Dec 08 2013

Will limits work?

Published by at 9:59 pm under Government,Privacy

A number of tech giants are petitioning the US federal government to put limits on the surveillance powers of agencies such as the NSA.  Specifically, there are eight organizations, led by Microsoft and Google who are stating that the governmental spying machines are putting them in a bad business position by eroding the trust that the public and other companies have in the systems created by the monitoring efforts.  Here in Europe this is definitey true and as each new revelation of phone tapping and metadata collection is revealed, it only becomes harder and harder for businesses and users to trust.  But the real question is, even if the laws are changed to make the wholesale collection of data harder, will it put a check on the organizations who see it as their mandate to protect the public from ‘terrorists’ no matter what the cost?

I could go on for pages about the problems with the current attitudes of law enforcement, about the problems with justifying all this spying by invoking the specter of terrorism, about the potential for abuse, about the cost in capital and human time to use this data, and the lack of effectiveness of wholesale data collection.  And I want to, but it wouldn’t do much good.  Most people have already made up their minds on the subject, our agencies are addicted to the power this surveillance gives them, and most people are ignorant as to the danger the wholesale capture of data can create.  If the last point were even slightly wrong, we wouldn’t be giving companies our data by the bucketload in order to share pictures of our cats and kids.

I believe in due process, the rule of law and constraints on government power. And I think we’re at a point in history where most of that has been thrown out the window, using a witch hunt as an excuse.  Changing the laws won’t make it any better; either the laws will be written by the very agencies we’re trying to limit, with plenty of loopholes designed to let them keep doing what they’re doing, or the laws will be ignored and circumvented until we have a new leak that sets off another round of … the same exact thing.  I’m pretty pessimistic on the subject.

Can changes in law lead to a reform of the system?  Yes, they can, but the question is, will they?  In the short term, I think it’s impossible for us to have any meaningful change, in part because the system in the US is too drunk on it’s own power.  In the long term, if the public will is strong, then we might see changes.  We’ve had McCarthy and Hoover and Nixon, we’ve made it through dark times before, but it took a long time to recover from each of these people.  The world will survive another round of abused power, but the question is where will we end up as an worldwide population?  Probably with less liberties forever.

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