Monday, June 10, 2013

What's really going on with the NSA story? (Updated)

I think it was Ben Franklin who said that a man who would give up liberty for security deserves neither.  And I absolutely dislike the Patriot Act that gave the government new powers that I personally believe are against the Constitution.  I've been frustrated about Obama's unwillingness to challenge these civil liberties questions, and moreover, to use them--coolly and ruthlessly.  It's one of my biggest disappointments with having a moderate Republican in the White House (because there are no Democrats any more).

Still the whole NSA data gathering thing is not new.  It's been going on for 12 years and I certainly remember hearing about it earlier.

And, meanwhile, Hmmm.
[T]he Greenwald and Washington Post stories are somehow bombshells, taken at face value. Has our collective attention span become so ridiculously short that we’re suddenly shocked by news of the NSA attaining data about Americans as a means of fighting evildoers? Has everyone been asleep for the last 12 years? 
To summarize, yes, the NSA routinely requests information from the tech giants. But the NSA doesn’t have “direct access” to servers nor is it randomly collecting information about you personally. Yet rending of garments and general apoplexy has ruled the day, complete with predictable invective about the president being “worse than Bush” and that anyone who reported on the ne w information debunking the initial report was and is an Obamabot apologist.
...this prioritization of security over liberty wasn’t invented by this president. It began as the unforgivable exploitation of fear in the days after 9/11 and became entwined in the American worldview. We’ve sadly become just as accustomed to unnecessary searches and privacy intrusions as the federal government has grown accustomed to going beyond its mandate to smoke out the evildoers.
And about the story....apparently it has changed along the way.
The [Washington Post] story alleges that the NSA is “reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.” It specifically names nine companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple. And the story alleges, “From inside a company's data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes.” 
...And then a funny thing happened the next morning. If you followed the link to that story, you found a completely different story, nearly twice as long, with a slightly different headline. The new story wasn’t just expanded; it had been stripped of key details, with no acknowledgment of the changes. That updated version, time-stamped at 8:51 AM on June 7, backed off from key details in the original story. 
Crucially, the Post removed the "knowingly participated" language and also scrubbed a reference to the program as being " highly classified." In addition, a detail in the opening graf that claimed the NSA could “track a person’s movements and contacts over time” was changed to read simply "track foreign targets."
is this a correction?  Or a whitewash?  Thing is, it's pretty much impossible to erase anything that appears on the internet--someone always has a cache somewhere.  So you can't whitewash it, not really.   I guess this is a litmus of whether you see conspiracies and an effective government, or sometimes-bumbling average human beings.

Along the same lines, is the leaker an honorable whistleblower, or a narcissist?  And why is he holed up in Hong Kong?

I have to say, I've got so little faith in journalism anymore, that I have no confidence we will ever figure this out.

Update:  Here's a sober overview about the two programs that are under discussion.


Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

An excellent response to the "scandal" here:

He makes the excellent point that this sort of thing has been going on for decades, though on a smaller scale. He also makes the equally excellent point that for people to actually be monitoring the contents of millions of people's phone calls, there would have to be hundreds of thousands of people doing nothing but that--which there is not.

IT said...

Absolutely. You know, the conspiracy theorists are generally the same people who think that government is full of incompetents. Well, you can't have it both ways. Either they are incredibly smart ruthless and efficient processors of information, or they are bumbling bureaucrats. I haven't been happy with the Patriot act from the beginning, but this is just more of the same....