The NSA never takes “no” for an answer

Terrific column by Jack Shafer.

The NSA’s techno-dodges give civil libertarians a choice of two large pitches on which to throw their fits. Should they be more angry about the national security bureaucracy first seeking the public’s consent to drink from the national information stream and then, when told “no,” ignoring the thumb down? Or is the greater outrage the fact that the vast and secret surveillance program was established at all, and not how it was established? As a fit-throwing civil libertarian, I intend to alternate from one field to the other. On even days I’ll scream about the basic outrage. On odd days, I’ll stamp my feet over the “you asked for permission, I said ‘No,’ and you went ahead and did it anyway” transgression.

Who made the U.S. government’s decision to bootleg its expansive surveillance system into place? To compromise the Internet and the devices we use to connect? To intentionally weaken the existing security systems by installing secret “back doors,” thereby making us all more vulnerable to a hostile cyber-attack by foreign powers or individuals who discover them? To reverse the popular will — or least the politically possible — without any further discussion? That last move would smack of totalitarianism, except that totalitarians make no pretext about needing the consent of their citizens to rule.

And there’s more…

Can somebody explain to the NSA that Snowden has merely done to the NSA what the NSA has been doing to U.S. citizens and business for decades? Snowden deceitfully ignored the legally binding promises he made to the NSA; the NSA similarly runs roughshod over both the letter and the spirit of surveillance legislation (and systematically lies about it, something Snowden doesn’t do). Snowden stole secrets; the NSA steals secrets (and encryption keys, according to yesterday’s reports), only at a more colossal level. Snowden took it upon himself that he, not the NSA or his government, knows best; the NSA and its governmental partners believe they know best; Snowden creatively exploited the technical weaknesses in the computer matrix to accomplish his goals; so does the NSA.

Neatly highlights the question that’s been bothering me for months. Is it possible to have the kind of comprehensive surveillance that the NSA and its overseas franchises operate and also have democracy. My answer: no.