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Unless data collection is abused, let’s give NSA the benefit of the doubt

REUTERS
The National Security Agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

MARSHALL, Minn. — So we have figured out that we are all being watched by the NSA. Surprise, surprise. After all, it is so easy to do now since there is no need to actually have a detective follow people when everyone leaves an electronic trail the size of a highway. But what is the problem?

It is interesting to note that it is people on the extreme left and (less) extreme right who are all so unhappy about this; normal people in the center do not care much because they understand that real life is different from the unrealistic ideal (to put it mildly) that all extreme groups have as their vision. Freedom is great, and I did come to America for that, but safety is a must for freedom because being alive is a major part of being free.

I don’t care if government agents at the airport see me through my clothes (aren’t we all pretty much the same that way?). I don’t care if the government knows whom I called, when, and where to. I don’t care if it takes a picture of me at the street intersection and at the mall. I don’t care if it has my DNA and fingerprints. Those things do not infringe on my freedom to think, say, and do whatever I want, and that is what constitutes liberty. There is no privacy anymore anyway when people document their every thought on Twitter and one can easily buy a drone to take a video of anyone’s backyard.

People who don’t have anything illegal to hide do not need to worry. The fact that the government keeps an eye on all of us is not – to a degree – on its own a matter of concern. However, what government does with the information it collects matters; it should not share it with anyone, for example. What the law criminalizes matters even more. If disagreeing with the government or insulting a president is illegal, then we have a problem, but I have not heard of anything of this nature. And Congress is the one making these laws, not the president.

The other problem arises when the government starts selectively applying laws and personal information it possesses; that is why the IRS picking on certain groups is much more worrisome than the NSA spying on all of us. Government shall be impartial unless statistics provide grounds for some deviation from impartiality. Affirmative action has no basis, while checking specific groups of people at airports does, just like charging women less for car insurance. If there is statistical proof that conservative groups violate tax law more than liberal, by all means they should be checked more often, but then and only then.

Easier to kill many these days

Sure, I know what Benjamin Franklin said about liberty and safety (“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”), but that was said more than 200  years ago and things have changed since then a lot — and not necessarily for the better, at least from the point of how easy it is to kill a few hundred people. We are not talking about “a little” safety.

Of course, all politicians lie (now more than ever), and the government can’t be trusted. But its main job is to keep us safe and if that is what it needs to do for that, so be it. When they catch terrorists this way, I am all for that. And until this program is abused I will give my government the benefit of the doubt, especially considering that Congress was aware of this program. We should all remember that anarchy is not equal to freedom. Similarly, exposing a democratic state’s secrets does not promote liberty.

However, there are two troublesome aspects in this deal. First, how was Edward Snowden hired if he did not graduate from high school and provided some questionable credentials — and why was he paid over $100,000 a year? Now he has even admitted that he sought this job with the goal to reveal the secrets. The government seems utterly incompetent at keeping its secrets, and that is truly troublesome.

Not only the government seems incompetent at keeping its secrets, it also managed to put America in a position when no one respects or fears it and everyone feels free to poke it in the eye and ignore anything it asks. The foreign policy in the last eight years has expressed weakness and lack of assertiveness. And surely, the world has noticed.

No clue how real world works

So let’s all stop going crazy about this latest revelation and take Snowden for what I think he really is: a self-centered, fame-seeking traitor who wanted to emulate Julian Assange, a man who violated the trust of his country and who revealed potentially damaging information to its enemies. Snowden has said that he chose China because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” Really? These guys (Assange, Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, who wrote articles based on this information, Bradley Manning, et al.) have no clue how the real world works, who the bad guys are, and who benefits from their actions. It is not surprising that revelations are always damaging to democratic countries but never to dictatorships.

Democracies should be able to defend themselves and keep their citizens safe. If some minimal restrictions are put on our freedom, terrorists don’t win since they do not care whether we are free or not. They only win when they kill us, and the government must not let it happen.

Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minn. 

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/10/2013 - 12:08 pm.

    Breathtaking Ignorance

    The reality is that this system of surveillance is set up to be completely invisible. The judges overseeing the FISA court are all appointed by Chief Justice Roberts and are the MOST pro-government, anti-individual rights, rabidly conservative jurists he can find.

    They will do NOTHING to limit government abuse of this surveillance system should it arise, especially if that abuse is aimed at what “conservatives” regard to be “undesirable” individuals and groups.

    The government, including those in charge of the NSA’s (and other) surveillance systems, had been telling congress (even the relevant intelligence committees) bald faced lies about how extensive and pervasive their surveillance had grown to be.

    Edward Snowden, at great personal risk to himself, exposed those lies. NO ONE has sought to deny what he exposed because he is telling the truth. Therefore, he is nothing short of a hero. What he has exposed represents a great personal risk to each and every American.

    Although our historical memory is very, very short, human nature abides. It is INEVITABLE that a new Joe McCarthy will eventually arise and gain sufficient power to use whatever systems are then in place to seek to clear from society, by exile, imprisonment, or secret “do not hire,” lists those people his paranoid delusions tell him to pursue.

    If these systems are not changed from their current state, there will be nothing to stop such a deranged person from locking up this/her enemies and using information which “cannot be revealed” to terrify uninformed people, threaten the media into fully complicit support and drum up support for a fascist takeover of our nation,…

    all based on secret surveillance systems and secret information which far too many people now believe never would or could be used for anything but our protection.

    Such a figure could and certainly would used that secret surveillance information to confiscate weapons in private hands since those weapons would represent a threat to the rising fascist state.

    Those younger folks, and younger-hearted folks among us will recognize Ilya Gutman’s naive attitude: “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide,” as EXACTLY the slogan “Lord Voldemort” of the “Harry Potter” series had his minions use to allow themselves to lock up a lot of innocent wizards,…

    all those the “Dark Lord’s” own paranoid delusions caused him to identify as enemies (those whose parents, like his own, provided them with only half or less magic blood lines).

    Our own current surveillance systems will, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be used in the same way if allowed to continue in their current far-too-secret, unconstitutional, no PUBLIC warrant, unreasonable search and seizure, form.

    If you, like so many others, think you have nothing to hide, you don’t understand how even the most innocuous situations and communications in your life can be twisted to make you look like an enemy of the state and nation should someone in power decide that you are an enemy.

  2. Submitted by Chris Finke on 07/10/2013 - 12:51 pm.

    Is this satire?

    I can’t tell if this is supposed to be satire or not. Does anyone truly believe “I’ll trust the government that I admit is incompetent and full of liars with all of my private data because I don’t think any of the thousands of people who have access to the data will ever misuse it.”?

    Just like Soylent Green, the government is people! It’s not a single infallible entity that always has your best interests at heart; it is thousands of people just like you and me and your best friend and your worst enemy that we have elected to represent us (and the people that our representatives have hired or appointed).

    Just because someone is elected doesn’t give them carte blanche to infringe upon your privacy in the name of safety. Should the eighth-graders on your child’s school’s student council be able to read any text messages your child sends or receives? That could certainly help keep them safe.

    And last, how can you trust the government with all of your data if you admit that they’ve already given access to it it to someone like Snowden (who you obviously have a low opinion of)? Wouldn’t you consider that “abuse”?

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/10/2013 - 05:09 pm.

    Sort of….

    Actually, far fewer people have access to this data at the NSA than do at the private sector companies that actually compile this data. I’m not saying my trust in the government has no limits but several hurdles would be eliminated not just jumped before a politician like McCarthy would get his hands on this data for political purposes. In fact since FISA was created nothing like that has happened. Nixon hired his own henchmen to break into Watergate because he couldn’t trust government agencies to do it in secret. Hoover spied on guys like MLK but they never deployed anything successfully and Hoover is long gone.

    I’m not quite as cavalier as Ms. Gutman but must admit I have a hard time worked about this program. My biggest concern is that NSA analysts are buried under trillions of bits of data with algorithms that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Data mining has thus far located more fools gold than priceless nuggets. I would be more concerned if we had stories of folks being surveilled, detained, or interrogated based on this program, but I’ve not seen any reports of that. On the contrary the Boston bombers slipped completely under the radar even though they had been interviewed and identified. It’s all very hit and miss.

  4. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 07/14/2013 - 09:34 pm.

    Reply

    It was interesting to learn from Mr. Kapphahn that all judges overseeing this program are appointed by Chief Justice Roberts and therefore are “the most pro-government, anti-individual rights, rabidly conservative jurists.” I was actually under impression that conservative are usually anti-government and pro-individual rights; in fact, anti-government tendency of conservatives is a constant theme of liberals. I also thought that it was conservatives who were targeted by the IRS, not liberals. But why does it matter if someone wants to blame someone…

    I also wonder what Mr. Kapphahn would say if someone disclosed that American government had found out where bin Laden was hiding and was going to kill him? Would a person disclosing it be a hero? To bin Laden, yes, but not to me and, hopefully, not to most Americans.

    Now there is a simple way not to allow future Joe McCarthy to imprison us: Do not elect him. And elect enough others who would not allow him to imprison us if he is elected in some place. It is that simple – know who you vote for. Of course all of this has nothing to do with the NSA program since if we are killed by terrorists, we would not need to fear the next McCarthy.

    I also want to reiterate that I did not say that I was OK with everything government does. I just wanted to say that instead of bashing the surveillance program itself we should pay closer attention to how it is being used, who has access to it, who manages it, etc. If some painkillers are abused, it doesn’t mean that they all have to be banned.

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