I am still uncertain about my position on the recent NSA/PRISM “scandal”, mostly because (a) we knew that things like this would happen because of the Patriot Act, we warned against it at the time because of EXACTLY this type of situation, and yet it passed overwhelmingly and has been re-extended by huge margins ever since.
But also: (b) I’m not convinced that it’s as bad as the people WHO HAPPEN TO BE THE ONES WHO WOULD BENEFIT FROM HYPING IT THE MOST are… hyping it up as much as they possibly can. Especially when those hyping it up the most as a huge scandal are the people who voted for it to be allowed in the first place <ahem>members of Congress who seemed to be OK with the program and its sweeping powers when there was a different President in place AND when other evidence of the program came out in 2006<sub-ahem>anyone remember wiretapping?</sub-ahem></ahem>
Don’t get me wrong: I do take, and have always taken, the position that the Patriot Act was hugely misguided, as is the NDAA. Both were railroaded into law by fear, and trample significantly on important civil liberties in order to provide some tiny semblance of security theater that makes us feel safer without actually being so. What I don’t understand is the pearl-clutching outrage of people who are shocked… SHOCKED that the government actually USED the powers that they were given to legally use, and by all accounts seem to be using within the confines and constraints that they were given by law, approved by your legislators.
If you are outraged and shocked right now because of the NSA doing what they were legally enabled to do, then I suggest you must have been in a continuous state of shock and outrage for the past 12 years, because this is exactly why we were against the Patriot Act back then.
That being said, if more information about actual abuse comes out I am free to change my stance. But as of right now, I see the side trying their damnedest to turn this into a scandal happens to be the same group who has been obsessed with turning the Benghazi attack into some massive coverup by a President who hates the troops and is a secret Muslim. The other side (who by all accounts, actually know what they are talking about) seems to be far more rational and reasoned about the discussion. See this article as an example, from Vanity Fair writer Kurt Eichenwald, an author and self-described civil libertarian who spent a long time post-9/11 investigating and publishing a book about the NSA data-mining programs.
The core takeaway, which has now turned into a significant crux issue of the whole conversation, is that the reported “direct access” the NSA had/has to Google/Facebook/Yahoo/etc. did NOT mean they could tap into those companies’ servers whenever they wanted to retrieve information. It means that when the government requested information, those companies put that information onto specific shared servers (FTP servers, in Google’s case) that contained only that information that was requested and approved. It appears that these companies did their best to ensure that the data being requested was done so legally and with the appropriate approval as well.
To me, those two scenarios are VERY different. I expect the second one to happen: it’s good security practice. The “direct access” that was implied in the original article was spun to imply that first one, which is incorrect, misleading, and hype intended to spin up outrage.
Which is exactly my point. The government asking for data from a company, with legally-approved methods, processes and set of approvals for doing so, and getting ONLY that data on an intermediate server that is isolated from the rest of the company’s data? That’s the process I would expect to see, and is a normal part of law enforcement.
Again, don’t get me wrong: do I hate the Patriot Act and the NDAA with all my tiny black and shriveled heart? Yes, yes I do. Do I hate the government snooping on everyone’s conversations? Absolutely, I do. In addition, the “what do you have to hide?” responses to this issue terrify me: if the government showed up at your door and demanded this information in person, you would be up in arms, and rightfully so. I don’t want the government snooping on me without significant protections, without due cause, without a WARRANT.
But when you give the government the legal right to do so, you give up your right to be indignant about it when they actually take you up on the offer.