Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Push Button Tyranny

The bulk of the public debate on the Edward Snowden revelations is missing the point. We hear and read about the use of the Prism system in the hunt for Islamist terrorists, but we hear precious little of what a failure it has been in that application. We hear that it can only be used by authorization from the secret FISA court, but the court has only ruled on the collection of the data, not on the method used to make sense of it.

Snowden has not warned us about what has already been done with this appliance. It is all about what its abilities are, what it can be used to do - in the words of Snowdon, "Turnkey tyranny."

Snowden has revealed that our government is building a machine, a system that will make profiling any single one of us a trivial task. This is not about bugging every single one of us. This is about the government acquiring and retaining far more data on us that that. Simple conversations would tell something about us, but a data profile that shows where we have been, who we communicated with and how much money we have spent tell a far more detailed story about us than hundreds of hours of conversation might.

 Defenders of the status quo are on all sides of the political spectrum, from social conservatives and neo-cons to populists to members of the hard and institutional left. The only way that any American can support the creation and continued existence of such a system is by pretending that we can trust the executive. This, after all, something that comes strictly out of the executive branch. It was never authorized by specific legislation, never discussed in an open congressional committee meeting, no court has ruled on its constitutionality.

It seems to me that if we wish to have a debate on this, we should at least listen to Edward Snowden himself. He makes his own case pretty well, and to argue this on any side one at least should take a few minutes to hear him out.