Tag: Mass surveillance

The Pigeons Come Home

Now that it looks like we’re headed for a … ugh … Trump/Clinton showdown, expect to see more articles like this:

Back in 2013, I argued that the U.S. has been building “all the infrastructure a tyrant would need, courtesy of Bush and Obama,” adding, “More and more, we’re counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils.” With Trump and Hillary Clinton leading in the primaries, let’s revisit some particulars:

Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant’s checklist that they’ve provided their successors:

A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review

The power to detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial

Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027

Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan’s blessing

Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret — and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations

The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing

The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven’t been convicted of anything

A torture program that could be restarted with an executive order

Even if you think Bush and Obama exercised those extraordinary powers responsibly, what makes you think every president would? How can anyone fail to see the huge potential for abuses?

Before moving into a new house, parents of small children engage in child-proofing. Before leaving the White House, Obama should engage in tyrant-proofing. For eight years, he has evinced a high opinion of his own ability to exercise power morally, even in situations where Senator Obama thought that the president should be restrained. At this point, better to flatter his ego than to resist it. You’ll be gone soon, Mr. President, and for all our disagreements, I think your successor is highly likely to be less trustworthy and more corruptible than you were.

Insofar as you can, limit his or her ability to violate liberties or hide atrocities before you go. It may be the most significant step you can take to safeguard your legacy.

Conor, who like many libertarians, has been sounding alarms on these issue for the last decade, also calls on Congress to reclaim its power while it still can.

Lee warned about it when Bush was assuming Patriot Act, surveillance and torture powers. I warned about it when Obama assumed mass surveillance powers and started doing everything by executive order. The mantra was always the same whether you trusted Bush or trusted Obama or trusted both: it wasn’t about them; it was about the next President and the next.

And now we have a next President, either Clinton or Trump. And the public doesn’t trust either of them. Nor should they. Both have shown a disregard for Constitutional restraint and the Rule of Law. Both have shown that they will use the power of the office to engage in petty personal vendettas. Both of them could be imagined being overruled by the Supreme Court and saying, as Andrew Jackson once did, “John Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Yet rather than reign in this unprecedented power, our leaders seem to be expanding it. To wit:

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy.

This basically formalizes what was already happening under the radar. We’ve known for a couple of years now that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS were getting information from the NSA. Because that information was obtained without a warrant, the agencies were instructed to engage in “parallel construction” when explaining to courts and defense attorneys how the information had been obtained. If you think parallel construction just sounds like a bureaucratically sterilized way of saying big stinking lie, well, you wouldn’t be alone. And it certainly isn’t the only time that that national security apparatus has let law enforcement agencies benefit from policies that are supposed to be reserved for terrorism investigations in order to get around the Fourth Amendment, then instructed those law enforcement agencies to misdirect, fudge and outright lie about how they obtained incriminating information — see the Stingray debacle. This isn’t just a few rogue agents. The lying has been a matter of policy. We’re now learning that the feds had these agreements with police agencies all over the country, affecting thousands of cases.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: do you want Clinton or Trump to have these powers? But of course, it is a partisan issue. Congressional Democrats don’t want to reign in the power of the White House because they’re just fine with Clinton wielding that power. Republicans might be a little more principled, given their fear of Trump, but I suspect they wouldn’t mind too much if he had such power.

One way or another, we appear to be on the brink of realizing what all those civil libertarians have been complaining about for years. And the country may never be the same.

The CIA Lies … Again

I’m away again this week, but thought I’d pop and note that the CIA, which previously pretended they weren’t spying on the Senate, did recently admit that they were spying on the Senate as the Senate prepared their report on the CIA’s torture program. This confirms my earlier judgement that the CIA is yet another rogue agency with a lying director, a distinction it now share’s with Obama’s NSA, IRS, DHS, ATF and Justice Department. I thus expect him to respond with the same lack of action.

The refusal of Obama to hold the members of these agencies accountable for their abuses tells you all you need to know about what he thinks of their actions.

Update: Sullivan:

Either the rule of law applies to the CIA or it doesn’t. And it’s now absolutely clear that it doesn’t. The agency can lie to the public; it can spy on the Senate; it can destroy the evidence of its war crimes; it can lie to its superiors about its torture techniques; it can lie about the results of those techniques. No one will ever be held to account. It is inconceivable that the United States would take this permissive position on torture with any other country or regime.

DoublePlusCrimethink About Ownlife

I was thinking about something today. Over three-quarters of the American people go to Church at least every few years. Nearly half describe themselves as regular church-goers. Given these facts, why would people object to having a state religion? Why would people demand separation of church and state? Clearly, they don’t have any problem with religion. So why is it suddenly bad when government does it?

If the answer to that is obvious to you, well it seems to be not so obvious to a large section of the commentariat. Robert Samuelson is the latest idiot to dust off the tired idiotic argument of “Why you no like NSA when you like Facebook?”

There is more than a little hypocrisy to the outcry that the government, through the National Security Agency (NSA), is systematically destroying Americans’ right to privacy. Edward Snowden’s revelations have been stripped of their social, technological and historical context. Unless you’ve camped in the Alaskan wilderness for two decades, you know — or should — that millions upon millions of Americans have consciously and, probably in most cases, eagerly surrendered much of their privacy by embracing the Internet and social media.

The Pew Research Center’s surveys confirm that these behaviors are now entirely mainstream. In 2013, 85 percent of Americans used the Internet. Of these, almost three-quarters (73 percent) belonged to social media sites (the biggest: Facebook). Almost one-fifth of adult Internet users have posted personal videos, many hoping, says Pew, that “their creations go viral.” Among people “single and looking” for mates, nearly two-fifths (38 percent) used online dating.

This is the argument made by a boot-licking piece of crap. I’ve made this point before: can these people seriously not see a difference between information shared voluntarily and information shared involuntarily? Can they not see the difference between sharing your information with a corporation and sharing it with a government? Here’s what I had to say when Cesca was making this boot-licking argument:

There is simply no moral equivalence between corporations putting cookies on our computers and the NSA engaging in mass surveillance with extra sugary promises that they’ll be nice. To draw such an equivalence is to demonstrate that you failed high school civics. We should be suspicious of corporations. But we should be more suspicious of government because they wield a far larger and more pervasive power.

Again, how many people has Facebook executed? How many people has Twitter jailed? Did General Motors inter thousands of innocent Japanese people? Did Proctor and Gamble pretend to cure black men of syphilis just to see what would happen? If they did do these things, would they not be held accountable?

The worst thing that Facebook will do to me is market something at me. The worst thing the NSA will do is tip off the DEA that I might be doing drugs so that my door is bashed down by gun-wielding agents in the middle of the night. These are not even remotely comparable things.

Many of the NSA defenders understand this on some level. That was the point of my opening thought. When it comes to religion or abortion or sex, they immediately grasp the difference between a private actor (e.g., your parents telling you not to have pre-marital sex) and a public one (e.g, the government telling you not to have pre-martial sex). But when it comes to surveillance, they really don’t see a moral difference between Twitter knowing where I went on vacation and the government knowing every single person I called.

Partially, that’s reflexive anti-corporatism. Partly, it’s pure partisanship — they’d be a lot more suspicious if a McCain Administration were doing this. But I also think part of is that some section of the commentariat doesn’t really value privacy at all. Or they are in such a state of mind-blowing fear over terrorism, privacy concerns are dwarfed by the need to feel safe. How else can you explain this paragraph:

If Americans think their privacy is dangerously diminished, there are remedies. They can turn off their PCs, toss their smartphones and smash their tablets. Somehow, this seems unlikely, even though another Pew survey finds that “86 percent of adult Internet users have taken steps . . . to avoid surveillance by other people or organizations.”

I pointed this out on Twitter, but it’s worth saying again: in the book Nineteen Eighty Four Winston and Julia are unable to use normal communication to conduct their affair. Instead, they have to communicate with secret notes and whispers. This was seen as one of the most oppressive aspects of the regime.

We now have American commentators openly stating that we should live in such a society. That if you don’t want the government snooping on you, you should smash your tablet. Communicate with secret notes and whispers if you don’t want to be heard, you Ron Paul disciple.

For people like Samuelson, it is all right, everything is all right, the struggle is finished. They have won the victory over themselves. They love Big Brother.

Another reason I am glad I own an Android I barely use..

And that’s the fact that has backdoor access to iPhones. Forget the plethora of backdoor jokes and focus on the fact that the people at the NSA feel that spying on all of us is just peachy-keen, and that they likely are behind acts like this, to cover their own asses, with some even saying that the reforms might make things even worse for us people. Or ignore their ability to hack Wi-Fi systems from miles away, which they really don’t need much off I bet considering they they have an entire shadow operation to intercept and compromise electronics, anyway. The claim is that this is only directed at foreigners, for security reasons, but then again, the people getting nabbed by these highly unconstitutional operations seem to always be Americans. Sometimes it’s even American troops just having some phone sex with other people! Bonus points for the NSA pervs.

Then again, considering how big brother is in on everything, maybe they have my Droid just as tapped as they have the iPhones. At the rate this is going, I would not be surprised to find that they will start arresting people and accusing them of criminal activity after they put the evidence to make their case on their devices, and then, sooner than later. Maybe they have done so already. I doubt anyone is still wondering how this WH had confidential information on their political opponents that was not public before, so with one hand washing the other, expect more, not less, of this to go on. Welcome to the future, courtesy of progressives, I must add!

Judge Slams NSA

Poor poor NSA. Just last night, 60 minutes gave them a 20-minute infomercial about how wonderful they are. And all the Obama supporters, who blasted CBS for their Benghazi story, fell in line and said it reassured them.

And then, today, this:

A federal judge said Monday that he believes the government’s once-secret collection of domestic phone records is unconstitutional, setting up likely appeals and further challenges to the data mining revealed by classified leaker Edward Snowden.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata — phone records of the time and numbers called without any disclosure of content — apparently violates privacy rights.
His preliminary ruling favored five plaintiffs challenging the practice, but Leon limited the decision only to their cases.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” said Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Leon’s ruling said the “plaintiffs in this case have also shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits of a Fourth Amendment claim,” adding “as such, they too have adequately demonstrated irreparable injury.”
He rejected the government’s argument that a 1979 Maryland case provided precedent for the constitutionality of collecting phone metadata, noting that public use of telephones had increased dramatically in the past three decades.

This will certainly be appealed. Judge Leon didn’t overturn Smith vs. Maryland. What he did was make the pretty straight-forward argument that the information the government was collecting in 1979 by bugging an exchange for a few days to see who someone was calling is different from automatically slurping up comprehensive meta-data about millions of Americans every day. Check here for the ACLU’s demonstration of what can be done with “just” meta-data.

The usual suspects are decrying Judge Leon’s decision, although that seems entirely motivated by the lawsuit having been brought by, among others, Larry Klayman. Personally, I don’t care if the lawsuit was brought by Tarzan of the Apes. The fact is that the NSA’s meta-data collection program, which was kept secret until Snowden’s leaks, has to be addressed by the Supreme Court, not by some secret FISA Court.

Slurping up the Googles

We take a break from our regularly scheduled nap to tell you that there is absolutely nothing to worry about with Edward Snowden’s newest revelation: that the NSA is tapping into Google and Yahoo data centers:

The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.

According to a top-secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, the NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — including “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, as well as content such as text, audio and video.

The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters . From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and the GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.

The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.

Now never mind that when PRISM was revealed, the NSA defenders told us that this was nothing to worry about, that it “proved” that NSA wasn’t tapping directly into the data streams but using court-approved secure data rooms to snoop (as if that were any better). Never mind that Greenwald and Snowden have let the NSA defenders get hoist by their own petard again by letting them spin and spin and lie and lie only to revealed to completely full of crap. Never mind, as Allahpundit notes, that the court had previously rebuked the NSA for similar data-gathering methods. No, no, no, it’s all OK. I’m sure they’re not digging up information on us. I’m sure it’s stopped a terrorist attack at some point.

What? Quit giving me those looks. We can trust these people. Even when they’ve been revealed to be completely lying their asses off. Don’t you care about terrorism?

The Surveillance State Continue to Close In

Following on Alex’s note about the CFPB (jeez, who would have thought that would go wrong?), I thought I’d round up stories from the last week or two just to emphasize the point: the more we find out about our surveillance state, the worse it gets. I would explain, but there is too much. Let me sum up:

  • The NSA is working very hard to break encryption algorithms. This isn’t surprising; it’s what the NSA does. But it does mean that the NSA has unlimited access to financial information, medical records, internet chats and phone calls. Does anyone think we should just “trust them” not to abuse this information? Anyone?
  • They are also engaging in massive efforts to hack smart phones. Again, this is what the NSA does. I want them to hack the phone of terrorists. But this a tremendous amount of power for NSA to assume. Does anyone think we should just “trust them” not to abuse this information? Anyone?
  • It turns out that the NSA isn’t even the biggest snoop out there. The DEA is collecting massive troves of information on us, paying AT&T for access to decades worth of phone records. Cuz drugs and stuff.
  • Just in case you’re thinking that this is only being used against terrorist and drug dealers, Popehat reminds us that the NSA and their defenders frequently cite “others” as being among those they need to keep track of. As we have often found out to our shame, “others” can include people like … oh, just to take an example almost at random … Martin Luther King.
  • But … nothing to worry about here. It’s all for our safety. Just be sure to speak clearly into the telephone. You wouldn’t want to be misunderstood.

    NSA and The Florida Department of Departments

    I’m on vacation this week in Disneyworld with the wife and Sal 11000 Beta. It’s a quiet week in politics anyway, with the most interesting commentary revolving around the NSA’s pathetic lies and the pathetic pundits who believe those lies. Check out this evisceration of Jeffrey’s Toobin hacktastic work in which compares Snowden’s leaks to the MLK assassination (seriously).

    You can also check out ZDnet’s hilarious “data driven analysis” which tries to convince us that NSA is no big deal. Taking it apart is pretty trivial:

  • The 2776 leaks documented by Snowden are from one year and one collection center and represent reported leaks. It does not include illegal abuses that have no been reported (duh). The NSA is increasingly reminding me of a bad liar. “We don’t routinely collect data”. “Well we do, but we don’t collect data we shouldn’t.” “Well, we don’t do so abusively. It’s all an accident.” We know what the next lie is: “We do abuse it but only on bad people like Tea Partiers”.
  • The claim that Facebook collects 20 times more data per day is irrelevant and misleading. FB collects a ton of information, so if NSA is collecting 1/20th of that, that’s way too much. And remember the euphemisms NSA uses for “collecting” data. Also, FB can’t put us in prison.
  • That the percentage of reported errors is tiny is not very relevant, since the system is still leaky. It also contradicts point one. You can’t simultaneously claim that the errors are tiny compared to the vast amount of information NSA collects and then claim that the NSA doesn’t collect a lot of data.
  • He claims the NSA collects an amount of data less than one MP3 file. This is bullshit. He deliberately confounds metadata — of which the NSA collects trillions of pieces without a warrant — with records, of which it collects a lesser number. He also claims that NSA only makes 2776 mistakes a year. That is flat wrong. That 2776 errors, some of which means thousands of pieces of illegally collected data, not metadata. So this complete horseshit.
  • He then says that these numbers would be regarded as a triumph for a corporation. Well, first of all, if ATT erroneously charged people for phone service, they’d get sued. And second … do I need to say this again? … apparently I do … corporations do not have police power over us.
  • Anyway, that’s the NSA rant that has been building in my mind whilst taking advantage of the free wireless Disney provides in long lines to get princess signatures.

    I did think you’d get a kick of this, however, which I photographed on a vending machine today:

    1175500_10200887978819980_649776684_n

    As far as I could tell, the point of that notice is to be a notice. But Ken at Popehat tweeted me that he blogged about this over a year ago. The best explanation in the comments, which sounds right to me, was this:

    My brother and his wife own a large vending machine company. The stickers are not proof of taxes paid, or anything like that. You can buy them from private vendors. The reason for the stickers was that they used to have information on them as to who owned or operated the machine. The problem is that they had the FEIN of the business on it, and this was frequently used to fraudulently steal the identity of the operator.

    To fix this, the vending companies were lobbying to have the law changed so that the decals were no longer required. This effort was unsuccessful, but in 2010 the vending lobbyist was able to accomplish the next best thing: They had the requirements of the sticker changed so that it no longer has to contain information that can be used by identity thieves. That is how it happened.

    Even if that’s right, it’s still pretty stupid.

    Have a fun week, guys.

    Another NSA Bombshell

    All of you people who said there was zero evidence that the NSA had ever abused their authority? Feeling stupid yet?

    The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

    Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

    The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    Just one of these incidents involved unauthorized information on 3000 individuals. In another, the FISA court was not notified for months about a program.

    Astoundingly, the NSA/Obama defenders are not moved. The NSA claims that this is OK because it’s a small percentage of what they do. Let me restate that. The NSA is saying that thousands of illegal and unauthorized surveillance incidents every year are tiny compared to the authorized surveillance. LGF*, by far the biggest NSA apologist going, somehow claims this report vindicates the NSA because it shows oversight. Glenn Greenwald has responded with the obvious question: if NSA will admit to breaking the rules thousands of times a year, how many times a year do they not admit to it?

    (*Johnson demonstrates his inability to understand declarative English sentences by confusing the statement that one incident involved 3000 people with a belief that only 3000 total people had their rights violated. In fact, the article states the NSA has no way of knowing how many people had their privacy violated. In one incident, their computers confused the Washington area code with the area code for Egypt. That incident alone may have violated the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people.)

    There’s also this:

    The May 2012 audit, intended for the agency’s top leaders, counts only incidents at the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters and other ­facilities in the Washington area. Three government officials, speak­ing on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the number would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.

    So yeah, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And this is just the “data”. “Data” does not include trillions of pieces of metadata on phone calls.

    And as for that wonderful oversight that Obama’s defenders keep telling us about?

    Despite the quadrupling of the NSA’s oversight staff after a series of significant violations in 2009, the rate of infractions increased throughout 2011 and early 2012. An NSA spokesman declined to disclose whether the trend has continued since last year.

    I have to hand it to Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and the WaPo. They really are giving Obama, the NSA and the ODDS sufferers enough rope to hang themselves. They put out some documents, the bootlickers scramble to explain that this is no big deal and then they put another document showing Obama’s defenders to be completely full of it.

    It would be fun if it didn’t involve the systematic evisceration of the Fourth Amendment.

    Update: I want to quote this at length, since a lot of you are not on Twitter. Conor Friersdorf got on a roll last night about this:

    I agree with everything up there. Every piece of additional information we get is more and more alarming. Yet the apologists keep doubling down and insisting that we’re not a police state … yet. Do we need to wait until we are a police state before we push back?

    Barry Goldwater said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. I’m not worried about our nation being done in by people who are too protective of our civil liberties.

    Anti-Corporate Government Bootlicking

    As more and more comes out about the surveillance state that Barack Obama has erected, the victims of ODDS (Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome) continued to spin, continue to insist that this is nothing, continue to insist that this is all overblown hysterical paranoid hype. The latest is this piece of anti-libertarian boot-licking hogwash. It is one-stop shopping for absurdity. A few examples:

    Schneier literally begged internet tech companies to shield him from the big bad government by refusing NSA’s requests to attain user data as part of the agency’s effort to monitor overseas communications. Yes, this is where we’ve arrived: Team Greenwald is pleading with for-profit corporations to protect them from the government.

    Horseshit. What he’s asking them to do is to refuse to cooperate in mass surveillance. Anyone who uses the internet has to place a certain degree of trust in tech companies to not exploit their information. Often this trust is violated when they use our information for marketing purposes. What Schneier and others are asking is for the tech companies to not violate our trust in the most dangerous way possible — by making it easy for government to snoop on us.

    NSA, and the U.S. government in general, isn’t interested in our Instagram pics of our disgusting dinners or our Wonka memes or our goats-that-scream-like-men videos.

    Condescending nonsense. The Boston bombers were caught because of pictures taken by private citizens. Don’t think for a second this went unnoticed. Electronic records and media are routinely used in criminal cases. Government is interested in your instragram pictures if they show illegal activity or something that might be connected to illegal activity. And the more the technology improves, the more they will become interested.

    The unspoken reality is that the government invented the internet when it established ARPANET, under the Defense Department agency now known as DARPA (home of the creepy robots). The government also regulates the internet. Government R&D funding helped to create Mosaic, the first web browser. The government will spend $1.4 billion on web infrastructure and content next year (not enough, in my opinion). The United States ranks ninth in internet speed and this pathetic ranking won’t be solved by tech companies alone. The government is the only thing that stands between net neutrality and corporate-tiered bandwidth. The reality is that in terms of “commandeering” the internet, the government was here before you were.

    Government also builds roads. Does that mean they can pull us over and search our cars without suspicion? The federal government has specific authority over navigable waterways. Can they therefore pull over a cruise ship and strip search everyone on board? Can they search the computer of anyone who uses Amtrack? (Actually, they already are doing a lot of these things, with little protest from so-called liberals).

    But the real thrust of the article is one we’ve heard before: eeevil corporations are collecting data on your all the time through cookies, through tracking and through software. So why on Earth would you object to government looking for terrorists when tech companies are looking for marketing info?

    Well, first of all, many of us do object to that. But, second, and more important is something that is apparently too complicated for the government bootlickers to understand. What is the worst thing that Facebook is going to do to me based on the data they collect from my profile? Market something at me? Give my information to marketers? I’m not happy with that. But it pales in comparison to what government can do with my information. Government can fine me. Government can jail me. Government can take away my children. Government can execute me. Many of these things — such as taking my children or my money — government can do without trial.

    We give our government extraordinary powers that corporations simply do not have. We give them these powers because they are necessary for our society to function. But we also give government these powers under certain conditions, which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. No putting us in jail without a trail. No taking away our guns. No restraint on our speech. And no snooping through our papers without a warrant. And we are mindful of the euphemisms government uses to conceal violations of our rights.

    What is going on now is that the government has pressed against and, in some cases, broken through the thin veil promises it has made to respect our lives, liberty, property and privacy. And we are pushing back. Pushing back against government over-reach is fine when it involvs war or poverty or Wall Street bailouts. But it’s suddenly hysterical Ron Paul gibberish when it comes to surveillance?

    There is simply no moral equivalence between corporations putting cookies on our computers and the NSA engaging in mass surveillance with extra sugary promises that they’ll be nice. To draw such an equivalence is to demonstrate that you failed high school civics. We should be suspicious of corporations. But we should be more suspicious of government because they wield a far larger and more pervasive power.

    Again, how many people has Facebook executed? How many people has Twitter jailed? Did General Motors inter thousands of innocent Japanese people? Did Proctor and Gamble pretend to cure black men of syphilis just to see what would happen? If they did do these things, would they not be held accountable?

    That government will abuse its surveillance power is not some Ron Paul fever dream. It has. It does. It will. Just last week we found out that the DEA is using NSA data to pursue drug cases. We know that other government agencies are clamoring for access to NSA data. In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko shows instances where regulatory inspectors have had cops “ride along” with them and conduct warrantless searches for contraband. These powers will be abused, especially if they are allowed to fester in secret, away from the public eye.

    And again, it’s worth repeating this point:

    There is no such thing as having nothing to hide. If someone decides that you are inconvenient, they can find something to pin on you. And NSA surveillance gives them the means — under the pretext of terrorism — to look for something to pin on you.

    I’m not going to pretend that big business is all sweetness and light. I’m in favor of government regulations to protect the environment, improve worker safety and keep our food clean (although I think the current regulatory framework has become far too burdensome). I favor these things not because I think corporations are evil, but because I know they are run by human beings (just like the government is). And human beings find it very easy to rationalize irresponsible behavior (just like the government does). The lead industry spent decades denying the evidence of their own eyes about the damage they were wreaking on society.

    (It’s worth noting, of course, that some of the worst corporate behavior is often enabled by crony capitalism, eminent domain abuses, regulatory capture and outright corruption. Government encourages corporations to engage in rent-seeking and punishes those that do not genuflect to it. In past centuries, vast business empires were built on government corruption. Even today, cash-strapped cities bend over backward to subsidize and support the politically powerful. Detroit may be bankrupt but they’re going to find $400 million to fund a stadium for the most successful franchise in the NHL.)

    If you’re worried about corporations tracking our computer use, I share that worry. If you think government should regulate that behavior, I disagree, but at least that’s defensible. But you can not possibly look at the current situation and think that the answer is less scrutiny of the government.

    When you really break it down, the focus of Cesca’s article, and indeed the focus of much of the defense of NSA, is revealed by the Ron Paul jalopy graphic that accompanies it. What matters to people like Bob Cesca and Charles Johnson and all the other ODDS suffers is a deep raging hatred of libertarianism. They haven’t really thought about the issues very clearly. What they’ve thought about is that Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Glenn Greenwald and a bunch of civil liberties whack jobs oppose it, therefore they favor it. They can not possibly find themselves on the same side of the issues as those … those … those crackpots.

    The first sin in political thought is to define your beliefs entirely by whom you oppose, by which groups of — take your pick — libertarian nuts, dirty hippies, shyster lawyers, religious radicals or conservative nazis — you hate the most. Much of the support for Obama’s policies is born of a deep dislike for his critics.

    That isn’t brilliant political insight. That’s tribalism.