I’ve of two minds about the current “scandal” about the government keeping track of phone numbers called by Verizon customers.

On one hand, I am extremely alarmed that we are rather quickly becoming a surveillance state, with pretty much our every move monitored and examined.

On the other hand, why are we so surprised? After 9/11, politicians on both sides — not to mention the American people — demanded that the government take every step to fight a war on terrorism. We passed the Patriot act with only one Congressman voting against it. Every traveler puts up with invasive, dehumanizing (and largely ineffective) searches every time they want to travel in an airplane. A large segment of the American population applauded the use of torture to gain information. And on and on. So why are we acting shocked?

David Simon has an excellent article on this. You should read it, and here is a short quote to encourage you to do so:

But those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed and ideologically-motivated enemy. And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks. After all, we as a people, through our elected representatives, drafted and passed FISA and the Patriot Act and what has been done here, with Verizon and assuredly with other carriers, is possible under that legislation. Indeed, one Republican author of the law, who was quoted as saying he didn’t think the Patriot Act would be so used, has, in this frantic little moment of national overstatement, revealed himself to be either a political coward or an incompetent legislator. He asked for this. We asked for this. We did so because we measured the reach and possible overreach of law enforcement against the risks of terrorism and made a conscious choice.

Frankly, I’m a bit amazed that the NSA and FBI have their shit together enough to be consistently doing what they should be doing with the vast big-data stream of electronic communication. For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse. We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course we do.

Lastly, who would have thought that Michael Moore and Glenn Beck would ever agree on anything? In simultaneous tweets, they both praised the leaker of this confidential information, with Moore calling him “hero of the year” and Beck calling him “the NSA patriot leaker”.

Now, the main question is whether we will actually do anything about the wholesale trampling on our privacy in the name of security. Or after the next terrorist attack, will we fall back in line demanding that the government do everything and anything to try to prevent it from happening again, the constitution be damned.

Share