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No secret: The tide is turning against domestic spying

Jesse Brown considers the numbers and sentiment behind headlines


 

Saul Loeb/Getty

The U.S. Congress has voted to let the NSA continue to spy on Americans, but the headlines don’t tell the whole story.

It’s true that last night in the House of Representatives an amendment was defeated that would have put an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk phone metadata collection, limiting the spying to those suspected of terrorism.

Here are some other truths:

  • Just two months ago, before Edward Snowden blew his whistle, Americans didn’t know the NSA’s domestic surveillance program existed.
  • In the time that has passed, a grassroots pro-privacy movement has sprung up, crossing America’s jagged partisan lines, uniting Tea Partiers with Occupiers.
  • A recent Washington Post poll found that 74 per cent of Americans think the NSA has violated their privacy rights.  In 2006, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 45 per cent of Americans felt government surveillance went too far.
  • Yesterday’s amendment was defeated by a razor-thin margin; 205 members of Congress voted for it, 217 against. Seven votes would have made the difference.
  • The amendment had widespread bipartisan support, with 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting to stop the NSA’s program, despite a forceful push from the White House to whip Democrats into lockstep against the measure.

My takeaway? Americans have had enough — a message their representatives are starting to appreciate.  The next Congressional elections are in 2014. I believe yesterday’s narrow loss will encourage pro-privacy voices, whereas a narrow victory may have placated them.

The PRISM phone metadata program is just one of many NSA domestic spying regimes: there’s Stellar Wind, a bulk email data-snooping scheme, ShellTrumpet, which has harvested more than 1 trillion pieces of Internet metadata, and EvilOlive, which collects bulk web traffic.  Ambitious Congressional candidates with their eyes on younger voters will do well to bang drums against such efforts, all of which were revealed by Edward Snowden, who, as I write, remains confined to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

Follow Jesse on Twitter, @JesseBrown

 

 


 
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No secret: The tide is turning against domestic spying

  1. For the tide to turn even more, citizens need to realize that, when assessing the terror threat, their brains are programmed to make a major miscalculation…per this: “This is Your Brain on Terror” http://bit.ly/162DtWE

    • Yeah, the land of the ‘brave and the free’ turned out to be neither. They’ve been scared senseless since 9/11 and it’s time they crawled out from under the bed.

    • There was a very good article in Macleans online a few years ago about the fears of people who live in basically safe places (countries). We apparently find it easy to become quite irrationally fearful because we don’t have anything really pressing to be afraid of. Such we fret about cell-phone safety; wifi safety; vaccine safety, etc. If we were in a war-torn country or living where disease and death were happening all around us, we would concentrate on real fears and we wouldn’t be looking for excuses to be fearful. It is quite fascinating…basically because we are safe, we are ripe for having our fears exploited.

      • Indeed… For example, we become irrationally fearfully of “government spying”, mostly because the average person has never met an NSA or CSEC officer, or any kind of intelligence professional, for that matter. If these agencies cannot defend themselves in detail because transparency would render their whole mandate moot, the effect is only enhanced.

        Yet meanwhile we suffer the illusion of being plenty familiar with journalists: we invite Duffy et al into our very homes, after all, so he must be a good guy… So despite ample evidence of phone hacking by the UK gutter press of the most direct sort, nobody’s afraid of rogue journalists at all. Reality is that it’s far more likely your phone calls are being overheard by The Guardian (or ‘Frank’, for that matter) than by anybody at the NSA or CSEC.

      • Indeed… For example, we become irrationally fearfull of “government spying”, mostly because the average person has never met an NSA or CSEC officer, or any kind of intelligence professional, for that matter. If these agencies cannot defend themselves in detail because transparency would render their whole mandate moot, the effect is only enhanced.

        Yet meanwhile we suffer the illusion of being plenty familiar with journalists: we invite Duffy et al into our very homes, after all, so he must be a good guy… So despite ample evidence of phone hacking by the UK gutter press of the most direct sort, nobody’s afraid of rogue journalists at all. Reality is that it’s far more likely your phone calls are being overheard by The Guardian (or ‘Frank’, for that matter) than by anybody at the NSA or CSEC.

      • Indeed… For example, we become irrationally fearfull of “government spying”, mostly because the average person has never met an NSA or CSEC officer, or any kind of intelligence professional, for that matter. If these agencies cannot defend themselves in detail because transparency would render their whole mandate moot, the effect is only enhanced.

        Yet meanwhile we suffer the illusion of being plenty familiar with journalists: we invite Duffy et al into our very homes, after all, so he must be a good guy… So despite ample evidence of phone hacking by the UK gutter press of the most direct sort, nobody’s afraid of rogue journalists at all. Reality is that it’s far more likely your phone calls are being overheard by The Guardian (or ‘Frank’, for that matter) than by anybody at the NSA or CSEC. They’re actually pretty busy with real work…

        • Most people have never met a terrorist either. Considering that you’re more likely to be harmed by a falling meteorite than a terrorist, perhaps our priorities on the subject are slightly misplaced.

          • I’m not sure how a recent Canadian track record of success in counter-terrorism is evidence against worth of that undertaking… or even much assurance that streak of success will endure. The likelihood of you or I dying in a relapse to Air India -style bureaucratic SNAFU is always uncertain, but real. I am quite sure that if our government is prevented from assessing patterns in metadata online, your likelihood of being hit by a terrorist will be much, MUCH greater than a meteorite.

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