Saturday, February 1, 2014

Surveillance is for little people

Hide and seek. From The Little People Project by Slinkachu.
Let's just try this one more time:

I really don't like the idea of everybody's communications metadata, including mine, being collected, but I do like it better than one alternative, which is that exemplified by, say, the German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, speaking of Orwellian names), of spying only on one's political enemies, adherents of obnoxious sects and soi-disant religions, and threats to "free enterprise":
While the BfV uses all kinds of surveillance technology and infiltration, they mostly use open sources.[1] The BfV publishes a yearly report (Verfassungsschutzbericht) which is intended to raise awareness about anti-constitutional activities.[8]
Main concerns of the BfV are:
Hop, skip and jump.
Not that I'm convinced the FBI doesn't do the same kind of stuff. But the NSA is building that universal haystack from which one can trace the communications of any individual without regard to that individual's group memberships, partly because the other, profiling methodology, keeps leading you to Maher Arar instead of actual terrorists; and it seems to me that this technique also has the advantage of a kind of substantial fairness. The camera in the ATM alcove doesn't take your picture because of the kind of person you are, but because you're there, and treats everybody the same, and that's what the NSA does, except if you're a "US person" it tries (at least in theory) to throw the data away as soon as it recognizes the fact.
The Bundeskänzlerin sees things differently. It is a matter of no concern to her if somebody spies on Die Linke, the third largest political grouping (with 64 members) in the German parliament, but she can't stand it if somebody knows her own personal Handynummer (as we've noted before on this page, no evidence has ever been presented that the NSA ever listened to any of her phone calls or even collected the metadata, merely that they had the capability of doing so). You'd think she might have learned from her upbringing in the horrible old DDR that spying on ordinary people is wrong, but she has learned only that it's bad to spy on VIPs:
"Is it right that our closest partners such as the United States and Britain gain access to all imaginable data, saying this is for their own security and the security of their partners?" asked Merkel.
"Is it right to act this way because others in the world do the same?" she added before also touching on alleged British spying at international talks.
"Is it right if in the end this is not about averting terrorist threats but, for example, gaining an advantage over allies in negotiations, at G20 summits or UN sessions?"
Somewhat the way the Republican majority in the House of Representatives thinks it's OK for the IRS to decide whether a rape victim is telling the truth but not whether a self-denominated social welfare organization is really a (tax-liable) political action committee. To the true conservative, IRS bullying, like German domestic spying, should be reserved for the little people.

Compare President Obama's take in the State of the Union address:
That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.
You don't have to trust him to manage this, but you have to admit that he is recognizing the damage done to little people by the Cheney secret police and vowing to undo it.
Postscript: bad writing

Speaking of the Cheney secret police one of its most prominent victims, Thomas Drake, is more impressed by Merkel than I am, but in a peculiar way; he appropriates in an almost Romneyesque fashion some words quoted above, and some others from a later Merkelgraph—
"Billions of people living in undemocratic states today are looking very closely at how the democratic world responds to security threats – whether it acts with self-confidence and prudence, or whether it cuts off the branch that makes it so attractive in the eyes of billions: the freedom and dignity of the individual." 
—to create an entirely new sentence, of dubious meaning, but certainly not anything Merkel said:

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