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Observations on Everything

On Government Communications Surveillance

There’s no lack of evidence to show that there are people in the world who think that an appropriate response to the misdeeds of the West is to bring the death and destruction back and throw it in our faces. I fail to understand this logic of revenge, but unfortunately there are many who embrace it. Humanity has a long history on the failure of using evil to counter evil, but we never seem to convert this knowledge into wisdom.

This might be surprising, but because of this I’m not entirely opposed to governments communications surveillance for security reasons, even the communications of their own citizens – after all most acts of terror come from hateful people within our culture, not from the stereotypes the media is so enamoured with.

What I’m opposed to is the absence of transparency and accountability, and the unreliability of safeguards to prevent these tools from being misused and misrepresented. It is terrifyingly easy to realign an apparatus designed to repress terrorist threats into an apparatus designed to repress our freedoms. No group of people should be in the position where they can one day decide that the threat to the state is journalists and bloggers rather than bombers of buildings.

There is ample evidence that our governments have lied to us about the scope and nature of communications surveillance, and that they have played shell games with each other to override the intent of the limitations placed upon them. From this context it seems to me that the most appropriate course of action might be to whistle blowers like Edward Snowden alone and charge the people in charge of various security intelligence services instead.

From there we should move to a system of oversight that can reassure citizens that these tools are being used properly, even if they are being used to monitor domestic communications. In order to reduce the chances of corruption, oversight should include multiple layers of redundancy, populated with individuals selected through an open and public process. The intelligence community will likely react to this suggestion by complaining about the inherent security risks, but by outsourcing much of this work to private companies with demonstrably lax processes, they have already destroyed their ability to advance this sort of argument with even the slightest credibility.

  • Janet

    A cogent summary of the current situation. It occurs to me that, human nature being what it is, there may be no reliable way to ensure these tools are used ethically. But that never stopped us before.

    June 25, 2013 at 11:34

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