On the surveillance

I haven’t wrtten anything about the newly-revealed secrets of government surveillance because I’m not entirely sure what I think yet.  Though, as Kevin Drum nicely points out– Americans are pretty much okay with secret surveillance as long as their party has the presidency.  Check out this chart:

Substance aside– wow, what a beautiful demonstration of the massive power of partisanship to shape our thinking.

I know I should be more worked up about all this and concerned about abuse of government power (and I am actually concerned about abuse of government power), but the fact that the American people are generally alright with this (even if maybe they shouldn’t be) means something to me.  Furthermore, though I am a big believer in the right to privacy in principle, I think way too many people are way too hung up on personal privacy and it annoys me.  So, even though I know this is quite different from the political issue, I’m pretty sure my views on personal privacy (obviously, I’m not very concerned about it), shape how I see it as a political issue.

Furthermore, on issues where I lack expertise I come to rely on the opinions of those I’ve come to trust who also have more expertise than me.  And so far, most of those people are concerned/upset, but not overly so; and some not at all.  Anyway, that’s the unsatisfying end to my silence on the issue.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

8 Responses to On the surveillance

  1. Doxy says:

    Furthermore, though I am a big believer in the right to privacy in principle, I think way too many people are way too hung up on personal privacy and it annoys me.

    That seems like a fairly large contradiction. Care to parse that a bit?

  2. Mike Barr says:

    I don’t think anyone should expect that anything we do on the internet is private. Or cell phones. So I am not too worked up this either.

    • Doxy says:

      I don’t think anyone should expect that anything we do on the internet is private. Or cell phones.

      But WHY do you think so?

      I hear/see so many people saying this, but it makes no sense to me. Every time you write a check, you give your bank account number to every person who handles it. Yet, you don’t expect them to use that number to take all your money–and, if they do, you expect them to be prosecuted and imprisoned. Same with your credit card. Why is your cell phone or your e-mail account qualitatively different?

      • Mark says:

        I was going to reply with this exact same sentiment. Why shouldn’t it be private? There’s this little document called the Constitution that protects against unreasonable search and seizure. I don’t know about any of you, but knowing everything I do on the internet, who I call, what I say, and where I go seems pretty unreasonable to me.

        The government should have absolutely no right to monitor all of our activities unchecked, which is essentially what this amounts to. I’m shocked that people seem fine with ceding this right for really no reason. The government isn’t doing this to protect us, they are doing it because they can.

        Also, who cares if the American people are ok with this? Just because people support something doesn’t mean it’s right.

      • Doxy says:

        As I noted on my Facebook page yesterday (So…up yours, NSA, Facebook, Google, Verizon, et al.!):

        Just so you know….

        I categorically reject the assertion that I should not be outraged about something because “That’s just the way it is.” Or because “It’s legal.” My outrage is not new–I’ve been paying attention all along, and I’ve been outraged for decades. Nor do I believe my outrage is misplaced. Racism/Sexism/Homophobia are “just the way it is.” I still work to eliminate them. Slavery and marital rape were once legal. Legal ≠ Acceptable.

        I categorically reject the assertion that the “threat of terrorism” requires my government (or any private actor working on my government’s behalf) to collect–wholesale–the phone/e-mail/Internet data of 300 million Americans. Doing so means that my government has presumptively declared every American a suspected terrorist, and I find that repugnant. In addition, there is no evidence that doing so is keeping us safer. Having security officials tell me “Well, it’s protected you, but we can’t tell you how or when or from whom” does not count as “evidence.”

        I categorically reject the notion that people ought to have no expectation of a right to privacy in the digital age. “Get a typewriter” or “Go back to using a pen” are impossible solutions in this wired world. Legally protecting data–and instituting severe sanctions against those who misuse it–are not.

  3. Mike from Canada says:

    Everything is relative. Considering the US government or it’s agents can grab me from my house and stick me in a prison, never to be seen again and never tell anyone about it, or simply kill me outright, having them collect information about my phone calls is not a big deal. I don’t hear too much complaining about the former. No, the real dust up was about the government killing Americans. Forgive me if I find the outrage hypocritical. Especially from the Republicans.

    The problem with the internet and no expectation of privacy is the technology. It wasn’t designed with privacy in mind, and it shows. Corporations have almost as much access to what you do as the government. Your internet provider, and anyone who works there, or some Bolivian hacker can see most things you do over the internet. It simply isn’t secure. Add to that the complete inability of many computer users to secure their systems against viruses, worms, adware and data loggers only makes it worse.

    You cannot be assured of privacy on the internet.

    Cell phones have better security, but any technology can be beaten. Heck, my last land line cordless phone allowed me to listen to my neighbors calls. I won’t talk about important information (SIN numbers, bank numbers, etc) over a wireless phone. I may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t out to take my pitiful few belongings. Now viruses are making their way into smart phones.

    I would like to point out that most were fine with the government watching everyone’s internet and listening to everyone’s phone calls, outside of America. Now that Americans are included, everyone is up in arms. If it’s OK outside the US, why isn’t it OK inside?

    • Doxy says:

      Everything is relative. Considering the US government or it’s agents can grab me from my house and stick me in a prison, never to be seen again and never tell anyone about it, or simply kill me outright, having them collect information about my phone calls is not a big deal.

      I think those are both HUGE deals….and, as I noted above, I’ve been outraged for decades. I am not alone…but those of us who have opposed the ever-expanding Surveillance State have definitely been in the minority. 😦

      That is not the country I want to live in. It is NOT okay for the U.S. government to violate human rights laws, the Geneva Convention, or any other principle that protects human beings from extra-judicial imprisonment, judgment, or punishment.

      As for technology security…that is addressable. I’d love to see internet companies have to pay ENORMOUS fines for each and every instance that they breech your privacy (or allow others to do so). I bet you’d find the security and privacy of your information would become exponentially greater–and probably just about overnight….

      • itchy says:

        I don’t have much to add, but, for the record, I’m throwing in with Doxy and Mark. This isn’t right. It’s not right now, and it’s not going to be right when specific government representatives begin using this information for their own ends — and that *will* happen.

        Yes, this doesn’t come as a shock. Obama has been as bad or worse than Bush on this issue.

        Also, as far back as the Clinton administration, the government has worked against strong encryption of data, specifically so it can remain able to access any communication. The internet might not have been designed with privacy in mind, but many good ideas to protect privacy have been opposed by the government on security grounds.

        I understand that this is a tradeoff. I know the less we know about “evil doers,” the less we can stop them.

        But I call bull on claims that these programs have stopped attacks that would have happened without these programs. That’s too easy a card to play.

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