Beginnings of a police state in the USA?

108


Discussion by: Jay G

I did not think I would live to see the day when I, as a citizen of the United States, would be concerned that there is a real possibility of my country becoming a fascist-style police state.   I am old enough to remember President Nixon.  It seems to me that Nixon's administration was open and free compared with that of President Obama.  Obama promised us the most transparent administration ever.  Instead, his administration is engaged in a breathtakingly (is that a word) broad program of  spying on ordinary citizens who have no connection with criminal acitivity.  All this is justified in the same of "security".  Well, it seems to me that the Nazis justified their programs in the name of "security of the German nation and race".  

Does anybody else out there share my feelings on this?

Thanks

 

108 COMMENTS

  1. For transparency, Nixon and the CIA were into some seriously shady shit in the 60′s and 70′s. And 80′s. And so on. It’s nothing new.

    Secondly, I find this concern of yours a bit hypocrite. It’s OK to spy on the rest of the world, just not on american citizens?

    It’s your country, your laws, deal with it but don’t come complaining about it to me. They have been at it for decades, and now they have the means to do it on a truly massive scale. It is not the Nazis, it is not the Soviet Block, It’s not the McCarthy era, but it can be if you let them. One way or another, your government will do anything it can to know everything about you, whether you like it or not.

    What’s more important in my opinion is, as you say, transparency and accountability, due process, and not working above the law. If you don’t want the government to be spying on your emails, perving over your personal messages, then I guess you will have to move into a cave, because they’ll do it given half a chance. The fact is the internet is too good an opportunity to pass when you have the technology to do mass-scale information gathering and storage. The problem is what happens after, and what they do with that information, and who are they accountable to.

    BTW, there is some fight left in this, but imo it is inevitable. Privacy on the internet is an illusion.

  2. In my opinion it’s already too little too late. Nothing sensitive is held in ordinary email that could really interest a security agency, surely? Terrorists probably use methods much more hidden, unless they have a suicide wish.

    • In reply to #2 by Nemesis:

      In my opinion it’s already too little too late. Nothing sensitive is held in ordinary email that could really interest a security agency, surely? Terrorists probably use methods much more hidden, unless they have a suicide wish.

      Organized terrorists use code phrases (which are changed regularly) and burners which are cell phones that have a limited number of minutes on them. They discard the phone after they’ve been used. Remember that most such organizations have training from cold-war-era CIA, so they’re pretty adroit about staying clandestine.

      • In reply to #13 by Uriel-238:

        Organized terrorists use code phrases…

        Yeah, but sometimes a “wedding” really is just a wedding. It also doesn’t hurt the terrorists efforts that people in counter-terrorism tend to be incompetent bureaucrats, with no imagination or deftness at these slick matters. Code words… might have helped if they did drugs in their youth, but instead its a bunch of squares and marks.

        Thankfully, eDiscovery software will eliminate the need for these bromine A-types, so they can get back to playing sudoku and collecting their government checks.

    • In reply to #3 by Neodarwinian:

      Beginnings?

      Perhaps, but a long way from endings.

      You are talking about it, aren’t you and you certainly are not the only one. The news, the fourth estate, seems pretty much on the job.

      Not around here it doesn’t. Here the media concentrates on how Snowden was such a horrible bad guy who needs to be caught, and nothing is said at all in favor of the argument that he’s done a good thing. The government’s actions do not receive nearly as much attention as the “OMG there’s a treasonous fugitive on the loose who fled to Hong Kong” story.

      • In reply to #6 by Steven Mading:

        In reply to #3 by Neodarwinian:

        Beginnings?

        Perhaps, but a long way from endings.

        You are talking about it, aren’t you and you certainly are not the only one. The news, the fourth estate, seems pretty much on the job.

        Not around here it doesn’t. Here the media concentrates on how Snowden was su…

        Where, pray tell, is ” around here? “

        I see a lot of different points of view on this Snowden thing where I am at. New Mexico.

        Seems to be a bit of chicken little here, way too premature. Though eternal vigilance may be the price of freedom a bit of comparative history is needed on this thread.

        As I said, perhaps beginnings, ( still extinguishable ) but far from endings ( police state ).

      • In reply to #6 by Steven Mading:

        In reply to #3 by Neodarwinian:

        Beginnings?

        Perhaps, but a long way from endings.

        You are talking about it, aren’t you and you certainly are not the only one. The news, the fourth estate, seems pretty much on the job.

        Not around here it doesn’t. Here the media concentrates on how Snowden was su…

        A prosecutor is not going to extol the virtues of the guy or woman he is trying to get locked away any more than the defence attorney is going to say what an asshole his client is.

    • In reply to #3 by Neodarwinian:

      Beginnings?

      Perhaps, but a long way from endings.

      You are talking about it, aren’t you and you certainly are not the only one. The news, the fourth estate, seems pretty much on the job.
      The fact people are talking of it and aware of the danger, I feel, means it will not happen.

  3. I consider myself pretty liberal, but I have to say I have a hard time feeling any outrage over the descriptions of the NSA’s “spying” program.

    It seems to me that statistically analyzing vast amounts of data which happen to include some details of my calling habits – BUT NOT the content of my communication – falls a bit short of “fascist-style police state territory.”

    • In reply to #5 by BanJoIvie:

      It seems to me that statistically analyzing vast amounts of data which happen to include some details of my calling habits – BUT NOT the content of my communication – falls a bit short of “fascist-style police state territory.”

      Knowing who you are, who you called for how long and where you were when you called them (and related calls by those who you called) are plenty enough to determine what is happening in your life. And that’s just regarding cellular call activity.

      Do you use SMS, popular email services (like Google, Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL)? Then they’re also monitoring those. Use any popular search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing)? Then they also are tracking your search history. (They are not tracking Duck Duck Go because it’s intentionally designed to not retain anything to track.)

      Big deal, right? You’re not doing anything wrong. Except you are. There are tens of thousands of federal statutes, and you could be committing a felony just for having come in contact with a lobster of the wrong size. Then there’s also the CFAA which is a broad-reaching 80s-era law that makes it a felony for you to violate the TOS of a website. Normally this is ignored unless the DoJ wants a particular subversive out of the picture. Then you get a longer sentence than you would if you murdered someone (unpremeditated) or raped someone (ever).

      • In reply to #14 by Uriel-238:

        Knowing who you are, who you called for h…

        I understand the scope of the data and what it could potentially be used to ascertain. I just don’t agree that this program has been used in anything like the way you suggest, or that it poses any real danger of being so used. I find alarmist reactions citing slippery slopes and worst-case scenarios unconvincing.

        The bar for “flaggable” activity drawn from the meta-data appears to have been set very high indeed, and NSA has been subject to judicial review at every step. I’m sorry, but your suggestion that I’m in danger of prosecution for lobster based crimes or TOS violations is pretty risible.

        The threat of terrorist attack is very real however, and it seems foolish to get prickly over keeping my search history private in the face of such a threat. Especially, when it is abundantly clear, that no one anywhere is actually reading that history. It is merely being crunched by an algorythm – along with billions of other bits of data – in order to identify suspicious traces left by very dangerous individuals.

        Don’t get me wrong. I do not advocate sacrificing liberty for security. I simply remain skeptical as to whether this specific program rises to the level of an infringement of my freedoms. It seems to me like a narrowly drawn, common sense approach to fighting a particulary deadly, and particularly elusive type of crime. Of course I remain open to further information and debate. I could be convinced to change my view, but probably not by vaguely conspiricist conjecture.

        You cite the Fourth Amendment, but I read it as protecting us against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Good people can disagree about the threshhold of reasonableness. In this case, I believe we do.

    • In reply to #5 by BanJoIvie:

      I consider myself pretty liberal, but I have to say I have a hard time feeling any outrage over the descriptions of the NSA’s “spying” program.

      It seems to me that statistically analyzing vast amounts of data which happen to include some details of my calling habits – BUT NOT the content of my comm…

      And you would not question this statement? You would trust what you hear just because our leaders say so?

  4. One concern I have is how many politicians are out there hypocritically making the argument that this is a reason it was a bad idea to elect Obama when those very same politicians supported this program when it was Bush who was championing it. Obama deserves a lot of criticism for his decision to refrain from making the changes to administrative policy he claimed he would change, but that doesn’t mean voting for someone who explicitly SAID they wanted to keep the policy in place would have been better.

  5. Seems unlikely for now.

    In contrast to the USA the Nazi’s data mining didn’t really commence until they’d taken over most of Europe and incorporated Interpol as the Gestapo. US IT firms were instrumental in providing the relevant data mining technology to facilitate this work, as they continue to do today. But to their credit they’re no longer just targeting jews. As the saying goes: first they came for the jews, but I wasn’t a jew. They have a much broader and indiscriminate focus now. Fascism seems to require isolating subgroups before treating them with contempt. With inexpensive modern IT systems the USA has taken a more sophisticated and even-handed approach, so is able to treat everyone with contempt without the need for isolating subgroups.

    There’s always a possibility for any country to become a fascist state. Based on history you’d expect approx. 5 years warning of full blown fascism. Famous Austrian and German intellectuals like Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek all left Europe around the time of the Anschluss, which was the definitive event for them. Nearest equivalent might be the USA annexing Canada.

    The rise of fascism would probably take even longer in the USA. Possibly the USA might be an exception now because fascism depends on a population having a substantial degree of intelligence and passion – however erroneously misdirected. There’s still hope that many decades of successive US government efforts in undermining the intelligence and passion of their subjects may yet prove effective. They might not achieve anything good, but then they probably won’t achieve anything bad either. They are capturing the data, but they’ll need to depend on a real fascist government like china to steal the data and make some kind of fascist sense of it. Perhaps someone in the Chinese military will defect to the US and be able to report the relevant conclusions.

    US would also need to resolve its obesity epidemic before contemplating fascism. Present day average BMI doesn’t conform to fantasies about the master race etc. And the cute uniforms just look ridiculous on the overweight – e.g. Goering. Plus you’d need some kind of dictator to emerge. Even Hitler didn’t just show up and take over. There were some peculiar circumstances and accidents that allowed him to fall into place.

    When fascism emerged in Germany in the 1920s and 30s it was a situation of domestic chaos, global depression, high youth unemployment, massive monetary counterfeiting by central banks, and recent major military defeats. The US possesses all these relevant qualities, and more, but they’re handicapped by the lack of foreign born, vegetarian psychopaths in positions of political influence. US only has regular psychopaths, some who even deny that there were foreign born. Plus there’s the problem that American Jews and Negros are obviously superior intellectually and athletically compared to those of Aryan descent – whatever that means.

    • In reply to #8 by Pete H:

      Seems unlikely for now.

      In contrast to the USA the Nazi’s data mining didn’t really commence until they’d taken over most of Europe and incorporated Interpol as the Gestapo. US IT firms were instrumental in providing the relevant data mining technology to facilitate this work, as they continue to d…

      I am so tired of having to say this this. China might be oppressive, and their “communist party” probably amounts to an oligarchy, but it isn’t fascist. The only way it is similar to fascism is that all the power is controlled by a few people. However, by definition, communism is the opposite of fascism. Fascism is corporatism, the kind of system Italy had in WWII. And the kind of system we have in the U.S. now, just not to the same extremes…yet.

  6. I’ve been doing my level best to convince my ex to emigrate to Canada with the kids. It’ll be bad enough with another Democrat as President but if a republican wins, given the current crop of yahoos, life will cease to be livable around these here parts.

    • It is my view there are signs the banks could fall, and if so, there will possibly be a greater problem than was present during the great depression of the 1930′s, and this will have an effect on most western countries as many currencies and the sale of many commodities like oil, heavy minerals etc are often based upon the US dollar. The US Government along with Homeland Security have taken steps to prepare for large scale civil unrest, so they are obviously expecting something rather substantial to happen. I don’t agree with conspiracy nutters who expect a civil war and have armed themselves accordingly, but we may be facing a time to buckle down, enjoying less of the good things life has to offer. As far as emails etc being seen by the government. I see it as an invasion of privacy, but it is an invasion I am willing to accept if it protects us from those who wish to destroy our way of life, our freedoms. My only reservation is the governments desire to silence free speech and their ability to have media outlets push their point of view silencing any others. But time will tell. In reply to #9 by DocWebster:

      I’ve been doing my level best to convince my ex to emigrate to Canada with the kids. It’ll be bad enough with another Democrat as President but if a republican wins, given the current crop of yahoos, life will cease to be livable around these here parts.

  7. I apologize Jay, I’m having a hard time figuring out how to respond to your concerns. Did you read this yet?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/20/fisa-court-nsa-without-warrant

    • Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;

    • Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity

    Mike

  8. Does anybody else out there share my feelings on this?

    And how.

    The inadvertently acquired communications policy pretty much makes it that they can sift through our data for signs of criminal activity and then use it retroactively investigate and prosecute those crimes. This is total circumvention of fourth amendment protections from illegal search.

    It worries me since there are plenty enough people in power who think atheists should be contained, but I’ll personally be detained for anti-government opinions or for being crazy before they go after non-believers.

    It’s also frightening that Germany wants the same kind of surveillance structure; hadn’t they learned from the 20th century?

    For those of you outside the US, I couldn’t imagine a monitoring system that would sweep the world as thoroughly as PRISM is doing now, and yeah, I wouldn’t want the NSA all over your private lives either. The fact that the trust by the people over big web-business has been compromised, it’s no surprise that enterprises outside the US are circumventing US jurisdiction en mass. This is going to be another economic hit for us. Maybe Google’s disclosure lawsuit can restore some of that, but mere fact that a secret court exists that can collect the Google data core and force them to keep quiet about it may be enough to kill the Google business model entirely.

    Myself, I’ve taken to learning about services with end-to-end encryption. The novice thing is to start taking passwords seriously, noting that if I ever do lose my passwords, data encrypted by them will be lost forever, which means back-ups and redundancies. And I need to set up PGP or GPG accounts for those people with whom I want to be able to communicate privately; those friends that will help me move the bodies.

    We really should have encryption infrastructure in place long before we have need to use it.

    After the OWS demonstrations were disbanded clandestinely at night by the police, I figured that revolution might turn violent within the coming years, as peaceful demonstrations no longer served to pressure our representatives to redress grievances. Considering how our administration and our congress don’t even understand the concern, PRISM may be the issue that pushes the partisans into action. I really hope that it ends peacefully, but I also hope that whoever thought this was a good idea gets nailed to the wall: the internet culture and enterprise infrastructure may be set back twenty years because of this.

    It’s about a century since the start of WWI. Maybe the tree of liberty is looking a bit dry around the edges.

    • In reply to #12 by Uriel-238:

      Myself, I’ve taken to learning about services with end-to-end encryption

      Using encryption just gets you promoted to a higher level of scrutiny. I mean, you wouldn’t use it if you weren’t up to something. And they keep the data until they can crack it, plus 5 years. And they don’t care if you’re american or not, because, since you used encryption, they can’t tell, can they? So, no winning that way.

  9. It has to come, whether soon or in the more distant future. This is because Man HAS to have control over other men and cannot abide others having freedom – even freedom of thought! Technology makes it easier to enforce such control, that’s all.

    And, while the politicians may try to pacify the people that all this surveillance etc. is necessary to combat terrorism, who knows what sinister plots may take place in the future, with authoritarian bodies and malign individuals simply being handed all the data on everyone that has so “innocently” been gathered previously?

    Things like this may have happened before but, like an encroaching tide, it laps back and forth, back and forth until it eventually catches you unawares – then it’s too late.

    Alarmist? Make your own judgment. We do know, however, that no politician (or any man for that matter) can offer any guarantees about the future and any assurances about future safetly, security, privacy and liberty I take with a very large pinch of salt.

  10. Get where you are going but wouldn’t take it that far…as far as the Nixon administration goes it was beyond paranoid to say the least, don’t think we are at that point now. It’s the age old question of how much freedom would you be willing to sacrifice for “security” (however defined) and to be honest I’m not sure I formulated an answer to that question yet.

    • In reply to #16 by mmontenaro79:

      Get where you are going but wouldn’t take it that far…as far as the Nixon administration goes it was beyond paranoid to say the least, don’t think we are at that point now. It’s the age old question of how much freedom would you be willing to sacrifice for “security” (however defined) and to be ho…

      Yes, but it doesn’t appear that We The People are giving informed consent to these trade-offs. This is being called whistle-blowing for a reason.

      Mike

  11. Sorry, Jay, but I don’t share your feelings. Comparing what the NSA is doing with what Nixon has done or with what fascists have done is a false analogy and is pure hyperbole (it’s like comparing Bloomberg’s soda ban with Stalin’s reign of terror). Nixon was using surveillance in order to commit a crime; tyrannies use surveillance to crack down on and control people who are NOT criminals; but the NSA is using surveillance to catch criminals and prevent terrorist attacks (and in the age of nukes, no less). Nobody is cracking down on regular citizens or controlling what they do. You can’t talk about government intrusion or violation of privacy if you divorce these concepts from the notions of “harm” and “value”. What the NSA is doing is of definite value and is of little or no harm. You can put forth a slippery slope argument, but, though it may merit concern, the potential for abuse is not the same thing as abuse. Yes, less scrupulous leaders may improperly use surveillance against regular citizens, but they can use the army and the police too. Would you propose we eliminate the police department?

    So far, there have been no reports of abuse and everything has been done legally and with authorization of special courts. And collecting metadata and applying algorithms to find links between networks is not the same thing as reading e-mails. Not only is reading random e-mail illegal (Obama reversed Bush’s policy of warrantless surveillance), it’s extremely impractical. The NSA center in Utah collects metadata in yottabytes. One yottabyte equals 1 trillion terabytes or 1 quadrillion gigabytes or 500 quintillion paper pages of text. If those pages were stacked one on top of the other, the stack would reach to the moon and back, 66 million times. So if somebody is randomly reading e-mails or listening to your phone calls, in addition to being illegal, it’s a profound waste of time and resources.

    There is always a tension between liberty and security, and while such issues may merit concern and perhaps certain laws could be added to prevent potential abuses, I find nothing criminal or immoral in what the NSA is doing.

  12. I apologise if I am sidestepping the discussion of a “police state.” However, I am most disturbed not by the invasion of my privacy, but at the allocation of resources that this program reveals.

    John Stewart has made it a personal mission in recent months to bring light to the fact that many of our US soldiers are returning home from war, injured, only to have their VA benefits registry forms lost in a mountain of paper. The government’s excuse for its incompetence was to claim that the two computer systems required to process the benefits were not compatible. (I oversimplify in the interest of time.)

    I don’t appreciate that my taxes are going to pay for the CIA to sift through mountains of metadata, foreign and domestic, while the Veterans Administration can’t get a database problem solved.

    I’m also quite insulted to be forced into wondering how many right-wing politicians used the term “police state,” concerning the recent gun-registry debates, quietly knowing full well the scope of the CIA’s secret data collection programs.

    This is Elmer Fudd-level deceit, and as a citizen, I feel misrepresented by my representatives.

    This is my first post here, but as a longtime reader, I commend all of you for your fervent demand for truth. When I read the news articles posted here, I am always proud to see RDFRS posters commenting on a wide range of topics. We are all fighting on the front in the war on ignorance. It’s up to us to be the voice of reason when we see others reacting out of fear.

    The simple fact that you asked this question reveals that you are rational and intelligent, and not an alarmist. I thank you for raising the issue here among people whose opinions I respect. You have encouraged discourse here that makes our congressional debates look like tic-tac-toe. I truly hope that spreading ideals of rationalism will lead people to demand better representation in the government.

    Jay, will you be my Congressman?

  13. America has been there before!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism – During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person’s real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment and/or destruction of their careers; some even suffered imprisonment. Most of these punishments came about through trial verdicts later overturned,[2] laws that would be declared unconstitutional,[3] dismissals for reasons later declared illegal[4] or actionable,[5] or extra-legal procedures that would come into general disrepute.

  14. Hi. I explored this topic at some length in my new dystopian novel, Christian Nation. Starting with the counterfactual of McCain/Palin winning in 2008 and Palin becoming President when McCain dies, the Christian fundamentalists lead the country down the road to an authoritarian theocracy. Big data and the Internet are used to create the “Purity Web,” an instrument of authoritarian control. All the elements of my fictional “Purity Web” are already technologically feasible and being used somewhere in the world (Saudi Arabia, China, etc.). See http://www.readchristiannation.com . Fred

  15. To all those people who think they need protection from Terrorist attracts: **Every year, on average, 40 Europeans die in terrorist attacks. **

    From: http://falkvinge.net/2012/11/15/we-should-be-spending-billions-fighting-bathtubs-not-terrorism/
    the text is under cc0 those is allowed to be reproduced as full quote any ware by anybody:

    Every year, on average, 40 Europeans die in terrorist attacks. When you compare the policies and billions plown down into this number, you quickly discover that we should not be spending billions to fight terrorism, but to fight bathtubs. Over five times as many people drown in bathtubs every year.

    I’m a very strong proponent of evidence-based policymaking and putting quality requirements on the legislative process, and therefore, I require hard data to justify decisions and policy. When researching this topic, the strangest thing about the number of fatalities from terrorism wasn’t the number itself, but how hard it was to find. It seemed to never have been published anywhere by any single European bureaucracy. It seemed that policymakers weren’t interested in quantifying the threat.

    You can find lots of data on terror in Europe (causes, groups, police forces, etc) when searching for it. You just can’t find what danger it actually poses.

    So I needed to do the basic research myself, and tallied all terrorist attacks in Europe over the years 2000-2009 from the RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents. 403 people died in Europe over a decade from terrorism, almost half of which in Madrid in 2004, and an additional 50-ish in London in 2005. This gives us an average of 40.3 people per year.

    This number needs to be put in perspective, to understand if 40 people per year is a lot or a little. Apparently, it must be a terrible lot, since so many repressive policies are justified by this number, right? So next, we go to the European Detailed Mortality Database to compare this number to other causes of death in Europe.

    To our surprise, we find that drowning in bathtubs kills over five times as many people as terrorism – 223 per year! We need to pull all the taxpayer billions from fighting terrorism immediately and put them to work against bathtubs. They are more than five times as dangerous as terrorism!

    Even more, over six times as many die from falling off chairs – 254 people per year. We should be spending billions fighting chairs!

    Worse still, 941 people per year die from falling out of beds – 941 people per year. That’s over twenty times as many as die from terrorism.

    This leads us to the conclusion that fear-mongering policymakers don’t want to see published in hard data:

    The data doesn’t justify the decisions and policy.

    But we haven’t gotten to the worst European killer in this collection yet. One that kills over a hundred times more than terrorism. This evil killer, this savage monster that reaps European sons and daughters like wheat in the field. This cause of death reaps 4,362 people per year.

    I speak, of course, of the staircase.

    Staircases like this one kill us because they hate our freedoms and want to destroy our way of life.

    4,362 people die every year in Europe from falling down staircases – over two orders of magnitude more than terrorism. Since we’re spending billions fighting terrorism, we need to spend at least trillions fighting staircases, according to the data.

    Now, these numbers are presented to show that the danger from terrorism is minute compared to other causes of death, and that taxpayer funds spent fighting terrorism isn’t justified by the actual threat as displayed by hard data. Thus, there are ulterior motives. Control, perhaps. Profit, perhaps. Scaring people into submission, perhaps. Excuses for wiretapping and surveillance, perhaps. All of the above, perhaps.

    To defend the policies, you’ll have no hard time at all finding a politician who will react to these numbers claiming that the number of fatalities from terrorism is so low just because billions are spent fighting it. This kind of bullshit statement ranks straight up there with “We pray to these rocks every night for the sun to rise again in the morning, and therefore, the sun has kept rising every morning. Our method has been a remarkable success.” In short, correlation does not imply causation – the therefore in the middle of the sentence is plain made-up bullshit.

    For another illustration of the deception in this reasoning, consider the statement “Nine out of ten people who die in mountainside skiing accidents lack flotation life jackets.”

    The basics of evidence-based policy that most politicians still have to learn.

    Rather, I have been anything but impressed with the forces spending these taxpayer billions. You hear the occasional “terror plot foiled!” in the media among cries of success, but once you start scratching on the surface, it turns out that the suspects were all acquitted for very good reason. I see James Bond wannabes who mostly behave like the clumsy Kling and Klang from Pippi Longstocking or like the fumbling les Dupondts from the Tintin albums. In Sweden, when the security police were caught breaking the law and the constitution, they were even let off for being too incompetent to stand trial.

    We could be saving many, many more Europeans by spending those billions fighting bathtubs. And staircases.

    The key point of this article is this:

    The hard numbers on terrorism invalidate the current policies mercilessly.

    • In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

      Although you have changed the topic, you do bring up an interesting point, which is whether the resources currently spent on preventing terrorism are worth it. Perhaps resources could be better used on something that would save more lives, but the key word here is “perhaps.” The thing is that we should do what we can. What, for instance, can we reasonably do to prevent bathtub drownings or accidental falls from staircases? We can, however, prevent terrorist attacks, and if we weren’t doing what we are currently doing, the number of terror attack victims would be much higher. Therefore, siting a low number of terror victims in Europe does not tell us how many people would have died from terrorism if countries were not actively involved in preventing attacks. The casualty rates from terror attacks in some Muslim countries are very high. And let’s not forget that around 300,000 people died in 9/11, and a single nuclear bomb or biological weapon could easily result in even larger casualties. I think the potential for such atrocities is not so low that we can ignore them.

      This is also not to mention the secondary effects of terrorism, mainly the terror itself. A man dying from tripping on the staircase is not going to effect anything. However, terror can have significant effects on human psyche and activity, and even the economy.

      The people have decided that they fear terrorism more than they fear getting hit by a car, and while they are clearly bad at evaluating risk, I don’t think we need to adopt such a simple utilitarian approach where we only have to count up dead bodies in order to allocate resources. Clearly the public itself chooses preventing terrorism as a major priority (and even if they didn’t say so, their leaders’ heads would roll if they did little to prevent attacks). So I would disagree with the claim that what the NSA is doing isn’t worth it. Yes, there could be other things that we can also focus on, but this shouldn’t be an either or scenario.

      • I think you put some extra zeros on that 9/11 death toll. David’s argument was a bit of a long way of saying that more lives could be saved if the proportions of public spending were less biased towards the war on terror and more towards health and safety.

        But the war on bath tubs was an amusing thought as if bath tubs act with intention – Europe could spend billions on the war on bath tubs and eventually wipe them out, only for those damn shower cubicles then start murdering people in retaliation for the genocide of their colleagues.

        In reply to #25 by secularjew:

        In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

        Although you have changed the topic, you do bring up an interesting point, which is whether the resources currently spent on preventing terrorism are worth it. Perhaps resources could be better used on something that would save more lives, but the key word here is “p…

        • In reply to #30 by Marktony:

          I think you put some extra zeros on that 9/11 death toll. David’s argument was a bit of a long way of saying that more lives could be saved if the proportions of public spending were less biased towards the war on terror and more towards health and safety.

          OMG. My apologies. I really did add a couple extra zeroes to the 9/11 death toll. Of course, it’s 3,000, not 300,000. Too bad it’s too late to fix it. It’s times like this that I’m glad to be writing anonymously. The lesson here, kids, is always proofread.

          And yes, I got what David was getting at, and actually I wouldn’t disagree with the notion that we may be overspending on the war on terror (of course, “the war on terror” could mean a lot of things), though I don’t think what the NSA is doing is a waste.

          I’m with you on the bathtubs.

        • In reply to #30 by Marktony:

          I think you put some extra zeros on that 9/11 death toll. (300,000).

          Or not, just included a bunch of Afghan and maybe Iraqi civilians who also died as a direct consequence of the War on Terra kick started by 9/11. If so, its a conservative estimate, isn’t it.

      • In reply to #25 by secularjew:

        In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

        Although you have changed the topic, you do bring up an interesting point, which is whether the resources currently spent on preventing terrorism are worth it. Perhaps resources could be better used on something that would save more lives, but the key word here is “p…

        What, for instance, can we reasonably do to prevent bathtub drownings or accidental falls from staircases?

        We can replace all staircases with elevators,
        and about bathtubs, well, mandatory rubber inlays for all newly sold bathtubs, or a easy to reach panic button that calls the medics, or some intelligent vibration sensor that when it feels a human head on a blond edge automatically calls the medics.
        We only have to want to do something, there is plenty that could be done.

        And about a other sinister killer, alcohol and driving, we could put mandatory breathalysers on each cars ignition, so that drunk driving could be prevented by almost 100%.
        I’m not saying we should do it. Tthis would be a huge trespassing on individual freedoms of people that haven’t been caught in the past for DUI, such measures should be only reserved for repeat offenders, but you know, if we can wiretap everyone for “may be being a terrorist” we could also breathalyse everyone for “may be being a drunk driver”.

        We can, however, prevent terrorist attacks, and if we weren’t doing what we are currently doing, the number of terror attack victims would be much higher.

        This kind of bullshit statement ranks straight up there with “We pray to these rocks every night for the sun to rise again in the morning, and therefore, the sun has kept rising every morning. Our method has been a remarkable success.” In short, correlation does not imply causation.

        This is also not to mention the secondary effects of terrorism, mainly the terror itself. A man dying from tripping on the staircase is not going to effect anything. However, terror can have significant effects on human psyche and activity, and even the economy.

        Well, but the real terrorists (those whom spread the actual terror) are not the suicide murderers, but the media and the government whom feds the media.

        People wouldn’t be so irrationally afraid of a few exploding nuts if they wouldn’t be so terrorized by the way this rare and almost irrelevant events are presented.

        David X.

        • In reply to #39 by DavidXanaos:

          The “correlation does not imply causation” argument does not apply here. While we, of course, can not know how many deaths we would’ve had if we were not trying to prevent attacks, we can with certainty say that we would have had many MORE of them. How do we know? Well, besides common sense (do you really think our agencies achieve nothing?), we know plots were foiled according to the media, CIA, FBI, etc.

          And, again, while I don’t disagree that people are bad at evaluating risks (car accidents kill more people than terrorists) and that we may find ways to spend money more wisely, this doesn’t mean that what the NSA is doing (or for that matter, any police-type agency) is a waste. As for cars with breathalyzers, they’re coming, but not all changes can be achieved quickly. Regardless, this doesn’t have to be an either or scenario.

          • Not really. It is possible that the radicalism of some of the terrorists who murdered those 40 people (or some of those who have since been detected before they acted) was significantly influenced by some action taken as part of the ‘war on terror’. We can’t say either way.

            Regarding the OP, at least we are getting some public debate about the oversight of these programmes. I hear Snowden is now in Russia. There needs to be some sort of international court that rules on these whistle blower cases on public interest grounds.

            In reply to #47 by secularjew:

            In reply to #39 by DavidXanaos:

            The “correlation does not imply causation” argument does not apply here. While we, of course, can not know how many deaths we would’ve had if we were not trying to prevent attacks, we can with certainty say that we would have had many MORE of them. How do we know? We…

          • I should then clarify that I was specifically talking about the NSA program, our topic du jour, and not any actual wars or whatever else could be meant by “war on terror.”

            In reply to #49 by Marktony:

            Not really. It is possible that the radicalism of some of the terrorists who murdered those 40 people (or some of those who have since been detected before they acted) was significantly influenced by some action taken as part of the ‘war on terror’. We can’t say either way.

        • In reply to #39 by DavidXanaos:

          if we can wiretap everyone for “may be being a terrorist” we could also breathalyse everyone for “may be being a drunk driver”

          That seems much less of an “invasion of privacy”. At least, it would be if the action on a failed breath-test was for the car to refuse to start, until the drivers seat is vacated (detected by the seatbelt warning mechanism) and re-occupied, and the test retried. That would simply be the car ensuring it couldn’t be used by a drunk. No identification of the drunk, no reporting her to the cops. Of course, if it was wired to phone the cops with GPS location, and let them decide whether or not to enforce the law, that would be invasion of privacy and the kind of thing a police state would love to have in its toolbag.

    • In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

      The hard numbers on terrorism invalidate the current policies mercilessly.

      Bathtubs are not secretly plotting trying to find a loophole in our defenses through which to unleash a torrent of thousands or maybe millions of drownings. Your comparison doesn’t work. The fact that the numbers are currently low does not prove that we don’t need to spend billions to keep them that way.

      Michael

      • In reply to #32 by mmurray:

        In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

        The hard numbers on terrorism invalidate the current policies mercilessly.

        Bathtubs’ plan is to kill about 200 users a year. Al Qaida’s plan is to kill about 40 infidels a year. It’s as simple as that! I try to avoid both.

        • In reply to #33 by G_O_D:

          In reply to #32 by mmurray:

          In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

          The hard numbers on terrorism invalidate the current policies mercilessly.

          Bathtubs’ plan is to kill about 200 users a year. Al Qaida’s plan is to kill about 40 infidels a year. It’s as simple as that! I try to avoid both.

          So you think they would pass on killing a few million with a nuke in a container ship if they had the chance?

          Michael

      • In reply to #32 by mmurray:

        In reply to #24 by DavidXanaos:

        The hard numbers on terrorism invalidate the current policies mercilessly.

        Bathtubs are not secretly plotting trying to find a loophole in our defenses through which to unleash a torrent of thousands or maybe millions of drownings. Your comparison doesn’t work. The fact that the numbers are currently low does not prove that we don’t need to spend billions to keep them that way.

        But it is just as true that the fact that the numbers are as low as they are does not prove that the millions we spend helped to keep them this way.

        “To defend the policies, you’ll have no hard time at all finding a politician who will react to these numbers claiming that the number of fatalities from terrorism is so low just because billions are spent fighting it. This kind of bullshit statement ranks straight up there with “We pray to these rocks every night for the sun to rise again in the morning, and therefore, the sun has kept rising every morning. Our method has been a remarkable success.” In short, correlation does not imply causation – the therefore in the middle of the sentence is plain made-up bullshit.”

        So you think they would pass on killing a few million with a nuke in a container ship if they had the chance?

        I don’t think they can in any reasonable way get a nuke.
        Also how does exactly reading everyones facebook page prevents terrorists from getting their hands on a nuke?
        Do you think they would if they would have got something so expensive as a nuke use electronic communications at all?

        I don’t think so, if they would get any real WMD they would be definitely smart enough to use only off line means of communication, or at least strong encryption.

        Nowadays with this obamas bullshit war on piracy, anybody is using strong encryption and anonymity services.
        Well, may be not everybody, but enough to make the correlation of using encryption and having somethign in mind that is worst than watching the most recent block buster for free invalid.
        This bullshit attempt to prevent people form copying media was the single worst nightmare for any intelligence ever.

        And before you say “oh yea, today they would because than know about prism”
        thats not correct, they would if they are anything but stupid assume that any of them may actually be under legal targeted individual surveillance.
        And those not use unnecessary insecure means of communication.

        Those any mass surveillance never targets real terrorists, mass surveillance always only targets the ordinary people, ALWAYS.

        David X.

        • In reply to #40 by DavidXanaos:

          In reply to #32 by mmurray:

          But it is just as true that the fact that the numbers are as low as they are does not prove that the millions we spend helped to keep them this way.

          Agreed but I wasn’t claiming that. I was just pointing out your analogy, while funny, didn’t really address the issue.

          So you think they would pass on killing a few million with a nuke in a container ship if they had the chance?

          I don’t think they can in any reasonable way get a nuke. Also how does exactly reading everyones facebook page prevents terrorists from getting their hands on a nuke?

          I didn’t say it did. This was just a reply to GODs
          claim that AQ are only planning on killing 40 people a year not a defence of what the NSA are doing. Or what GCHQ in the UK are doing.

          Michael

          • Thanks for the link. This is concerning:

            ” By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.

            The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: “We have a light oversight
            regime compared with the US”. “

            In reply to #41 by mmurray:

            In reply to #40 by DavidXanaos:

            In reply to #32 by mmurray:

            But it is just as true that the fact that the numbers are as low as they are does not prove that the millions we spend helped to keep them this way.

            Agreed but I wasn’t claiming that. I was just pointing out your analogy, while funny, d…

  16. In reply to #5 by BanJoIvie:

    I consider myself pretty liberal, but I have to say I have a hard time feeling any outrage over the descriptions of the NSA’s “spying” program.

    It seems to me that statistically analyzing vast amounts of data which happen to include some details of my calling habits – BUT NOT the content of my comm…

    So:
    You receive an E-mail from a local NRA organiser, and a few minutes later you call your Senators. But the content of your call is unknown.
    After receiving a call from your physician, you call a local AIDS testing organisation. But the content of your call remains unknown.
    You log on to an adult Website. But the purpose of your visit is unknown.
    You call the number of a suicide hotline. But no one can deduce what you talked about.
    You make a call to an organisation planning a protest later in the week. But the content of your call is unknown.
    You log on to Richard Dawkins.net – and commented on this article. But no one knows what you read here or wrote.

    It is for this reason that “collection of metadata” matters. Because you can deduce quite a bit from who people call or what Websites they visit, despite not having anything to do with any putative security reasons. I prefer freedom to security myself, because there can never be enough security to stop those who would do harm, but you can take away everyone’s privacy attempting to impose it.

    • In reply to #28 by Curious James:

      [...] It is for this reason that “collection of metadata” matters. Because you can deduce quite a bit from who people call or what Websites they visit, despite not having anything to do with any putative security reasons. I prefer freedom to security myself, [...]

      You are making the same argument as Uriel-238, and I refer you to my comment #17 for a response.

      I fully acknowledge the many possible misuses of the type of metadata NSA collects. It simply does not follow however that any actual abuse has occurred or will occur simply because it is possible. Nor can we infer that the possible misuses of any given tool automatically outweigh the benefits derived from its proper use. Almost any weapon has two edges, but that does not make unilateral disarmament a good strategy in the face of armed foes.

      I also reject your implied false dichotomy between freedom and security. I believe we can have both if we seek reasonable compromises and avoid oversimplified, all-or-nothing analysis.

      Simply pointing out the things the government might do with such data is an incompomplete and insufficient argument at best. At worst it is conspiricist fearmongering.

      • In reply to #56 by BanJoIvie:

        Simply pointing out the things the government might do with such data is an incompomplete and insufficient argument at best. At worst it is conspiricist fearmongering.

        May I refer you to my comment #50?

        The fact that our governments felt the need to keep these programs secret from the public (which is in no way necessary for them to work) and the fact that those responsible lied and misrepresented them to our elected representatives who were supposed to exercise oversight (for which there is not even the weakest excuse) are strong indications for abuse.

        At the very least the governments are saying: Trust us, constitutional limits, a public debate or even proper legislative oversight are harmful in this case, we know better. Which is a sentiment unworthy of a democracy.

        History shows that authority and power tend to be abused, which is why constitutions establish safeguards and limits to keep this tendency in check. Demolishing these checks and balances because they get in the way of whatever policy you deem necessary is the single greatest threat a democratic society could face. You don’t only have to trust the current administration (and all its employees and contractors with clearance), you also have to trust all possible future administrations – an impossible thing to do. The only way to prevent the abuse of power is not to grant too much power to a single organization in the first place.

        By defending this government behaviour you are welcoming to be lied to by your government and you are approving the undermining of legislative oversight.

        By the way, three weeks ago the very idea of NSA and GCHQ having such broad powers and technical capabilities would have been deemed conspiracist fearmongering…

        • In reply to #57 by Play Nicely:

          May I refer you to my comment #50? [...]

          Yes, I read your comment #50. I found there, as in many of your other comments, a lot of assertions without much substance.

          I would think that the need for secrecy in such a progam would be self evident. Forgive me if I don’t take your assertion that it would have worked just fine in the open, nor your claims about the real motivation for secrecy at face value.

          Neither do I see any evidence for your claims that legislators were lied to about the program.

          No, the program does not “basically amoun[t] to a wiretap of the whole population”. Not even close.

          You are engaging in hyperbole to make your points, and for my money it makes them less credible rather than more.

          • In reply to #63 by BanJoIvie:

            The evidence that legislators were lied to is right there: Search for “clapper wyden” on youtube. The first video (posted by BigChannelNews) should be the one where the exchange between Senator Wyden and NSA Director Clapper takes place. Clapper was under oath there. Add to that that several representatives said they were surprised or shocked by the extent of the surveillance and you seriously maintain they were not lied to and were instead able to exercise their oversight properly?

            So a wiretap of the whole population is not what that amounts to? Intercepting and saving the telephone call metadata, content of e-mails and instant messaging, search histories and contents of skype calls is not what the 4th amendment was intended to cover? These things are not comparable to wiretapping? One could easily make an argument how this is in several ways more invasive than wiretapping, a discussion about semantics does not tend to hurt my point here at all.

            On the one hand i am told that we basically sort of knew about these surveillance capabilities before, and on the other their disclosure harms them – which is it? I can rephrase my argument: Any competent criminal, let alone any terrorist will act as if constantly under surveillance. They will regularly switch identities, use strong encryption, communicate in some form of code language and generally avoid leaving traces. Nothing of which requires them knowing of any mass surveillance at all – the assumption of good old policework is completely sufficient, therefore, nothing changes for the supposed targets of the programs.

            Furthermore you completely ignore my main point: Even if you deem mass surveillance and it remaining a secret necessary for national security does not mean it’s constitutional. Democracies do not have all the tools at their disposal that Despots have, and that is a good thing. If you can’t do it in a constitutional way, you can’t do it without amending the constitution, period. Some insecurity must be accepted in order to maintain a free society.

        • In reply to #57 by Play Nicely:

          By defending this government behaviour you are welcoming to be lied to by your government

          An American friend explained to me – during the run up to the 2004 election – that the American people not only don’t mind their government lying to them, they expect it, demand it, even. On the basis, I think, that if they weren’t lying they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.

  17. I completely do, i was wondering if i could keep this subject out of this forum, but it seems the day has come. Have you heard of the New World Order (i.e. One world government)?
    If you want to research that more deeply i warn you that you must keep yourself away from people like alex jones, davd icke, jordan maxwell, project camelot and avalon and all the ET stuff, you should read “Behold a Pale Horse” of William Milton Cooper, it is gonna blow your mind

    • In reply to #29 by Frank Ohsawa:

      Don’t read that conspiracy junk! Read this! Ugh. Stick to reported facts. Some things are under-reported, but those will always be based on evidenced facts, witnessed and mechanically recorded statements and so on, not “puzzling mysteries” and insinuations. Direct information is available describing bad action. It’s reasonable to suppose something then look for evidence for or against. It’s not reasonable to assume it and jump on any pattern that seems vaguely related to tout as “evidence”.

  18. I would say that this is a disturbing trend that is becoming a problem all over the world, not just in the US. People have become very complacent. No one protests any more. We are sitting ducks for increasingly fascist ‘democratic’ Govts. Freedom only has to be eroded incrementally, with the majority being barely aware that it’s happening, and before you know it, we are living in a Police State. I can definitely see it as a possibility. Remember that ‘Democracies’ are basically just dictatorships, where we vote a small group of people in every three or four years, and give them a free rein to do pretty much as they please. It seems that everything humans have strove and died for over millenniums is being taken away at an alarming rate.

  19. NAZI – used burning of Reichstag as excuse for removal of citizen rights in the Weimer constitution,
    Law for the protection of the people” arrest without due process of law, (Schutzstaffel), SS security for political leaders
    Gestapo: authority to identify and arrest political opposition,Directives 287 Fuehrer’s Headquarters
    16 September 41, HItler authorization to use military force against “insurrection
    USA – Used 9/11 attacks on twin towers for removal of citizen rights in the U.S constitiution,”National Defense Authorization Act”
    arrest without due process of law,Secret Service,SS security for political leaders,Homeland Security authority to identify and arrest political opposition,Warner act president authorization to use military force against “insurection”

  20. You’re not exactly the first to consider it :)

    IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE
    A Novel by SINCLAIR LEWIS (1935)

    However, the emphasis on Obama is mistaken, I think. The house and the senate, despite their populist and conspiratorial howling, are as much if not more responsible for this. They have consistently failed to require or enforce oversight, and have simply rolled over for the “national security” argument without enforcing safeguards. Frankly, this is more true of the Republicans, despite their Libertarian pretensions. Liberty, in their view, is primarily for the benefit of the rich, allowing their oppression of the poor to continue unimpeded.

    The only take-over that has happened has been by the Koch-funded tea party, and in their extremism and paranoia they have manifestly failed to allow the state to function well, never mind to assist with its operation. This should not be a surprise– one should not let the guy with a mallet and an “I hate turtles” T-shirt run your turtle sanctuary or an arsonist run the fire department.

  21. I laughed my arse off when Obama gave his speech at the Brandenburg Gate.

    Extolling the virtues of democracy and free speech in Germany, whilst presiding over the transformation of the USA into the old East Germany.

    • In reply to #43 by Krasny:

      I laughed my arse off when Obama gave his speech at the Brandenburg Gate.

      Extolling the virtues of democracy and free speech in Germany, whilst presiding over the transformation of the USA into the old East Germany.

      I’m sorry, but that is utter nonsense. As someone who came from a place much like East Germany and had relatives harassed and spied on by the secret police, your comparing of Obama to the KGB or the Stasi is absurd. The Stasi used surveillance to commit crimes; they were trying to control and crack down on people who were not criminals. Who is controlling you in the US? What harm has been done to you? Nobody is listening to your phone calls or reading your e-mail (not without a good reason and a court order anyway). The CIA doesn’t give a shit if you visited a porn site or whatever. All they are looking for are links between networks in a database of information so large that if you think anyone is reading your e-mail, you might as well be that homeless guy on the street corner who raves about the government trying to control you through radio transmissions. Besides, everything that you’re afraid the government is doing has long been done by banks, credit card companies, and other private entities that actually don’t have the public’s interest in mind. Honestly, it’s amusing to see folks overreact to this. It’s like someone seeing a security camera in Disneyland and concluding that this is exactly the dystopia described in “1984″.

      • In reply to #48 by secularjew:

        In reply to #43 by Krasny:

        I laughed my arse off when Obama gave his speech at the Brandenburg Gate.

        Extolling the virtues of democracy and free speech in Germany, whilst presiding over the transformation of the USA into the old East Germany.

        I’m sorry, but that is utter nonsense. As someone who…

        @Secular: I said TURNING into the old East Germany, not equating the USA with the old East Germany. In other words the USA are on a path, that if nothing is done, will result in a modern version of the old East Germany. It’s already become a corporate state, so it’s not surprising that the USA is using terrorism as a casus belli to defend itself against the inevitable popular backlash against the security state.

        • In reply to #53 by Krasny:

          OK, and I say we have a long way to go before such a transformation. I’m not saying that we should ignore the potentials for abuse, I’m just saying that focusing on the methods of surveillance is not as important as focusing on why and how they are used.

  22. No, nor that we need to spend billions to keep them low. The way everything is kept secret and mysterious prevents any assessment from being made. We just have to trust people whose main instinct is the acquisition of power that they will not abuse a mechanism that gives them massive unaccountable power.

  23. To any defender of PRISM and TEMPORA:

    The very first issue is not wether or not that kind of surveillance is necessary, useful or appropriate. It is the fact that our elected governments kept it secret for no other reason than the fear of public opinion. Furthermore they repeatedly misrepresented the actual reach of these programs to our congressmen and MPs, making effective legislative oversight impossible. Even if you think it is absolutely necessary to have these programs in place to defend “our way of life”, it is simply not the government’s call to make that decision and to lie about it to our elected representatives. There is no argument that these programs needed to be secret in order to stop terrorism, as anybody actually involved in criminal activity has to assume surveillance and act accordingly anyway.

    My second important point is, that even if you have nothing to hide or that you trust the agencies that they are not interested in trivialities of your personal life, such broad power affects you: Any person who gets into a position of influence (such as elected representatives, leading businesspeople, opposition leaders and journalists) now has a rich backlog of personal information waiting to be used against them: You wouldn’t want your little affair get public, would you? So better accept these more favorable terms in the deal you are negotiating right now. The power PRISM and TEMPORA give relativily small groups of people entails being able to find embarrassing or incriminating information about just about anyone. Such an abuse of power might never have taken place (although i doubt that very much) but the lack of oversight and accountability means there is neither a way to ensure it doesn’t happen nor is there a way to determine wether it has happened.

    This is why its a scandal. And these are the reasons why “the terrorists are after us” is simply a non-argument in this discussion. If we have to twist our constitutions into pretzels in order to defend “our way of life”, we have already lost what’s worth defending in the first place.

    • In reply to #50 by Play Nicely:

      To any defender of PRISM and TEMPORA:

      The very first issue is not wether or not that kind of surveillance is necessary, useful or appropriate. It is the fact that our elected governments kept it secret for no other reason than the fear of public opinion. Furthermore they repeatedly misrepresented t…

      Clearly, many people are either disturbed by the program itself or think it is needed, so you can’t say that the program’s purpose is unimportant to this discussion. Ignoring public necessity invalidates even your own argument for why the government’s actions are wrong.
      And secrecy is not necessarily the same as lying, though as far a secrets go, this really wasn’t much of one. I also disagree with some of your assumptions, like your claim that the only reason this program was kept secret was due to fear of public opinion. The last time the CIA, FBI, and the NSA were transparent was never.

      And as some of us have been saying, potential for abuse is not the same thing as abuse. We shouldn’t avoid doing important things simply because someone could potentially misuse our methods. This data already exists and it is a question of whether the government has legitimate need to access it. I think it does, but I would not be opposed to reasonable precautionary measures to prevent abuses.

      • In reply to #58 by secularjew:

        Clearly, many people are either disturbed by the program itself or think it is needed, so you can’t say that the program’s purpose is unimportant to this discussion. Ignoring public necessity invalidates even your own argument for why the government’s actions are wrong. And secrecy is not necessarily the same as lying, though as far a secrets go, this really wasn’t much of one. I also disagree with some of your assumptions, like your claim that the only reason this program was kept secret was due to fear of public opinion. The last time the CIA, FBI, and the NSA were transparent was never.

        Public necessity of a proposed policy is indeed irrelevant to the question of wether it came about and is being maintained by unconstitutional or illegal means. My argument is therefore in no way invalidated by it.

        I laid out my reason why the fear of public opinion is in my estimation the only reason for the secrecy, which is that disclosure does not harm the programs’ supposed goal of fighting terrorism. I concede there might be other reasons as well but none of those seem to have quite the force and relevance to explain this level of secrecy as the one i proposed. “This is how we have always done this” is certainly no valid excuse for a very probably unconstitutional way of policymaking (i.e. shutting out public discourse).

        As to your remark that this wasn’t much of a secret: Not only would I have been widely dismissed as a conspiracy theorist only a month ago for speculating about what we now know as fact, even many elected representatives were surprised and shocked by the extent of the programs they were supposed to execute oversight over.

        In reply to #58 by secularjew:

        And as some of us have been saying, potential for abuse is not the same thing as abuse. We shouldn’t avoid doing important things simply because someone could potentially misuse our methods.

        Potential for abuse is not the same thing as abuse, but, as the writers of numerous democratic constitutions knew, it makes it very likely and is crucial to avoid. In this case not only was a lot of power (and therefore potential for abuse) concentrated in one organization, existing checks and balances were systematically undermined, which really is a pretty good way to make abuse the expected outcome. And it is not like allegations of abuse have never been made in this context – we just don’t have any definite legal proof because any investigation quickly gets shut down on the grounds of “national security”.

        Sometimes democratic societies have to let a killer run free in order to maintain their liberties. Due process sometimes helps criminals. Such is the price of a free society. It is however by far outweighed by the benefits of not having to endure the caprice of despotic authorities. If you really think massive warrantless surveillance of global communications is necessary get the constitution properly amended and accept the voters’ verdict in the following election.

        • In reply to #59 by Play Nicely:

          I disagree that the program is illegal, and as far as the Constitution goes, it is sufficiently old and vague enough to inspire different interpretations. Certainly the founding fathers could not have envisioned the internet or meta-data. The NSA program went through proper channels and there are special courts and court orders for reading e-mails and bugging phones. You may not approve of the program or government secrecy, but it is not illegal. Also, plenty of politicians and journalists knew about this prior to the scandal, and many others assumed it was happening, so this really isn’t that big of a surprise, though I’ll grant you most people probably didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of the scope.

          Your other argument seems to rest on a flawed cost benefit analysis. You believe that the potential harm of this program is so great that even if there are benefits from it, like preventing nuclear terrorist attacks, they are simply not worth it. Besides the fact that you are willing to sacrifice a solution to a real and present problem in order to avoid some unclear future problem, I frankly can’t imagine what kind of a nightmare scenario you are envisioning that would so affect your thinking.

          • In reply to #61 by secularjew:

            Well, for example the 4th amendment requires for any searches to be conducted there needs to be a specific warrant detailing which person is to be searched for what alleged crime. Since the NSA has now been revealed to be doing what basically amounts to a wiretap of the whole population I would say it’s a pretty clear case. Of course they will (and have been) come up with a number of legal “tricks” to make technically legal what the 4th amendment pretty deliberately tried to prevent, but in any case clearly constitutional with no question marks it certainly isn’t. In addition to that NSA director Clapper lied (or deliberately misrepresented) to Congess when he was under oath answering the question if millions of Americans were being surveilled with a clear “No. Not wittingly.”.

            Again, on the point of secrecy: Not only were we (and that includes at least some of our elected representatives in Congress) unaware of the huge scale of the surveillance, it being secret means that there is no recourse in cases of wrongful surveillance and no way to challenge the constitutionality of the matter, since that would require standing which in turn would require any particular person to be able to prove he or she is being watched (which nobody can since this very information is secret).

            That you mention the prevention of nuclear terrorist attacks on the side of the certain tangible benefit whilst dismissing the potential of abuse as hypothetical is quite presumtuous, as there is no evidence for a) nuclear capabilities in the hands of terrorists, b) that terrorists tried a nuclear attack in the past, c) that the mass surveillance played any necessary part in preventing such an attack and d) that mass surveillance is actually likely to prevent such an attack in the future. Whereas there are hints of actual abuse of power (for example the 2008 ABC story about NSA staff routinely listening to private conversations of US soldiers with their loved ones for entertainment).

            My cost-benefit analysis does not require actual abuse to have happened. Setting up the program and sabotaging its safeguards in a way that allows for democracy-endangering abuse (I am not talking about mere privacy issues, I am talking about the power to put pressure on anybody they don’t like) is all the cost I need to outweigh a remote chance of thwarting a terrorist attack that could not also have been thwarted by constitutionally unproblematic means as well. Add to this cost the actual expense to the United States, pouring hundreds of millions of Dollars into these programs, employing skilled professionals who could use their expertise to contribute to the economy instead and it doesn’t look like such a great deal at all.

            But, to make that clear, if i had to accept the false dichotomy and ultimately had to choose between one dirty bomb every year and concentrating dangerous amounts of power without effective oversight in one organization I would actually choose the dirty bombs. Seriously. Life is dangerous, letting criminals run free is dangerous, the world is dangerous. None of those terrifying things however can even begin to outweigh the benefits of a free society.

          • In reply to #62 by Play Nicely:

            It’s hard to take your objections to the program seriously because you can’t explain what harm is caused by it, nor define this game-changing nightmare scenario you’re so paranoid about beyond some vague inferences about the program being used against us. If we were to follow that logic we wouldn’t have the army or the police department or even the US census.

            Here’s one of the problems with fears of the NSA program leading to a 1984-type, fascist police state, besides, of course, that it is ridiculous to think that that’s what causes dictatorships. Tyrannies and unscrupulous leaders will do whatever they need to anyway. The KGB didn’t need the public’s permission and Putin doesn’t need it now (by the way, the irony of Snowden seeking shelter in China and Russia should not be lost on you). Bush was not a dictator, but he was able to change the rules to allow warrantless surveillance and nobody stopped him (and that was probably the least damaging thing that the guy did). You fear that information can be used to put pressure on anyone that the government doesn’t like, but that can be done regardless of the NSA. This data already exists, so you might as well let the good guys have access to it so they can foil more terrorist attacks and save some lives (and nobody is reading your e-mails without a good reason and a warrant, and if you think that they are, you don’t fully comprehend what the NSA is doing). To quote Sam Harris, “We can’t idiot-proof the Presidency.” The best thing we can do is elect good leaders and try to fight abuses, but the NSA program itself is not a form of abuse.

          • In reply to #67 by secularjew:

            In this discussion I have laid out the problematic scenario several times. Government agencies abusing their power is the textbook example of a threat to democracy itself. History provides numerous examples of the scenario I laid out, take for example the case of the FBI which recorded evidence for an extramarital affair of Martin Luther King which was used to blackmail him. It is your choice not to take that scenario seriously, but let me repeat myself: We have set up a concentration of power without proper oversight that begs to be abused. It might not be, but we have no way of knowing that, let alone effectively prevent it. The reach of this power and the ability not to leave any evidence of abuse behind are unprecedented and should in my view definitely be avoided.

            How you put it (“nightmare scenario”, “paranoid”) is pure rethoric devoid of any argument.

            I remember there was quite a bit of debate about the Patriot Act and similar pushes to sacrifice civil liberties and due process in the name of national security – a public debate that has never taken place in the case of mass surveillance. I also seem to remember that a certain Senator Obama promised to turn this around and to put an end to illegal wiretapping. One could say that, even if you think it is okay for a government to secretly set up such a program, based on what was promised the people were justified to expect the president would put an end to any program that entails mass surveillance.

            It may surprise you that dictators often actually do change a few crucial parts in the law to seize the powers, to legitimize their rule and to retain a fig-leaf of democracy. Of course a constitution is no guarantee against that, but it establishes a series of roadblocks that significantly slows down the process. Furthermore it defines a clear line for the population to see when their country is in danger of sliding into tyranny and when it is time to resist. The founders have been very careful and deliberate to include these constitutional safeguards and your flippant dismissal of them shows an alarming lack of appreciation of their value.

            I have never indicated that I think the NSA is interested in reading my personal correspondence. They are storing everything to be read should the need arise, be it a genuine concern about national security or a case of abuse when the government or the agency decides I have become some kind of nuisance that needs to be dealt with. My concern is not so much that they can see my backlog, it is that they can see the backlog of my elected representatives, being able to apply pressure that I might never know about. In addition to that tens of thousands of analysts, both NSA staff and private contractors, were reported to have access to the database – even if the NSA are in fact the “good guys” (a reputation they have not earned in my opinion) this is a huge number of people one has to trust.

            That these programs can foil more terrorist attacks is a claim made by the same people I am supposed to entrust with this massive amount of power. No independent study shows that actually to be the case, just as I don’t buy the argument that a public debate and proper safeguards need to be avoided for the fighting of terrorism to be successful. But, as I have also expressed several times in this discussion: Ability to fight terrorism is by no means a sufficient condition for a policy to override the law and the constitution.

            That this data already exists is false. Bits and pieces of it exist independently of the NSA. The difference is significant, as a) it is nowhere else to be found comprehensively in one place (which makes exploitation much easier, in many cases even possible in the first place), b) it is not secretly mandated by the government (which means you can in principle use the law as a recourse to abuse), c) you can opt out of services that you don’t trust and d) some of the data wouldn’t even be collected and therefore exist without government mandate. Therefore “we only take what’s already there” is a moot point.

          • In reply to #68 by Play Nicely:

            Look, it’s silly of us to indulge these future fantasies when faced with the present reality. We have a very real threat of terrorism and we have an organization that is effectively dealing with this threat (according to the NSA director, the program helped stop 50 terrorist plots). If you don’t take the threat of terrorism seriously, there’s nothing I can say. I disagree that the NSA program is illegal and the claim that it is unconstitutional is debatable too. There have been no abuses that we know of (the 2008 story you sited was never substantiated), but if an abuse occurs, we will deal with it. I am not opposed to safeguards, but there are some safeguards already in place (judges, courts, warrants, etc.)

            You seem to think that just because abuses are possible, it’s not worth the risk. By that logic we shouldn’t have cops because cops can be corrupt. Yes, abuses are possible, but abuses are ALWAYS possible, and the most heinous government abuses are due to the regime in power, and not its surveillance methods. What law could have stopped Hoover when he was able to operate outside the law?

            We live in a democracy and the notion that we will now devolve into a tyranny because our database of information has gotten larger is ridiculous. And if tyrannies come, they will either take power by force or with the support of the people, and no laws will stop them from doing whatever they see fit. But to put your mind at rest, there has only been one US President who broke the law in the way that you fear. It was Richard Nixon and his little escapade ended with him having to resign.

            In your previous comment you wrote that in an either or scenario you would basically choose periodic terror attacks over another Hoover type. I want to assure you as someone who has lived in an actual authoritarian country, that being spied on by the secret police, though it’s nothing I would wish anyone, beats having people die.

          • In reply to #71 by secularjew:

            Well I guess we have sufficiently explored the nature of our disagreement that nothing one of us might say at this point is going to substantially change the other’s position.

            Just to adress your points:

            Army and police are not comparable to mass surveillance because a) the public knows that they exist and how they operate, b) their existence has been legitimized by the vote of majorities of the population, c) there is historical evidence for their usefulness and necessity to a functioning free society and d) their power is limited, there is oversight in place and citizens have recourse should they be wronged by them. This is not to say I am happy with every power they have – anyway, even if i considered them having too large a concentration of power as well wouldn’t make creating a new large concentration of power any better. “But he does it too” does not constitute an argument.

            The magnitude of the terrorist threat and the performance of the NSA in fighting it is speculative, as we have to rely on information provided by this same NSA. “Trust us, the terrorists are everywhere and we do a fantastic job defending you against them. But we need even more money and power to do so.” This is not sufficient to convince any sceptical inquirer.

            That abuses are always possible in no way invalidates the strategy of limiting the potential impact of abuse by limiting the amount of power any single abuser could possibly have.

            That there are effective safeguards in place is a belief that is in my opinion not justified by evidence. The warrants are broad and unspecific, the FISA courts are secret have not rejected even a single request (thus are likely just rubberstamping) and legislative oversight is not only incidentally impossible but was actively prevented by lying to the Senate (Wyden / Clapper).

            That all the safeguards have worked and abuse therefore quickly gets punished is an assesment based on what might well be a sampling error: We only have the sample of abuses that got public and that went to court to work with – of those it is no wonder that a 100% have been detected and a majority have been punished. On the other hand we can’t know how many abuses were successful in neither being detected nor being punished, especially when investigations get routinely shut down in the name of “national security”. This arrangement means that the history of abuses is insufficient to support the notion that abuse is rare and effectively dealt with. It only allows the conclusion that abuse does happen at least rarely.

            Anyway, as I understand it our differences are as follows:

            1) I question the big leap in effectiveness that mass surveillance brings in fighting terrorism over more conventional methods. You rely on the NSA’s estimation that it in fact is necessary to fight terrorism.

            2) I think the “intelligence community” has not earned a reputation that they are worthy of trust. You generally think they are the good guys.

            3) I think the potential for abuse of power is unprecedented (due to the reach of power and lack of oversight) and crucial for a democracy to avoid. You think it is a far fetched scenario that our courts will properly deal with should it happen and is therefore not crucial to be avoided in the first place.

            4) I am convinced that the 4th amendment was intended to prevent just such a scenario. You doubt that it is unconstitutional.

            5) I am pretty sure that our legislators have been lied to (see for example the Wyden vs Clapper exchange) and that this means effective oversight was deliberately prevented, which in turn implies intent for abuse. Your position on this remains somewhat opaque to me.

            6) I think Obama’s promises implied stopping such a program should it exist. Your position on this is unknown to me.

            7) I think ultimately potential loss of life is preferable to potential loss of democracy. You think the opposite (although in fairness I have to say that your premise is that loss of democracy is far less likely in your estimation).

            8) I am pretty sure that the secrecy’s main reason can’t have been that it was necessary for mass surveillance to work (if it was, we could now stop these pograms immediately, since they are almost useless anyway), instead I think the main objective was to prevent public debate and to create an accomplished fact. You think the secrecy might well be crucial for their ability to fight terrorism.

            9) I think constitutional safeguards such as seperation of power and effective oversight are valuable and in fact crucial tools of preventing a transformation into a non-democratic state. You think a determined enough group of people would not be significantly hindered by them therefore they are dispensable.

          • In reply to #75 by Play Nicely:

            I thought my previous post would be my last, but I wanted to challenge the points you made in your analysis of our disagreement, which I must say I enjoyed.

            It’s not that we shouldn’t try to limit abuses, it’s just that your way of limiting abuses (some of which are rather preposterous) is to eliminate the program. That’s like proposing the banning of cars as a solution to car theft.
            As for your distrust of the government, it resembles the position of a conspiracy theorist. Cynicism is not the same as skepticism.

            Now to address your bullet points:

            1) Yes, I believe the program is necessary for helping to stop terrorist acts (I’d say 50 foiled plots is proof of the program’s effectiveness).

            2) I evaluate evidence as it comes and don’t presume anyone is guilty of some unspecified crime. And I called them the good guys because their job is catching criminals and preserving public safety. Those are good things. Obviously, I wasn’t trying to give blanket approval to everything this agency may have done in its existence.

            3) I do think that major abuses are unlikely, but I am not against safeguards. I just don’t think that any abuses warrant the elimination of the program, and I think that your belief that there is a total lack of oversight and that the president will now be easily able to commit crimes or whatever is unfounded.

            4) Constitutional Law can be a complicated subject. The founding fathers, who could not have foreseen and therefore properly dealt with many of the issues we are dealing with today, wrote that you can’t have unreasonable searches and seizures. But one can argue that collecting meta-data is not unreasonable, or that these are not really seizures or searches in the legal sense, or that the digital trail created when you visit sites or use the internet is not the property of the individual, or that this is something like eminent domain, and so on. However, I am not a constitutional lawyer, so I’ll let others handle that question. I am more interested in whether the law is right or wrong.

            5) I see zero evidence that there was any intent for abuse. And the whole Clapper/Wyden thing is much ado about nothing. The NSA gathers meta-data, and not creating files on all Americans or anything like that. So when forced to answer the somewhat incongruous question, “Does NSA collect information on Americans?”, Clapper said “No, not wittingly.” The “not wittingly” part, by the way, is an admission that information is collected, not a denial; it’s just collected in a different way than Clapper thought was being implied. Either way, I don’t see a lie here. And so what if some legislators didn’t know about this program. Most legislators don’t know what’s going on in the Agriculture Department either. First of all, intelligence agencies don’t just share everything with all the politicians. Secondly, there were plenty of politicians and journalists who knew about the program.

            6) Not sure what you meant with this one. I believe that Obama is a rational and uncorrupt man, and if he becomes aware of any abuses, he will address them.

            7) I’ve lived in the former Soviet Union and let me tell you, I’d rather have the KGB listen in on my phone calls than have bombs going off in a market. And according to a historian of atrocities, Matthew White, chaos is deadlier than tyranny.

            8) Secrecy can be necessary for security, for diplomacy, and for effectiveness. And a criminal usually doesn’t know that he’s been bugged until he’s caught. Even wariness is not certainty, and we always want the criminals to be as oblivious as possible. However, it is also foolish to think that the NSA immediately sniffs out all networks and listens in on the plots (the Boston bombers were not foiled).

            9) No, I’m just saying that democracy itself is the best safeguard against tyranny. Ironically, democracy can also usher in tyranny because the only way such a regime could come to power, besides seizing it by force, is with the support of the people. Perhaps you will now suggest that we eliminate democracy to prevent such an abuse from happening? ;)

          • In reply to #76 by secularjew:

            So it all comes down to a difference in trust. I am tending to distrust government compared to you, while you are tending to trust it compared to me. The rest of our different opinions on that matter flow from there. Interestingly this includes value judgements of facts that might be conflicting with our respective positions, for example for me the Clapper / Wyden exchange is evidence for legislative oversight being sabotaged while for you it is much ado about nothing. We judge the situation differently so that it supports and justifies our different levels of trust in the government respectively.

            In a way this is worrying, as each of us feels that his own position is objectively justified by a host of facts, when it is instead only justified by our own subjective take on the facts, which in turn might well be influenced by the very position we want to justify in the first place.

            The obvious question at this point is: How can we objectively determine the level of trust government has deserved? This might well be impossible to answer.

          • In reply to #77 by Play Nicely:

            We have different views of reality, so we are making different judgments.
            For example, I don’t understand why you would perceive the Clapper Wyden exchange as proof of sabotage. If I asked you, “Did you crash the car?” and you answered, “No, not on purpose,” a reasonable person would not conclude from this that you are denying that the accident occurred, nor see this as evidence of you intentionally crashing the car or sabotaging my investigation.

            And yes, while I do trust our government more, it is not because I have some blind, implicit trust in its leaders (although some leaders are more trustworthy than others). It is because I trust the system more. Suppose some dictator-type decided to secretly do a similar surveillance program in his country in order to crack down on dissidents. First of all, nobody would stop him from doing it because he’s the guy who makes all the decisions and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Secondly, if news got out that he was doing it and arresting people who are critical of his regime, those in the public who are foolish or brave enough to express disapproval would not be able to challenge the policy even if they wanted to. Meanwhile, the arrested dissident would be unlikely to get a fair trial. The media isn’t free, so they are not going to criticize the leader or reveal his wrongdoing. Nor would his cronies in the government, provided they would even want to, be able to properly challenge him. And there’d be no real election that would allow for a change in the regime either.
            This is simply not the situation we have in the United States. The truth is that Putin can get away with things that Nixon couldn’t, and it’s silly not to recognize that.

          • In reply to #78 by secularjew:

            For example, I don’t understand why you would perceive the Clapper Wyden exchange as proof of sabotage. If I asked you, “Did you crash the car?” and you answered, “No, not on purpose,” a reasonable person would not conclude from this that you are denying that the accident occurred, nor see this as evidence of you intentionally crashing the car or sabotaging my investigation.

            First of all, the way he answers gives something away. He says “No”, with quite a long pause (as if he remembered he is under oath) to add “Not wittingly”, with the body language of a person under stress, both of which imply that he knows he is not telling the truth.

            Secondly, do you really maintain that Senator Wyden got the right idea from Clappers reply? Many a lie is not what was technically said, but the intentional deceit of another person. You can not see Senator Wyden being deceived in this instance? The legalistic argument that what he said may technically not be a lie does not convince me at all. If X is the truth and A deliberately says X in such a way that B will assume X is not the truth, A is telling B a lie.

            Finally, “Not wittingly” is still a lie. The NSA is deliberately intercepting and storing information about millions of Americans and they are perfectly aware of it. They are not denying it post-Snowden. And why not let Clapper speak for himself: “I gave the least untruthful answer possible”. There you go.

            On the Putin point: I am not saying the United States are where Russia is right now in terms of repression. That there are and could be much worse regimes does not excuse the faults of our own, though. And, more importantly, I don’t want the USA to get even close. Not granting powers that dictators have at their disposal is one important strategy to prevent that. Excusing our own government for being creative with the truth, for claiming and granting powers in a constitutionally questionable way and downplaying any undesirable side effects seem to work in the opposite direction, if you ask me.

          • In reply to #79 by Play Nicely:

            You’re making too big a deal of this Clapper business (and since when are you a body language expert?). He just tried to give the best answer he could to a slightly incongruous question without giving away what was classified information. Maybe it wasn’t a great answer, and maybe he was being evasive, but even Wyden does not believe that Clapper was lying, just that he wasn’t forthcoming. If this is your smoking gun to a great government conspiracy, don’t hit the presses just yet. This is how Washington works. There are often brushes between various branches and departments of government. Mostly, these hearings serve as occasions for grandstanding by politicians who generally already know the answers to their questions. And just because Wyden was not in the loop, doesn’t mean there was no oversight. In fact, there are several oversight committees, including SSCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

            My point with Putin was to show you that our system does not allow for the kind of major abuses you seem to fear. So no need to worry about some improbable future crime. To say that this program moves the US one step closer to a repressive regime is like saying that owning a knife will get you closer to becoming Jack the Ripper.

          • In reply to #80 by secularjew:

            Nice of you to conveniently move the goalposts to where we’ve already been. At first you challenge me on the point that Clapper was lying, then after I made my case you play the “yeah, no big deal, that’s just how Washington works” card that I already dealt with when the secrecy was to be considered unproblematic because it was business-as-usual.

            Despite the existence of the SSCI, there seem to be quite a lot of Senators and Representatives who, by their own account, seem to not have been “in the loop”. Senator Feinstein? The same Senator Feinstein that supported the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which legalized warrantless surveillance? The same one who opposed proposed provisions that tried to introduce minimal oversight and accountability? I am almost tempted to conclude that legislative oversight by a small committee chaired by a loyal supporter of the NSA’s case in Congress is not sufficient, given that many of the other members of Congress were apparently left in the dark about the actual reach of the programs they were legalizing.

            I am not arguing that Congress wouldn’t have approved if they were better informed (in fact I suspect they would have approved anyway), I am trying to point out that even though Congress seemed to be sympathetic to their cause they thought it was a good idea to misrepresent their own activity to our legislators. Which is just one more indicator of what the “intelligence community” thinks it gets away with if we entrust them with certain powers.

            That our system does not allow for the kind of abuse that I fear is not supported by evidence, as this kind of abuse already happened right here with much less sophisticated technology and with more limited powers in place. As I already argued the ones we know of necessarily are the mostly unsuccessful ones, we do not know how much successful abuse has been going on. The one conclusion certainly not supported by this data is that democracy-endangering abuse is impossible in this system.

            We don’t ever need to have a regime as repressive as putin’s for me to consider it “too far” and I didn’t argue that we do, so the pursuit of proving that this is not like russia and won’t be in the future is a pointless endeavour as far as I am concerned. Undermining of democracy can be more subtle than that. My concern is that an instrument like mass surveillance makes in-your-face-oppression mostly obsolete, achieving a similar goal (of fighting opposition and steering public discourse) in a less visible and less violent way.

          • In reply to #81 by Play Nicely:

            As I already argued the ones we know of necessarily are the mostly unsuccessful ones, we do not know how much successful abuse has been going on.

            So not only have you reversed the concept of “presumption of innocence,” but you are presuming the existence of the crime as well.

            I never moved any goal posts, it’s just that we’re so far apart that you’re playing football and I’m on a basketball court. You never convinced me that Clapper was lying (and by the way, you repeatedly conflate lying with secrecy as if they are both one and the same).

            Intelligence agencies don’t have to keep everyone in Washington in the loop, but oversight committees do exist. If you think more oversight is needed, I’m not going to argue with that. The point is that we, the people, elect our officials, and then these officials do what they believe is best. If you don’t approve of them, you can vote for somebody else. I know you’re worried that this NSA program will undermine our democracy, but it’s usually democracy itself, and not its tools, that undermines democracy (like the people who keep voting for these conservative politicians who think corporations should have the same rights as people).

            We seem to be going in circles. I believe that the program is of definite value and is of little harm. I am not against safeguards, but your idea of a safeguard is to not have the program in the first place. You downplay the problem of terrorism and worry more about some uncertain, future abuses, which you consider to be so bad that no benefit from the program is worth it. I just think that is an extremist position.

          • In reply to #82 by secularjew:

            In reply to #81 by Play Nicely:

            We are indeed arguing in circles.

            I do not presume the crime exists (abuse with the current programs), I presume that favorable conditions for the crime to occur exist, based on historical evidence what these conditions are (government acting without public consultation, broad surveillance powers, difficulty to trace in the case of abuse). In that very paragraph I was showing your claim that serious abuse is impossible in this system to be fallacious. That you now turn this around and use it to argue that I made some broader claim is disingenuous, especially since I have been very careful to point out that we simply can not say how much successful serious abuse is or has been happening.

            Part of the point of my first posting in this thread was to suggest that no, neither the government nor congress can do whatever they deem necessary once elected, on this point you are simply wrong. The limits of what they can do are ultimately defined by the constitution, which can be amended but that needs large majorities in Congress and the State legislatures (among other things) and has to be public. No secret law, no secret interpretation of a law and no national security concern can override this requirement. This is not an extremist position, it is the position of every citizen who recognizes the value of the constitution and who takes it seriously. It is the most modest and basic political position one can take in the US.

            As I have already argued, mass surveillance is likely to be in conflict with the 4th amendment. The wording of the 4th amendment and how it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court over the history of the US support this view, as does the behaviour of the government and the agencies in trying to avoid it being challenged on constitutional grounds. Finding some sneaky way in which it is not technically unconstitutional does not impress me at all. If this policy is really so important, gather enough support to amend the constitution and see how the voters like it in the next election.

            If you have to deceive or misinform the Senate when under oath in order to comply with some requirement to keep a secret you are still telling a lie. I reject the assertion that I confuse the action (lying) with the underlying reason for it (keeping a secret). If you have been asked a question in Senate that you cannot answer without disclosing secret information I am pretty sure that you can say so. For example I don’t think that a NSA director should have to expose an informant even to the Senate and I am sure that such behaviour would have not been an issue, but the question was so broad and unspecific, that no specific covert operation was in danger. Of course he knew that answering with the truth (that he couldn’t give an answer because it was a secret) would have raised a lot of eyebrows so he chose the route of deception. Thus considering Clappers answer a lie is justified.

            As I have already pointed out in another post, we are unlikely to convince each other in any significant way. I have justified my position with a series of mutually supporting arguments, none of which you have actually shown to be fallacious, only calling in question the value judgements involved (with the slight exception that I conceded that fear of public debate was not literally the only reason for the secrecy). On the other hand some of the arguments you made were indeed fallacious (for example the assertion that serious abuse is impossible), while others I could also only call in question on the basis of value judgements. However, I have given several reasons for how I arrived at the value judgements I made (arguing from historical and circumstancial evidence, which do seem to support my mistrust), while the justification for your greater level of trust seems to be tenuous (for example you give no reasons to support the assumption that NSAs claims regarding the magnitude of the terrorist threat and its performance in fighting it are accurate, nor do you give valid reasons to support the assumption that serious abuse is a far fetched scenario).

          • In reply to #83 by Play Nicely:

            Despite your proclamations of victory, I believe I addressed your points sufficiently in our discussion, but we’ll let others be judges of that. Thank you for playing.

          • In reply to #84 by secularjew:

            Despite your proclamations of victory, I believe I addressed your points sufficiently in our discussion, but we’ll let others be judges of that. Thank you for playing.

            Agreed. Thanks for the debate.

  24. Sometimes we are faced with two intolerable alternatives. In this case, we can trade off some privacy or we can risk the deaths of countless U.S. citizens by terrorists. Considering how open our country is and how freely everyone can travel about, I think it’s a miracle that there have been no more terrorist acts of the magnitude of 9/11. Is there ANYONE who thinks this is because Al Qaeda has had a change of heart?

    • In reply to #52 by RobertHarris:

      Sometimes we are faced with two intolerable alternatives. In this case, we can trade off some privacy or we can risk the deaths of countless U.S. citizens by terrorists. Considering how open our country is and how freely everyone can travel about, I think it’s a miracle that there have been no more…

      Bear in mind that the vast majority of terrorist attacks happen in muslim majority countries – the jihadists have many reasons, the most important of which seems to be the sunni/shia divide. Another one is the restoration of the caliphate of old, basically an irredentist claim fueled by the weak economic and political development and the sheer presence of the jewish state. Fighting against perceived or real invasions by western powers and culture comes next, more as an ancillary objective than anything else.

      Al-Qaeda’s strategy is not to kill as many American and British citizens as possible (if it was, it could easily do that as any relatively free society provides more than enough opportunity for that), it is to use its suicidal resources as efficiently as possible – one carefully executed attack at the cost of the lives of a dozen jihadists is sufficient for the western democracies to pour huge resources into security, throwing their very constitutions under the bus in the process. Now the West feels compelled to intervene in the Middle East, inevitably causing further grievances and (hopefully from Al-Qaeda’s perspective) thereby rallying more people to the jihadist’s cause.

      We are right now establishing tools that give small groups of people tremendous power. The moment these people decide to abuse this power is the moment our democracies and republics cease to exist in anything but name. This is a risk simply not worth taking. A risk of 1 in 100,000 per year of getting killed by a terrorist attack is a tiny price compared to that.

    • In reply to #52 by RobertHarris:

      I think it’s a miracle that there have been no more terrorist acts of the magnitude of 9/11. Is there ANYONE who thinks this is because Al Qaeda has had a change of heart?

      Excellent question. AlQ might have had a change of policy, or tactics, or management, or orders, or ownership, or lots of things. But heart? Hardly. Certainly 9/11 was a one-off, but who can say if that’s because of the new vigilance (and funding) of all those agencies who failed so spectacularly that day, along with the new ones invented since.

  25. Jay,

    I’m with you – This is absolutely egregious! The United States Government is “out of control”. There is no justification, in my opinion, for our country to be violating the civil rights of ordinary citizens. Shameful…Disgraceful…Obscene. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  26. You must not be Black. Amirite?

    If one is in the KKK or some other ‘Homeland’ terrorist organization, one takes for granted that they are under surveillance. Now consider how our racist government/society regards the Black community. This is old hat for a very large part of the population, as the entire Black population is treated as a security threat. Ever been anally probed by the state? It’s a regular feature of being arrested, and thus a racially distinct experience. “Confidential Informants” are a regular feature of Black populations, on levels reminiscent of the Stasi.

    The Stasi is an extreme comparison, and I am not prone to hyperbole on this matter. In the Black community, you don’t know who you are having lunch with. The Drug War (speaking of Nixon) has famously racist implications, and served as the precursor to many contemporary surveillance and COINTELPRO(sic) programs. To achieve this Stasi comparison, I would say what our government lacks in extreme ideological resolve, it makes up for in culture and precedent. The mechanisms of a police state were brewed in the isolation of the Black community, so the rest of polite society never remarked on it. It seems fitting that for racist complacency, the whole of America would be subsumed. I don’t applaud it, but of course that would be the result inevitable of tolerating a supposedly limited overreach of police-state tactics.

    As Malcolm X would say, the chickens have come home to roost.

  27. Well, Their behaviour has a lot in common with how the playground bully justifies beating up the weird kid to his/her henchpersons. It’s laziness in a way. The bully believes in their own right to take control of the playground, regardless of the views or duties of the prefect in charge (Obama). One can’t assume the administration is monolithic. Some years back a bunch of Australian beurocrats rebelled against a joint government / industry reform process and some were dismissed for unconcionable conduct as a result, but it took 3 years to gather enough evidence of their white-anting activities.

    Some years back Palestinian children got more of a buzz from throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers than doing their homework. The NSA simply is a way of giving the playground bullies a budget for cyberbullying. The president doesn’t need to know about such things- that’s the role of the executive arm (public servants).

    See ‘Yes minister’ (BBC TV series) It’s not a joke.

    From Machiavelli, ‘what you, the Prince, wants to do is right for a variety of complicated reasons, therefore you must go forward and take power in order to do what is right.’ Insert director of operations- the National security prince of darkness*. ‘Right’ is an arbitary concept (like most moral concepts) and what’s right for one person isn’t right for another.

    *If you’ve ever worked on english motor cars the prince of Darkness was Joe Lucas.

  28. On the debate between PlayNicely and SecularJew:

    Thanks guys for sharing. It was an interesting read, though it did run on fumes towards the end. The summary that concluded the crucial point-of-difference was a matter of trust, the two opponents have different viewpoints on the extent to which government – US in particular, and all in general – can be trusted. That’s not something that can be resolved by reasoned argument, IMHO. It might be tilted by new evidence, such as might appear from a credible memoir, or undeniable leaked revelations. But overall, the argument is like the scene in “A Few Good Men” where the colonel (Jack Nicholson) yells at Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise): “You can’t handle the truth”.

    Thank you both for the politely presented re-run.

  29. I’m a UK citizen but feel able to comment on your post.

    The fundamentalist social Fascist Political wing of Islam, the Islamists, are against democracy and freedom of expression and, since the 9/11 atrocity we’ve allowed ourselves to be intimidated into kicking over the traces apropos of those fundamental rights; which I submit is precisely what they want us to do.

    If the source of a river is to be traced the search has to go right to the spring whence it rises and I think the source of what you speak of is religious fundamentalism and not Obama’s administration.

    Further to which, the longer it takes for people to start speaking out about the link between the fundamentalist threat and the loss of rights the harder it’s going to become to stop the rot; who would have thought that in the twenty first century we’d be engaged in a religious war.

    When getting onto an aeroplane now one’s made to feel like a criminal suspect.

  30. Yeah things are gettign scary. nancynancy said she’s more concerned about businesses, but my impression is that the same people who run the corporations run the government. It’s all one big club and we aren’t in it. Things are moving in a very bad direction. My one hope is hackers. I would like to think that hackers will screw all this up some how. We’ll see.

  31. In reply to #98 by nancynancy:

    I agree that private corporations collecting massive amounts of data is not a good prospect, however, as you mentioned, at least you can opt out of using them (and you definitely should). The government having these powers is a much more serious concern, since you can’t opt out, it has the weight of whole criminal justice system on its side and it has a much more comprehensive and complete collection of private communications at hand (because they can and do combine and cross-reference the data of all the sources, including google, facebook and so on).

    what these two kinds of entity can do with that data is not even remotely comparable. sure, google can analyze your habits and use that for targeted advertising, maybe they could get clues for trading on the stock markets. at worst they could (if they were really nefarious) steal your identity and commit fraud or reveal private secrets about you. on the other hand, in addition to these things, the government and security agencies could use the data to stop political opposition from becoming too strong by infiltrating them, they can blackmail any influential person with embarrassing private information and they can even send you to jail for the rest of your life.

  32. Since big brother is monitoring us, you’ll forgive me for being totally paranoid about what I say. That Nixon analogy was a sobering thought. But, I guess you’re right in the comparison. I knew that Cheney Bush’s Patriot Act was the beginning of the end for freedom as we know it. Honestly, I was hoping to be dead of natural causes before it got to this point. It moved like wildfire, and now it’s a monster that will be our undoing. People like Manning and Snowden have showed the world what we have become. I’m proud of them both for having the gall to do what they did. I’m even glad that Russia didn’t take our usual bullying. Including Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua on that list. I don’t think I would compare them to Nazi Germany, yet anyway.

  33. I wish I could have shared that comfort with you through those years. Tyranny never rests and is never completely vanquished because it lies dormant in the human psyche in the form of meddling in the business of others and acting to limit the freedom of others any time the fruit of meddling shows that others allow themselves more personal liberty than we allow ourselves.

    That is unacceptable, especially if we find those libertine practices to be something we desire in spite of self-denial. Jealousy occurs and we join together to do whatever is necessary to stamp it out.

    Taking charge of others (and their goods) and deciding for them what is and is not acceptable freedom is the only way tyrants can find peace. What they call themselves or what they state as their noble purposes doesn’t really matter. Captivity and loss are bitterly felt whether it is brought about by a theocracy, democracy, fascist or communist state. It is all window dressing for the means and fig leaves for the perpetrators; the vain, naked emperors.

  34. As a Vietnam era vet I say..”No i do not” ..Your comparison to the Nazi state tells me you are a hard core right winger who is promoting the TEA party your “Obama is a Nazi” agenda..try Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh’s sites.

  35. I understand your concerns and I just want to ask you this? How many friends have you got? How many relatives have you got? How many acquaintances do you have?
    If you were a “police state trooper” you would still have as many friends and relatives and acquaintances. In order for a police state system to happen, every single on of these “police state troopers”, his family, friends and acquaintances would have to be completely removed for the rest of society.
    How is this going to happen when every 5 years or so the government is being reshuffled?
    I think Obama is showing you a very transparent administration. He’s been against guns and pro support for people who need it. He has been largely pro peace and if you look, it is people doing there very best to block everything Obama wants to do simply because they don’t like Obama. Personally I think it is very very clear what is going on.
    The real danger for the USA at the moment is religious polarization and gun control. Again, Obama has shown where he stands. He has made it very very clear where the rest of the US government stands.
    So don’t feel bad. The very fact Obama is there and not dead yet means there is good coming. The US is going through a knee jerk paranoia phase at the moment. It was no different to the cold war but at least then they thought they knew who the enemy was. I think Obama is doing a good job of showing you who, in fact your enemy is.

  36. I am more afraid of the dominionists in this country. It is large enough to cause damage and they have money. I read an article yesterday that a law is trying to be passed in, I think Kentucky, to put atheists in jail for a year for denying that there is a God. I think that also applies to agnostics. There are evangelicals in Uganda from the U.S. trying to get a law passed to kill gays. They also support Russia in their persecution of gays.

  37. I don’t know that is is fair to blame Obama.

    I think this is simply a political hot potato, If you are a President and you get elected and read into top secret programs that are mirroring the whole internet, catching every phone call and communication, and the NSA man tells you that this program has prevented countless attacks. If you dare to stand up for principal and say, no, Shut this down it is illegal and immoral, and there is a large attack, the other party will pounce on this fact and say you let this happen, you allowed terrorists free reign to plan and carry out this heinous whatever, and it is you and your party who are to blame, which is much more impactful then to say your are the bad guy spying on the people, or more appropriately continuing to spy on the people. Once in place this sort of thing is very hard to dismantle just like our ridiculous defense budget, how do you cut our safety and security with out committing political suicide for you and your party. What is right and what is prudent are disparate and difficult and taking a stand now simply to be tossed out in 4 years and the other side taking over accomplished very little. Our system is broken. and I too fear for our future, I just don’t blame it all on Obama.

  38. Its been like this since mccarthyism, just people are getting caught now or they are spilling the beans on it. The NSA has had agreements since the 1950s with other organizations about domestic spying because it is technically, illegal, to spy on one’s own countrymen. Hence, allow someone else to do it and then spy on THEIR own people and swap information and no laws are broken. Unit 8200 and GCHQ have been spying on AMericans for years and the NSA has been spying on Israelis and Brits for years and they just exchange their information>>no lawsd broken etc etc….Actually, the agreement was signed in 1946. The agreement leaves flexibility for the spy services to share the content of the communication and not simply the information around it. The agreement says that “telecommunications and communications” can be shared, and that could be interpreted to mean content.

  39. Jay, can you be a little more specific please? eavesdropping, domestic spying etc.. has been around and AUTHORIZED since at least 1946. This is not something new and to justify the programs, its not really the NSA that’s doing the spying. Foreign intel agencies such as Unit 8200 and GCHQ spy on americans, and the NSA spies on their citizens and simply exchanges the information. NO laws broken etc etc….when you get a chance, research UKUSA agreement, BRUSA, SIGNIT, Operation Northwoods, Mongoose, Garden Plot. These are NOT new… they’ve been around for decades.

  40. In reply to [#0] by Jay G:

    Well, it seems to me that the Nazis justified their programs in the name of “security of the German nation and race”.

    Just because the Nazi’s did something does not make it wrong.

    I think we need to get serious with crime, PERIOD. If a person can’t obey the rules of society, they need to be punished. If punishment does not work, then they need to be removed from society. We put our unwanted pets to sleep, we need to do that with our unwanted citizens as well. If it takes a police state to do that, then we need a police state.

    As long as we tolerate crime in society, we will have crime in society.

Leave a Reply