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.