In between this initial description of the government’s Internet surveillance program (PRISM) and this collection of pics and musings of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s girlfriend that was passed around today, I’ve read quite a lot of coverage. And I was glad to see Bloomberg’s Clive Crook weigh in last night.
Because I found in many years working overseas that foreigners often have the most interesting perspectives on America’s politics, laws and government. Crook is a Brit but reports in his latest commentary that he hopes to gain American citizenship. As expected, he has some provocative things to say and not just about PRISM but also our legal system generally. Here’s an excerpt that I especially liked:
Power often seems to infect the powerful with tyrannical instincts. Shroud their transactions in secrecy and the danger multiplies. The people involved aren’t necessarily bad. First and foremost, in fact, they are bureaucrats — as muddled and incompetent as everybody else, with banal bureaucratic interests to advance. The NSA disclosures should remind us of this by drawing attention to the sheer size of the interests involved. Are NSA contractors who specialize in data mining likely to highlight the ineffectiveness of that technique? Is America’s law-enforcement industry — with its professionalized, para-militarized and literally uncountable agencies — going to call a halt to its own growth or ask for its powers to be curbed?
Then who is? It’s a danger this country’s founders understood. They devised protections and enshrined them in documents that still command quasi-religious devotion among Americans. That’s admirable. But in certain areas, including those where the state is most apt to indulge its totalitarian appetites, these protections have become matters more of form than content. Congress has failed. The courts have failed. As a would-be U.S. citizen, I’m hoping that might change.
While Crook’s concerns don’t extend as far as believing that PRISM is “blatantly unlawful or unconstitutional,” it does appear that some NSA actions were at least mildly unlawful or unconstitutional. For example, here are two New York Times links:
- Some history on the NSA’s increasing reach, including a 2004 showdown with Justice Department lawyers who expressed doubts that some of the data mining was constitutional.
- Reports from unnamed government officials – seemingly backed by vague admissions from the Justice Department – of activities that “went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress.”
The second NYT article above is from April, 2009. It was re-reported by ZeroHedge in this post, which is worth a look especially if you haven’t watched the NSA scene in Good Will Hunting for awhile.
Other interesting reports dredged up from the past include what appear to be blatant lies by National Intelligence Director James Clapper (read this account by Jacob Sullum, h/t Café Hayek), telephone companies (see this ZH post) and Internet companies (ZH again). Of course, it seems that telephone and Internet companies may have been required by the government to lie, as discussed yesterday in this Wall Street Journal article.
And more links that may be of interest:
- Read this ZH post for survey evidence (from the Pew Research Center) that the majority of Americans aren’t bothered by NSA spying (not surprising, right?) and this collection of links on Café Hayek for a heavy dose of why we should be bothered. (Update: Maybe I should have been surprised – ZH just linked to a Gallup poll showing the tide is turning. We’re now hearing that 53% of Americans disapprove of the government’s Internet snooping, 37% approve and 10% have no opinion.)
- Read this Arnold Kling post to learn why the surveillance revelations are uncomfortable for all, including the separate sources of “uncomfort” for libertarians, progressives and conservatives (the last one draws on Kling’s Three-Axes Model, which I think is really interesting).
- For the humorous side, here are photos, cartoons, suggested Facebook settings, and an e-mail from your friendly surveillance system (all of these from ZH contributors).
- And still drawing on ZH, here are Ron Paul’s thoughts and Tyler Durden’s reporting on who’s who in the surveillance contracting community.
- Last but not least, here’s the first Edward Snowden interview (with Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian), a second interview (with the South China Morning Post) published late last night, and the Cliff Notes version (27 Snowden quotes compiled by Michael Snyder).