Freedom vs Tyranny
Remember that pesky scandal where it was revealed the NSA collects metadata on U.S. citizens? Remember how many people (from both sides of the aisle) blew it off as nothing we should worry about; that it was a vital part of our national security efforts?
Now we learn from the former head of the NSA that the United States uses metadata to decide who to kill. Not in the United States (yet), but definitely overseas.
This is disturbing enough. I thought we actually had, you know, SPIES and such operating throughout the world, intercepting communications, reading letters, etc. Now the NSA is revealing that we don’t actually bother to read what’s in the communications… we will actually kill someone just for communicating with other people.
What’s wrong with that? Some people will ask this question. Unfortunately, Republicans will be among them. There’s a lot wrong with this. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a HUGE problem with this. Want to eliminate someone you can’t get to? How about having a bunch of your Al Qaeda buddies to call him a bunch of times. Eventually the United States will classify him as a major terrorist based on his metadata and off him for you!
Another problem: metadata is “data about data”. Which means the United States is killing people not on evidence, but on “evidence about evidence”. I really hope that I don’t have to explain why this is concerning.
Most worrisome about this article, though, is this single statement by former NSA chief Michael Hayden regarding the domestic collection of metadata:
“It’s really important to understand the program in its entirety. Not the potentiality of the program, but how the program is actually conducted.” (emphasis added)
Hayden is asking us to NOT look at the potential of the program. This is a de facto admission that the potentiality of the program is something we would find “distasteful” to put it lightly. Furthermore, within the context of the overall article, I’d like to know exactly what Hayden means when he says “potentiality of the program.” You would think it is unlikely he means the government may start killing civilians on U.S. soil based on metadata, but who knows?
At the very least, we should be concerned about targeted political character assassinations, using metadata to poison someone’s reputation, or blackmail someone. But metadata could eventually become grounds for granting search warrants, which means search and seizure of private property based on evidence of evidence. Or for things like IRS audits. Metadata could easily become a tool in the government’s bag of bully tricks.
The potentiality of the program concerns the hell out of me. I hope it concerns you too.
At least Obama did something (after enormous pressure) and “officially” abandoned the program. Small consolation considering the potential for “unofficial” collection, and that private entities will maintain the metadata and the government will basically have access to that whenever they want.
How many days has it been since news broke that Chris Christie’s administration had intentionally created traffic problems on the Washington bridge? It’s only been a week or so but it seems like forever. Public radio and the main stream media seem to be talking about it any time I turn on the TV, radio, or Internet. I even saw at least one Democrat calling for Christie’s impeachment. I’m not endorsing Christie by any means, but impeachment? Come on…
And now, with the Feds probing possible misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief funds, the left is whipping itself into a feeding frenzy. I even noticed CNN went so far as to call Christie “scandal plagued,” as if two scandals amount to a plague in a world where President Obama can apparently weather a dozen scandals simultaneously without CNN throwing up the quarantine tent.
Here in the U.S. we have a long tradition of secret ballots, and we feel like our political preference is generally a private matter unless we choose to reveal it to those with whom we interact. Unfortunately, we couldn’t be more wrong about these assumptions.
I first discovered the ugly truth about our political privacy purely on accident while researching the history of campaign finance laws. I’ve always known that campaigns and political organizations are required to disclose their contributors. What I didn’t know is that the entirety of that disclosed information is public record and easily obtainable by anyone with access to the Internet.
Let me introduce you to one of the most potentially dangerous tools on the Internet: The Federal Election Commission’s financial disclosure database. Curious about the political affiliations of your neighbors? How about the businesses you frequent? Just punch in your zip code and prepare to be shocked. Anyone who has contributed $200 or more will be shown with their name, employer, and you can even click through to the filing form to see their home address.
The danger is not so much the fact that the information is collected, or even that it is made public. The danger is in the level of accessibility. Imagine a world where anyone could open up a “Political Contributors” app on their iPhone and, with GPS technology, call up a summary of contributions by party for each nearby address. Imagine if Yelp included a “political affiliation” tag for each business, or a tally of how many employees contributed to each party.
Federal law currently prohibits the use of disclosure records for commercial purposes or to solicit contributions, but the rules on use are kind of wishy-washy. I see a whole lot of loopholes. Plus, it is not clear to me exactly how the FEC would determine that anybody was breaking the law.
The implications are serious. Politically-motivated vandalism could become commonplace, especially as we trend towards greater political division. Local boycotts could become as easy as logging in to an app on your mobile phone. People could even stage protests at businesses who employ too many contributors to a particular party.
Some will say I’m just being paranoid. I concede the possibility. However, you may recall that theft and vandalism already occurs due to campaign signs. For every one person who displays a sign in their yard, there are probably 5 more who have contributed but don’t want their political ideology plastered on their front door. Imagine if it was in the palm of everyone’s hand.
The technology is much closer than many may realize. Just a few days ago, the Obama campaign released an app that shows you nearby Democrat households. Still think I’m paranoid?
As technology improves, the lines of political privacy will continue to blur. Combine this with a growing push for ever-greater disclosure requirements and we’re headed for a dangerous “brown shirt army” situation.
This is not a partisan topic. This should concern everyone. The technology is in its infancy — we can barely imagine the potential in years to come. Entrenched interests on both sides of the aisle will seek to use it to their own advantage, which will ultimately be detrimental to the privacy and freedoms of all of us.
I used to believe that campaign contribution disclosure was generally a good thing. After all, I like to know who guys like George Soros are supporting. Now I’m not so sure.
During my research, I found that one of this nation’s original campaign finance laws (the Tillman Act) was actually created by a notoriously racist Democrat with the purpose of browbeating anti-slavery Republican corporations. As I thought about it, I realized that our current disclosure laws are right on the cusp of allowing the same type of abuse Tillman envisioned. As technology advances, political privacy is going to continue to disappear, unless disclosure laws are repealed or reformed.
What say you?
I count myself among the people who avoid flying at all costs. Between the porno-scanning cancer boxes and the invasive pat downs, flying is simply not a desirable option for me. Beyond that, the entire strategy of the TSA is reactive when it should be proactive, and I think it should be the civic duty of each of us to do what we can to expose this agency’s abuse of power and try to restore some sanity to our travel procedures.
But lately, the TSA seems to truly be crossing the Rubicon. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of harassment towards those with special needs and disabilities. There’s the “aggressive” pat-down of a 7-year-old child with Cerebral Palsey, the disabled man whose urostomy bag was spilled by careless/cruel TSA agents… twice, and the special needs man who was harassed for having to wear a diaper by agents in Detroit.
Today I read about TSA agents in Louisville who called at least one person a “F*!@#ng Deafie” and stole the candy he had purchased right there in the airport.
Says the man:
While I was going through the TSA, some of them started laughing in my direction. I thought it might’ve been someone behind me, but I found out otherwise.
One of them asked why they were laughing, and one of them came up to me, pointed at my shirt, laughed at me and said, “F*!@#ng deafie”. The Louisville TSA called me a “f*!@#ng deafie” and laughed at me because I was deaf, and they expected wouldn’t say anything back (or wouldn’t hear them). Make no bones about it — she was facing me and I read her lips. There was no mistake. I would later find out that they had called at least 4 other individuals the same thing.
(profanity edited by me)
The man’s account speaks for itself and honestly needs no further analysis.
I do, however, have one question for the liberals among us: is this really the kind of agency you want handling our healthcare???