 

 

 

We have to take note of Edward Snowden's concerns. No doubt more to come.Booz Allen is coming up shady. Especially with the former govt. security official now a Booz Allen executive. How much marketing is going into the obsession for Big Brother? Security is one thing. Pervasive is another. Obama said he welcomes the discussion and so should we.

Ann-- MY Catholic Scholars site???  Let's just be careful now!!

(Anyway, wouldn't it be swell if you could learn more about Catholicism than Hayek at the Catholic Scholars' site??)  

Hayek speaks to a real concern.  Iron triangles happen--where regulatory agencies and the congressional committees who oversee them become captured by the industries they're supposed to be regulating.  But that's not a unique problem of government, really.  It happens only because governments are peopled by human beings.  It's the reason I keep coming back to Madison: "But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?"  The reason we can't indulge the libertarian impulse to demonize government as some 'other' is because it never can be.  Government is neither the solution nor the problem.  Government is us, especially in a regime like ours.  And, so far as government is capable of great and unqualified goods (national defense, health and safety regulation, transportation infrastructure, promoting education, etc.), we are obligated to regard government, as such, as a good.  The other reason to come back to Madison is that he acknowledges the darker side of human nature, and offers the separation of powers, checks and balances, to remedy it.  Of course that won't always work.  Of course there will be breakdowns and failures.  But his good, communitarian answer is that the only protection we can have is our reliance upon one another.  The three branches, all made up of flawed human beings, check and balance one another, and we citizens all participate through voting, interest groups, etc.  We're all responsive to one another.  I cannot imagine a better system.  The libertarian reply is the wrong reply, ultimately, because it sees only the vices in human nature.  It leaves us with only ashes, a skeptical, Hobbesian individualism where no one but me can be trusted.  Madison sees the vices and virtues, and gambles (rightly) that our virtues (with vices properly checked and balanced) will win out most of the time.  What else can you hope for outside the Reign of God?  What assurance, other than our mutual reliance upon each other, can we hope in?

Anyway, none of that's what's happened here.  The NSA works for the president.  It's a part of the executive branch.  They went to a FISA court, where an independent member a different branch of government examined and approved their request.  That's they way it's supposed to work.  Could the judge have gotten it wrong?  Sure.  We'll know that in time.  But there's no whiff anywhere that the NSA has exceeded the warrant approved by the court, has gone beyond what was approved.  That's important.  We're proceeding here under law, in step with our constitutional tradition, trying to figure out how to protect ourselves and our personal freedoms in a challenging new climate.  I see many reasons to watch the developments closely.  I see no reasons to jump to a knee-jerk rejection of a careful, lawful process.

My original question returns, though.  With the same flawed human beings peopling corporations like Verizon and Pathmark, unchecked by anything and accountable to no one, why is no one so worried about their data collection as they are about the NSA's access to the data?????

It would be fascinating and perhaps instructive to see the web of "contractors" who actually collect this data for NSA. They are making big bucks for sure, like all military contractors. What do they do with the material they collect after they give a "copy" to NSA? Probably a lot of high bidders out there.

Thought experiment: We know that Tamarlan Tsarnaev made many phone calls to Chechnya. Presumably they are in the NSA's data dump.  Given that the Russians had sent an inquiry about him early on and the FBI interviewed him, is it possible they overlooked what may have been a rich trove of phone calls, e-mail messages, or internet browsings? If this system is such a necessary part of our national security, how come his search for a terrorist "guru" wasn't uncovered. He should have been a person of interest, No?

Here are some astute observations at Informed Comment (Juan Cole), including:

1. We are second amendment absolutist (guns) and fourth amendment latitudinarians (search and seizure);

2. If the FBI wanted to search your letters (i.e., in the custory of the U.S. Post Office), they'd have to get a warrant from a real court and show good cause for asking. Not so with phone, e-mail, etc. I guess terrorists are going to have to start buying stamps to escape scrutingy.

MOS: I totally agree about #1.  So far as #2 goes, if we cannot accept that a FISA court is "a real court" then our outrage is 35 years late, and our quarrel is with Ted Kennedy (who introduced the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Senate) and Jimmy Carter (who signed it into law).

Maybe that's still not persuasive.  But there's simply no possibility of a further discussion if we can't agree that the actual and lawful institutions of the U.S. Government are legitimate.

If you would like to curtail further discussion, be my guest.

As you know, or should know, the FISA court has long been criticized for rubber-stamping FBI, etc., requests that would received far greater scrutiny in a court of public record. To inflate this to the legitimacy of all institutions of the U.S. Government is a red herring.

As a practical matter, inasmuch as FISA is a "real" court, would an average citizen, like me, have recourse to appeal the court order that authorized the government collecting my personal, private information?  I assume that I'd have standing - I'm the victim here.

 

Steven:

 And, so far as government is capable of great and unqualified goods (national defense, health and safety regulation, transportation infrastructure, promoting education, etc.), we are obligated to regard government, as such, as a good.

I agree with this qualification. The clear vision of the founders of the USA, as far as I understand it, was that the government that governs least, governs best. Afterall, if what you say is correct, then there was really no reason for the original British subjects to depose the Crown and just invent out of thin air the justification for their own existence and codify that in a constitution.

The issue for libertarians is not, will we be governed (clearly we will be) but is instead, how do we choose to be governed. We choose to be governed thusly. In fact, that is precisely, exactly, what the original American revolution was all about. That is what made it truly revolutionary.

The other point that I would make is that the Christian has never felt at home being constrained. The spirit of Christ is one of freedom and love. Dostoevsky made this point clear in the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor (a cardinal) acknowledged that Christ came to make people free but then followed up by saying that the masses cannot handle freedom. They require law and restraint. Hence the Roman Catholic structure, following the model of the Roman empire was born.

What the founders feared, correctly, was that every form of government in history has encroached on the rights of people (individual people), and became tyrranical.  The constitution and bill of rights was precisely a mechanism created to restrain government no build it. Obama, himself, made this very point one time when he said that the constitution tells government what is can't do, not what it can do.

This entire fiasco is hugely problematic on so many levels. Bottom line, if the government, at any level, is going to be looking at my records, I need to know why and for what purpose. And I need to give my consent for that. No different in health care. I need to give informed consent to my health care provider to give information to another health care provider. I worked in the health care field and the entire issue of informed consent is very thorny. But at least it is discussed.

My original question returns, though.  With the same flawed human beings peopling corporations like Verizon and Pathmark, unchecked by anything and accountable to no one, why is no one so worried about their data collection as they are about the NSA's access to the data?????

Because, in the social contract, we cede to government certain liberties and permit them to have certain powers that we do not give to private corporations. Also, if I sign a contract with Verizon and they say that they will not give my information to anyone else, unless court ordered (again there is the power of government). Also Verizon does not have my passwords, my health card number, social insurance number, health records, income records, list of known associates, etc. etc. The government has the power, in this program, to obtain these.

They say that they are not trolling through the mined data but they can, if they wanted to. BTW, this is the real world where officials can and do push boundaries. They (individually and collectively) have been known to circumvent policy or law in the name of the "greater good".  I have seen it at a micro level and human nature is not that different.  And there is no way we would know. In fact we would not have known unless this was leaked. And, the program has expanded since Bush not been limited!! The program is expanding exponentially. And you seriously believe that had this not occurred it would not have further expanded under subsequent presidents.

Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant. As Dr. Phil says of relationships, people who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. Then, why has the government hidden this!

PS:

My mother, and three brothers live in the US and are Verizon customers. Does this mean that since they made "international" calls back and forth I am on their radar? And are my e-mail communications to cousin in Finland then monitored? And what if she should suddenly hook up with someone from a mid-east country? (I am kidding - but just somewhat)

Or, are they specifically targetting countries and specific ethnicities and religions (Arab, Muslim). That would make more sense from a law enforcement perspective but opens up a whole other can of worms.

 

MOS ... since the handover from GB to China in 1995 (I was there at the time) Hong Kong IS part of China, even though there is this farcial "Special Administrative Region" nomenclature that is applied.

"The Basic Law was drafted by a Committee composed of members from both Hong Kong and mainland China. A Basic Law Consultative Committee formed purely by Hong Kong people was established in 1985 to canvas views in Hong Kong on the drafts. The first draft was published in April 1988, followed by a five-month public consultation exercise. The second draft was published in February 1989, and the subsequent consultation period ended in October 1989. The Basic Law was formally promulgated on 4 April 1990 by the NPC, together with the designs for the flag and emblem of the HKSAR. Some members of the Basic Law drafting committee were ousted by Beijing following the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, after voicing views supporting the students.

The Basic Law was said to be a mini-constitution drafted with the participation of Hong Kong people. The political system had been the most controversial issue in the drafting of the Basic Law. The special issue sun-group adopted the political model put forward by Louis Cha. This "main-stream" proposal was criticised for being too conservative. According to Clauses 158 and 159 of the Basic Law, powers of interpretation and amendment of the Basic Law are vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and the National People's Congress, respectively. Hong Kong's people have limited influence."    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfer_of_sovereignty_over_Hong_Kong

The handover was in 1997, not 1995.  (The edit feature is MISSED!)

 

From the Globe and Mail today:

Canada's privacy cops fret over U.S. snooping, to dig deeper

 

 

Steven --

OK, so I doubt it's your regular watering-hole :-)  But good for you for going there and trying to establish contact with those who disagree with you.  I know one of the scholars there and know that he's a very honest fellow who would tell the truth if only he could see it.  (There's the rub -- getting the blind to see, but Jesus did make certain promises, didn't He?)

I'd ask why isn't there an equivalent liberal site, but that would go against the point I just tried to make.

A few quick thoughts amid a busy day. First, if the framers of our system of government accepted the principle "That government which governs best...." as a premise, there is no evidence that I've seen. Thoreau wrote it sometime after 1787, and he was not at the Phila. Convention. Actually, the notion that those framers agreed about almost anything is very troubled. Anyway,as an adherent of the Catholic political tradition, I reject all reductions of government to a mere contract. There again, libertarianism cannot reconcile to Catholiicism. As for the legitimacy of the FISA courts: first, all legitimacy comes from the Constitution. The FISA is a statute passed under constitutional process, ergo legitimate. So then too are the FISA courts. If criticism delegitimizes them, then it's worth observing that the Supreme Court has been criticized often. So has the presidency and, obviously, the Congress. Are those institutions illegitimate? Is anything left? I have no wish to curtail discussion, obviously. I just don't understand what holds government together once this approach to the problem is finished with it.

Ann, thanks very much. I do seek out 'both sides' in the Catholic world as much as I can, hoping the scare quotes are necessary enough to use them. My success has been...limited.

As an individual who's neither shocked nor particularly unsettled about the NSA revelations, I highly recommend this must-read piece from 'The Wire' Creator David Simon. 

http://davidsimon.com/we-are-shocked-shocked/

 

MOS: deleted

SP: A little more history, and perhaps a little less Poli Sci, would suggest to you that as much credence as we should give to the institutions of our government, it should always be weighed against the historical examples we have of those institutions being deceitful, overbearing, fraudulent, etc.

My living example is the war in Vietnam about which President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense MacNamara, and possible Secretary of State Dean Rusk along with top Pentagon and CIA officials misled the country about the "progress" of the war and about the actions of the North Vietnamese. They lied.

And then there's the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lead-up to which the CIA consistentlly missed (or lied about). Ascribe ignorance rather than malice to them if you will in that case, but there's reason for U.S. citizens to harbor suspicions that they what the CIA and other intelligence "institutions" may be doing is leading the country very much beyond constitutional grounds (renditions, torture, assassinations, etc.).

Are we citizens responsible or not for raising questions along with harboring suspicions? Good Chicago liberal that I am I think I can say I support our government without entirely believing everything it tells me, or defending everything it doesn't tell me.

Is the libertarian phobia an occupational hazard induced by your red state students?

Jim P: I doubt you would have standing in the FISA court. Do you have an address or phone number?

Isn't one of the problems with the right of the government to view emails ultimately the problem of just what the ontological status of an email is?  They sound so wispy and ephemeral -- a here today gone tomorrow sort of thing, except for their shadowy copies lurking in a data dump.  What could they possibly BE that is simultaneously both trivial and yet so dangerous?  More important, how do they fit into the swamp that government must govern? 

 

I suspect that one of the reasons they're hard to deal with is because it's hard to locate them in the metaphysical zoo of matter, form, accident, substance, etc.  Yet we don't hesitate to say they are "material" for a "cause of action" in a court, that they are not "accidental" blips in the "virtual" land of the internet, but, rather, sometimes they are  "substantial" facts we must deal with.  They are very, very real.

 

Beyond trying to locate them in that zoo is the even more difficult question of the *content* which is their meaning.  How can such a wispy content be such a substantial moral issue?  They are, when push comes to shove, mainly just what some person has thought.  So the question becomes:  when does the government have a right to demand our very thoughts?  And that's one hell of a question.  The government rightly demands the thoughts when we file our income tax, when  bear witness in court, when sign our names to contracts, etcc. What is it about the content of  at least  some emails that make them proper objects of the government's interest?

 

Can this issue be described as one of a right not-to-speak,  a right not-to-be-known, a correlative right implied by the freedom of speech clause?  If so, when do we have a *right not-to-be known* as against the government's *right to know*?  I'm sure the answer, as usual, has something to do with the common good trumping our own small vanities and rightful desires to live at least some of our lives in private.  But where to draw the line?  Where does the right privacy stop and the common good begin?

MOS: Pray God, South Carolina hasn't drained the Southsider out of me yet!

I concede every case you cite.  I just won't make a rule from them.  They are the exceptions to the generally salutary progress of  American political life.  With Dr. King and my fellow southsider in the White House, I know that the arc of the moral (and, political) universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  People who know me would tell you I'm a bitter, bitter cynic (see also: Chicagoan).  But in matters of politics and history, as a matter of professional opinion, I'm content to take that long view.  

AO: Good questions. On the fly, I would conjecture that e-mails are the major correspondence form of our age; they are usually sent to a person or specific set of persons to communicate some particual matter. In that, they seem like letters.  Tweets, blogs, etc., are publicly available to anyone who wants them; in that they are different.

In any case, the government seems to be treating e-mails not as letters, but as ???what. Have they thought philosophically about this. Doubt it.

Off to dig out some more wormwood...flourishing in this rainy weather!

 

"As a practical matter, inasmuch as FISA is a "real" court, would an average citizen, like me, have recourse to appeal the court order that authorized the government collecting my personal, private information?  I assume that I'd have standing - I'm the victim here."

Great question, Jim P.  As I understand the system, ordinary citizens aren't really part of the adjunct-system of law which governs the NSA, etc.  And that is what so bad about it even from a theoretical point of view..  

There is a fundamental problem here of conflict of systems, and i use the term "system" in a technical philosophical sense as a set of ordered elements governed by a set of rules.  Theoretically, the Constitution is the over=arching set of rules/laws governing us, the ultimate elements of the U. S., i.e., you and me.  But the NSA adjunct-system of law, though it purportedly is guaranteed by the Constitution (its having been established by the federal legislature) really is inconsistent with the Constitution.  In other words, there is a self-contradiction involved in the Constitution's allowing non-Constitutional or extra-Constitutional actions which are against the Constitution's laws. 

I don't see any rational way t o solve the problem except for the Constitution to admit let's call them "vigilantee" actions which run counter to the Constitution in some extraordinary circumstances.  But we'll have to recognize that those actions, such as violating the right to privacy of terrorists, are in fact vigillantee, i.e., outside the usual law.  

"As a practical matter, inasmuch as FISA is a "real" court, would an average citizen, like me, have recourse to appeal the court order that authorized the government collecting my personal, private information?  I assume that I'd have standing - I'm the victim here."

Great question, Jim P.  As I understand the system, ordinary citizens aren't really part of the adjunct-system of law which governs the NSA, etc.  And that is what so bad about it even from a theoretical point of view..  

There is a fundamental problem here of conflict of systems, and i use the term "system" in a technical philosophical sense as a set of ordered elements governed by a set of rules.  Theoretically, the Constitution is the over=arching set of rules/laws governing us, the ultimate elements of the U. S., i.e., you and me.  But the NSA adjunct-system of law, though it purportedly is guaranteed by the Constitution (its having been established by the federal legislature) really is inconsistent with the Constitution.  In other words, there is a self-contradiction involved in the Constitution's allowing non-Constitutional or extra-Constitutional actions which are against the Constitution's laws. 

I don't see any rational way t o solve the problem except for the Constitution to admit let's call them "vigilantee" actions which run counter to the Constitution in some extraordinary circumstances.  But we'll have to recognize that those actions, such as violating the right to privacy of terrorists, are in fact vigillantee, i.e., outside the usual law.  

I reject all reductions of government to a mere contract.

The only oath or covenant I made was to my wife. I have not made any oath of office nor pledged allegiance (I have issues with the forced indoctrination of American kids being coerced to make such a pledge in public school btw). Oh, when i was a cub and a scout, I did promise that I would do my duty to God and the Queen, do my best to help others and know and obey the scout law. Not sure how binding that is but those are the only two oaths I ever recall taking. But I volunteered for that and that pledge was not imposed by the school.

I am loyal to the people of  Canada but not the institutions. Those institutions are all provisional and not divinely inspired.

Also, the only oath that some Americans take are the oath of office whereby they swear to defend the consitution of the United States, part of which states:

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

We should worry more about politician's infidelity to this oath rather than their marriage oath!

 

 

 

As a Millennial, I find the hyperbolic hyperventilation of this conversation to be entertaining. I'd posit that there's a reason you have not seen (outside the domain of techie twitter feeds and civil rights activists' blogs) nearly so forceful an expression of surprise, indignation, and outrage among those of us born after 1980. 

Of COURSE NSA and other intelligence agencies are monitoring our electronic communications... that's literally their raison d'etre. 

Nearly every thoughtful person I know understands intuitively that our digitized thoughts and pixelated images are subject to precisely this sort of surveillance. Again, I point you to David Simon's excellent, excellent piece, which I exhort you all to read. 

Steven --

 

Was there any influence of the "social contract" theory on the Constitution?  It seems to me that, given what little I know of Madison and Jefferson, the Constitution appeals more to natural law theory.  Though they wouldn't deny that each individual does bind him/her self to a particular nation and its laws, in the case of the U. S. the basic law is founded on natural law.

 

By the way, Madison is my favorite among the founding fathers.  Far and away the wisest of them.  Jefferson follows in second place.  Sure, George Washington was a phenomenal leader but not much on theory. None of them were like that greedy slug of a Ben Franklin whose telos was property.  Granted,  like the libertarians he did appreciate freedom -- freedom to get richer.

Steven --

 

Was there any influence of the "social contract" theory on the Constitution?  It seems to me that, given what little I know of Madison and Jefferson, the Constitution appeals more to natural law theory.  Though they wouldn't deny that each individual does bind him/her self to a particular nation and its laws, in the case of the U. S. the basic law is founded on natural law.

 

By the way, Madison is my favorite among the founding fathers.  Far and away the wisest of them.  Jefferson follows in second place.  Sure, George Washington was a phenomenal leader but not much on theory. None of them were like that greedy slug of a Ben Franklin whose telos was property.  Granted,  like the libertarians he did appreciate freedom -- freedom to get richer.

I know that the arc of the moral (and, political) universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

But why must that be so?

(a) Historical determinism

(b) Human nature

(c) The laws of physics

(d) Kismet

(e) Divine intervention

(f) The vigilance of an informed electorate

(g) Constitutional checks and balances

(h) It needn't be so

I reject (a) thru (d) as explanations.  (e) is inscrutable.  (f) and (g) probably are necessary but not sufficient.  The best answer, it seems to me, is (h).  Or, to give a more complete answer: we do our best with (f) and (g) while recognizing the reality of (h), which motivates us to pray for (e).

 

Michael Bayer: It seems David Simon has had another thought or two on this: http://davidsimon.com/nsa-and-fisa-commentary-calling-it/

Here are the Chicago Tribune's editors on this issue.  Istm pretty sensible.

 

 

JP,

I dont think you have standing in the FISA court.  In fact, you would not even know the warrant was issued because the entire process is kept secret. 

From Wikipedia

Each application for one of these surveillance warrants (called a FISA warrant) is made before an individual judge of the court. Like a grand jury, the court is not an adversarial court: the federal government is the only party to its proceedings...

It is also rare for FISA warrant requests to be turned down by the court. Through the end of 2004, 18,761 warrants were granted, while just five were rejected (many sources say four)...

Bruce, thanks.  I see the FISA also established its own court of appeals, the Review Court.  I bet I don't have standing there, either.  Whether it would flow from there up through the normal Federal appeals pathway, is not clear to me.

It occurs to me that none of us would have standing in the FISA court to challenge any of this.  As a legal matter, we're not involved.  Really.  We all signed customer agreements giving up our privacy to Verizon (or, whomever).  Case closed.  The warrant wasn't served on any of us because, as I've been saying, it's not our property that we're talking about.  The records that have been delivered to NSA are the wholly-owned, free-and-clear property of Verizon.  We have no claim whatever, at all.  If we did, we would have been served warrants.  I don't have one because I have no ownership over the information at all.

Jim--I believe in (e) and (g), in that order.  I really like (f), but I never depend on it.  As a more direct reply, faith obliges me to believe that the Kingdom is brought forth incrementally each day.  That doesn't mean that 'every day, in every way, things are getting better and better.'  But it does mean that the long arc traces the order of history, aiming at the Transcendent Source of that order.  

George--You can think that, and I have no quarrel with anything you want to think.  But it's not an expression of anything in the Catholic tradition.  You began by suggesting we might reconcile Catholicism to libertarianism.  We just keep finding new reasons why we can't.  In a way, that leads me to....

Ann--We get into real trouble whenever we try to say that the constitutional founding was influenced by natural law, or the Enlightenment.  The truth is something closer to both-and-neither, I think.  There are heavy imprints of the natural law tradition on Madison's thinking.  At the same time, Madison's Notes on the Convention quote John Rutledge (representing South Carolina!) as saying that "religion and humanity" had "nothing" to do with the constitutional debate.  "Interest alone is the governing principle of nations," he added.  That's a principle soaked in the Scottish Enlightenment, even if Rutledge was using that principle to keep the convention from getting in the way of the slave trade.  Jefferson was a more typical Enlightenment figure, though he wasn't at the convention.  The point is that almost every point of view was represented in our founding.  Those various perspectives conflicted at the convention, and even more in the ugly politics of the early federal period.  I always think the reason our system works so well is because it managed to catch pieces of the natural law tradition and the Enlightenment, and to hold them together in dynamic tension that still exists.  That's the genius of the American system--not just the Enlightenment or the natural law tradition.  But, finally, there is the history of the American founding and then there is the Catholic political tradition.  No matter what some members of the USCCB tell you, they are distinct.  Libertarianism fits quite well into that Enlightenment strand of the American tradition.  But it clashes hopelessly with the other.

Snowdon voted/donated Ron Paul for president.. maybe he thinks China welcomes libertarians.  [even if MOS says Hong Kong is not really China]  He bets the Chinese welcomes libertarians [not]  

 " There are heavy imprints of the natural law tradition on Madison's thinking.  At the same time, Madison's Notes on the Convention quote John Rutledge (representing South Carolina!) as saying that "religion and humanity" had "nothing" to do with the constitutional debate.  "Interest alone is the governing principle of nations," he added."

 

Steven -

I agree with the first sentence, but if the Convention wasn't concerned with the humanity of the colonists, then what was it about?  I wonder what he meant exactly by quoting that text of Routledge.  And when he said "interest alone is the governing principle of nations" was he describing facts or was he describing what ought to be?  I doubt that he meant that as some simple  normative statement.  (Not that I've read much Madison, mind  you.)

 

I apologize for my duplicate posts above.  i can't figure out how they happened.  Can someone explain what I'm probably doing wrong so I can stop?

 

 

 We all signed customer agreements giving up our privacy to Verizon (or, whomever).

 

Not really.  We signed customer service agreements which provide for these companies to respond to subponeas from the government.  The companies cant just give out the information to anyone.  But the government has set up a process where we have no way to contest the government's claim nor even any knowledge that they have subponeaed our phone records.  The whole process is completely antithethical to the fourth amendment, which requires real evidence of a crime, not some hoped for ability to prevent one.  

Rutledge was throwing water on appeals to natural law, religion, and altruism against slavery. He was trying to quell the idea of a moral order being behind the Constitution because that would tend to work against the peculiar institution.. The appeal to interest was to say that dollars and cents, any advantage, determines the conduct of states, not dewey-eyed, sentimental notions of doing the right thing. Madison wasn't really quoting Rutledge. The Notes on the Convention are literally that--Madison's notes on what was said by the delegates during the debate on the Constitution. I call attention only to highlight a diversity of viewpoints among the framers. More than just the natural law or the Enlightenment, a whole range of opinions was present at the founding.

From The Guardian, today:

Edward Snowden explosive NSA leaks have US in damage control mode

Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who revealed secrets of the Vietnam war through the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971, described Snowden's leak as even more important and perhaps the most significant leak in American history.

In London, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, was forced to defend the UK's use of intelligence gathered by the US. Other European leaders also voiced concern.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is expected to grill Obama next week, during a much-awaited summit in Berlin. Peter Schaar, Germany's federal data protection commissioner, told the Guardian it was unacceptable for the US authorities to have access to EU citizens' data, and that the level of protection is lower than that guaranteed to US citizens.

Steven ==

Thanks for your always informative replies.  Also, thanks for the bit about Jefferson not being a member of the Convention.  I had assumed he had.  Hmm.  We do supply our own historical details, don't we.  

We all signed customer agreements giving up our privacy to Verizon (or, whomever).  Case closed.  The warrant wasn't served on any of us because, as I've been saying, it's not our property that we're talking about.  The records that have been delivered to NSA are the wholly-owned, free-and-clear property of Verizon.  We have no claim whatever, at all.

 

While I'm too lazy to search out my cell phone contract, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that it contains some consumer privacy protections.  I don't think Verizon or whomever can post the details or content of my cell phone calls on its website for the whole world to see.  The spirit of those protections is that my private business still "belongs" to me, even though the bits and bytes of that business are in Verizon's custody, and so Verizon needs to take reasonable precautions to keep my private business confidential.

I'm sure that the contractual (and statutory) consumer privacy protections would include an exception that allows Verizon or whomever to turn over my records to the government, pursuant to a court order.  And presumably that is precisely how the NSA was able to obtain possession of the data - the federal government went to a FISA court and requested it.  So all parties complied with their contractual and statutory obligations.

 But nobody is claiming that the data was obtained illegally.  That is not the issue.  The core issue is that the law that enabled Verizon, Facebook, Google, Comcast, et al to turn my electronic records to the government is unjust.  The government exceptions to privacy protections were written with the expectation that for that exception to be triggered, the government would need to go to a court and justify a warrant for my records by meeting a particular threshold of credible suspicion about me.  Pretty clearly, that hasn't happened here.  To the best of my knowledge, I'm not a terrorist suspect and haven't engaged in any behavior that would make the federal government suspect that I am.  And yet my records have been turned over.

And once the data is collected and consolidated, I now need to rely on the good faith and the competence of the government, with its millions of employees, to protect my privacy.  A glance at any recent newspaper suggests that perhaps I have grounds for worry.

John Oliver's debut segment as Daily Show host last night does a nice job of summarizing the issues.

 

The FISA might be unjust, and if enough people agree then our system of government permits action.  I have no problem with that.  But, for now, the law is the law.  The reason that this scandal is a frustrated puppy chasing its tail is because it has nowhere to go.  There will be no congressional investigation, no grand jury, because there can't be.  Nothing illegal has happened.  (Except the leak.)

As for privacy policies, please do look here because you may find it instructive.  It reminds me of what my old mentor used to say about seeing a Customer's Bill of Rights hanging in his grocery store: it sent a chill down his spine because he knew that those "rights" were the whim of the manager or the company.  They could be changed overnight.

Here is a useful excerpt:

Except as explained in this Privacy Policy, in privacy policies for specific services, or in agreements with our customers, Verizon does not sell, license or share information that individually identifies our customers, people using our networks, or website visitors with others outside the Verizon family of companies for non-Verizon purposes without the consent of the person whose information will be shared

Reassuring, yes?  But on what foundation does this privacy policy stand?  Does it refer to statute law or regulation?  No.  These all are Verizon's own choices, gifts freely given or taken back.  Except where the policy refers to special protections for citizens of Arizona, California, or Ohio.  That's because those states have passed laws adding requirements.  But a federal framework?  No.

This, from the Federal Trade Commission webpage, might reassure you:

When companies tell consumers they will safeguard their personal information, the FTC can and does take law enforcement action to make sure that companies live up these promises.

But notice that the protection is only against companies breaking their own promises.  There is no FTC protection, apart from their enforcement of a company's own policy against the company.

Of course, as Verizon (and all the others) tell us in their privacy policy:

We reserve the right to make changes to this Privacy Policy

Has the chill gone down your spine yet?

 

AO @ 6/10, 10:52: Duplicate posts: Yes, I don't know why. I have complained to the PTB, and they promise to look into it. The delete function along with "close comments" has also been taken from us. Alas!

And apparently the "reply" function doesn't appear with the comment it is "replying" to.

The reason that this scandal is a frustrated puppy chasing its tail is because it has nowhere to go.  There will be no congressional investigation, no grand jury, because there can't be.  Nothing illegal has happened.  (Except the leak.)

Right.  I'm not sure that "scandal" is even the right word.  Our expectations have been set for a scandal  here because there is a string of other scandals in the news.  But this one does not fit the template: it doesn't fall along partisan fault lines, it doesn't lend itself even to superficial attribution to President Obama's administration, no laws have been broken.  Rather than "scandal", I think of it as "teaching moment": look what our Congress and our government have wrought in our name.  And you're quite right that we can do something about it if we wish.  Speaking for me: I wish.  Whether this news story will spur legislation, or spawn a national issue for a future election, is something I can't foresee.

Possibly the teaching moment could trigger litigation aimed at getting a federal court to overturn the parts of FISA that I termed unjust in a previous comment.  I don't know how someone would show injury, though.  But that's why we have 1 million+ clever lawyers.

 

A bit tangential but relevant to issue of privacy and the governments rights to access even public forms of communication like, arguably, Facebook is.

Government went too far in surveillance of First Nations advocate: report

Two government departments went too far in their monitoring of a First Nations children's advocate and her personal Facebook page, federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has found.

Stoddart was looking into a complaint filed by activist Cindy Blackstock, who is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, an organization fighting the federal government in court over First Nations child welfare programs.

The commissioner found that Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Justice seemed to violate the spirit of the Privacy Act when they compiled reams of information from Blackstock's personal Facebook page.

"It raises the question: who else?" said NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder.

Officials knew full well that they were delving into personal information, and not just Blackstock's thoughts on child welfare policy, the report states.

George D: I saw that story too and wondered why anyone would think Facebook is Private. Your life is out there if you put it out there. Same with Anthony Wiener's twitter pictures. What do people expect? Or should they expect?

And then: Glenn Greenwald claims to have much more info and documents. Does he? Or is this a bargaining chip for Snowden's asylum in Iceland? Russia (Putin has offered)? Getting to sound like a Pink Panther movie.

Margaret 

It is an interesting case study regarding privacy. I don't have Facebook but my understanding is that you have control over privacy settings and who may post or see your wall. Your "friends" cannot forward your content as far as I know.

With Twitter, which I do have, it is totally public as anybody can retweet your tweets to their followers and so on.

My comments on this site are completely public and I have no expectation of privacy regarding that.

Soi, I think the privacy commissioner got the distinction correct as far as government prying is concerned.

That said, as a prudential matter, I tell my daughter that her Facebbok entries leave a digital footprint which may be accessed by somebody in the future.

Also, in this instance, it appears that the government was moving beyond the scope of legitimate investigation into her advocacy efforts and obtaining personal details irrelevant to their investigation.

i believe we call that the sin of detraction!

George D: I don't do Facebook, or any other such; I don't do Linked-In, etc. I only do dotCommonweal. Like you, I know this is not private.

When you advise your daughter of her digital footprint, you seem to recognize the potential for hacking, access without permission, etc. Fuzzy boundary area it would seem though the decision in the case you cite found for the plaintiff--too late it appears.

I am dumbfounded at cell phone users who detail last night's encounter in loud voices walking down Broadway. Must be one of those millenials who are not fibbertigibbets about privacy!

I know of at least one person who was fired for posting an intemperate remark about the employer on Facebook. 

 

Her facebook was actually hacked. Somebody put all kinds of vile pictures and messages. It was awful and traumatizing for her. As it turns out, this practice is more common than you think. Facebook, btw, was just awful in providing technical or any other kind of support!! She e-mailed her account and explained and the guy actually e-mailed the password saying that he does this to people for kicks....and apologized. Needless to say, I turned it over to the police so that they could track the IP address. Not sure what the outcome was.

The solution to the problem (besides Facebook actually paying for effective anti-hacking software!!!) is to change your password frequently.

OR....to stay off facebook.

..not a fan of Facebook but what can a dad do...girls will be girls!!

but back on point

ACLU Files Suit Against NSA, Patriot Act Phone Surveillance

The ACLU press release also states that the type of personal data being collected through Section 215 of the Patriot Act constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Lastly, the ACLU complaint charges that the executive branch’s use of Section 215 violates the plain language of the statute itself. The statute requires that records seized under its authority be “relevant” to an authorized foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation.

The ACLU has issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request which seeks the government’s “secret interpretation of the law.”

 

 

 

Referring to actions of the Bush administration, Representative Schief said this, which has not been contradicted:

"These extrajudicial actions are all the more troubling when one considers that there is a court empowered to review precisely such applications for domestic surveillance that could have been utilized but was not. Given the track record of this court, the FISA Court, of quickly approving Government requests and the power to seek post hoc approval where the urgency is still greater, there appears no policy justification for the administration's actions. And, thus, what may be illegal is also so plainly unnecessary. " http://www.progress.org/wiretapreport.htm

Set aside the illegal Bush administration actions and note what *IS* considered legal: obtain the evidence first and then get the warrant post hoc. And if you find out the evidence was unhelpful to a legal proceeding, just don't bring it into a legal proceeding. No harm, no foul (?!).

It is becoming evident that the NSA is recording (without analysing) everything they can get their hands on - all phone calls, all internet traffic - and going back to those recordings via internal search engines when some event makes them of interest. Only if the domestic services (e.g., FBI) feel that the data would be useful in a legal proceeding does the formality of a warrant ever arise, and, as has been widely reported, the FISA court has *never* denied such a warrant.

With this near-omniscience, we all become criminals - the book "Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent " is likely overstated, but with this sea of evidence, none of us remain out of prison except at the "mercy" of our surveillance state. Unbridled discretionary power by human beings inevitably leads to their corruption. This ocean of data overwhelms all human wisdom and humility.

Example: the CEO of Quest refused to participate in NSA data collection, and is now serving a six year sentence for "insider trading".

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment