NSA Defender Argues That Too Much Transparency Defeats The Purpose Of Democracy

from the oh-really? dept

Paul Rosenzweig, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at Homeland Security, was supposed to testify for the House Intelligence Committee about NSA surveillance. The hearing was postponed and Rosenzweig can’t make the new date, but he’s posted the testimony he intended to give, in which he makes this incredible claim:

Transparency is good. Too much transparency defeats the very purpose of democracy.

The details of this claim are, obviously, a lot more nuanced, but it seems like it’s built on a false premise: that people are seeking absolute and complete transparency in everything that the government does. While that may be true in some cases, it’s a very extreme minority. Most people are merely arguing that there are specific things that the government does in our name, which (often by law or Constitution) require significantly more transparency. But, Rosenzweig sets up this strawman to suggest that those arguing for greater transparency don’t recognize that there can be any secrecy.

Madison understood that transparency was not a supreme value that trumped all other concerns. He also participated in the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, the secrecy of whose proceedings was the key to its success. While governments may hide behind closed doors, U.S. democracy was also born behind them.

Right, but at the end of that process, it was made very, very public. Not so with NSA surveillance. So this is a total red herring. Imagine if the US Constitution were not just written in secret, but then kept that way? Furthermore, in retrospect, it’s difficult to see why it even made sense for the Constitutional Convention to have been secret in the first place. There’s really no reason why the negotiations and debates couldn’t have been done publicly.

In the new domain of dataveillance, the form of oversight should vary depending upon the extent to which transparency and opacity are necessary to the new powers authorized. Allowing some form of surveillance is vital to assure the protection of American interests. Conversely, allowing full public disclosure of our sources and methods is dangerous – identifying publicly how we conduct surveillance risks use of that information by terrorists and, in turn, draws a roadmap of which threats are not known. Thus, complete transparency will defeat the very purpose of disclosure and may even make us less secure.

This is the only place where Rosenzweig seems to come close to actually defending his initial statement that “too much transparency defeats the very purpose of democracy,” and it’s a very, very weak sell. If his initial premise is true, then he appears to be arguing that “the purpose of democracy” is to “protect us from terrorists.” That’s not true. It’s a fundamental error in his analysis. In fact, it can be very strongly argued that the opposite is true: we’ve long agreed that trading lives for freedom is part of the American Way. Patrick Henry argued “give me liberty or give me death.” He didn’t argue that we needed to give up liberties to protect him from death.

Furthermore, it’s patently and obviously false that public disclosure of how surveillance is conducted makes those surveillance methods useless. For decades it has been public knowledge that law enforcement can wiretap phone lines. And yet it remains a useful surveillance tool. Yes, some terrorists will figure out ways around it, but (as many people noted), most terrorists were already well aware that any electronic communication could and would be tracked, and they were careful to use other means when possible. Furthermore, the goal of a free society should not be to stop terrorists from any possible way of communicating in secret, but to recognize that this is going to happen no matter what, and to focus on alternative means of policing, intelligence and law enforcement to do our best to protect against it.

In the end, I have to think that Patrick Henry’s rallying cry of “give me liberty or give me death” is a hell of a lot more American that Rosenzweig’s surveillance state apologism of “too much transparency undermines democracy.” We should be living in a country that stands behind the first statement and rejects, wholeheartedly, the cowardice and shamefulness of the latter.

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Comments on “NSA Defender Argues That Too Much Transparency Defeats The Purpose Of Democracy”

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DCX2 says:

The Spinal Tap Fallacy

The Spinal Tap Fallacy is derived from the movie “This is Spinal Tap”, where the amplifier can be turned up to 11. This fallacy involves taking an opponent’s approach and then taking it to the extreme in an attempt to prove that the opponent’s approach is flawed. It is very similar to a straw man, in that the opponent’s argument is misrepresented – while the opponent may argue for a 4 on the e.g. opaque/transparent spectrum, those wielding this fallacy pretend they argue for an 11. They do this because they have no real rebuttal for e.g. a transparency of 4.

out_of_the_blue says:

Too much focus on enemy statements defeats democracy.

Just QUIT amplifying what these criminals say, Mike.

In order to win ANY debate, you must first have a positive to state. It’s not enough to bring up the vague concept of “democracy” — no one even agrees what it means, but it’s not necessarily inalienable human rights, just majority will. “Democracy” is a flawed concept that can equally suit tyrants by claiming they do what the people want. That one equivocal word won’t defeat tyrants with their many simple lies besides guns and internment camps.

Every day these criminals remain free, WE LOSE. The call to action is: “Indict, try, and JAIL”.

Limited government means limiting The Rich who own it.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Too much focus on enemy statements defeats democracy.

I agree. We must find the ones who have subverted our democracy and our rights. We must indict them for the murders they committed. We must jail them and replace their system with something transparent and legal. Finally, we must place the blame where it belongs. Who killed whom? Who was complicit? Who works to subvert our democracy by keeping the evidence out of court?

Indict, Try, Jail. Then the rest of civilized society can get together and decide how to deal with each other when that is done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Transparency and Open Government

The ?? W?H?I?T?E ?? H?O?U?S?E?: ?? President Barack Obama
Transparency and Open Government

Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies
SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.?blah ?blah? ?blah? ?blah-blah? ?blah? ?blah-blah-blah?

Blah.? Blah-blah.? blah? Blah? ?blah-blah-blah? blah.? Blah.?

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.


Anonymous Coward says:

Obama says his is ?most transparent administration' ever

?Obama says his is ?most transparent administration’ ever?, by Jonathan Easley, The Hill, February 14, 2013

President Obama on Thursday hailed his administration for its transparency.

?This is the most transparent administration in history,? Obama said during a Google Plus ?Fireside? Hangout.

?I can document that this is the case,? he continued.?

Paul says:

Re: Obama says his is ?most transparent administration' ever

The only transparency I’m aware of now is within our ability to see thru their non-stop lies and “least untruthful” statements.

So I ask: When will we see some accountability?

Why have there been no arrests or charges filed for their illegal & criminal actions? Our “Whistle Blowers” have made the truth public knowledge. Why is it that for telling the truth they go to jail and for lying our corrupt officials get a promotion with a BIG pay raise?

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s a fundamental error in his analysis.

His primary error is he does not distinguish between targeted surveillance and the watch everyone approach that the US government has adopted. Ed Snowden did not rebel about the technology of surveillance but the total invasion of privacy being practised by government agencies. To a large extent the backlash against surveillance is due to the gather everything approach, not the idea of targeting known and suspected terrorist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fair enough

Conversely, allowing full public disclosure of our sources and methods is dangerous ? identifying publicly how we conduct surveillance risks use of that information by terrorists and, in turn, draws a roadmap of which threats are not known.

Fair enough…how about an ACCURATE disclosure to a COMPETENT oversight group then?

With “competent” being defined as “someone who doesn’t stand to make a fuckton of money from said programs.”
Follow that with criminal charges for lying to that oversight group, who will regularly audit the accuracy of your answers.

Because anything short of that is just more of the same bullshit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Land of the free and home of the brave. According to Paul Rosenzweig, Americans are not brave anymore and instead cower in fear.

I reject this man’s claim. I’m not a coward and he’s not going to succeed in trying to turn me into one.

Go fly a kite Paul. I’ll take my freedom and constitutional rights, over your unconstitutional domestic spy programs, any time.

If the NSA domestic spy programs were around in 1787, it would be quite obvious why the Constitutional Convention would have needed to be carried out in secrecy and who the Founding Fathers were hiding from.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Trading lives for freedom is part of the American Way

Not enough people in this debate are emphasizing this.

When somebody says “people will die” as a justification for curtailing liberty, the correct response is “what are you suggesting – that liberty isn’t worth dying for? That those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms made the wrong choice?”

Brazenly Anonymous says:

Informed decision

In a democracy, all citizens bear some responsibility for what decisions are made. They cannot carry out this responsibility if they are not informed.

The public must be made aware of new capabilities being deployed so they have an opportunity to withdraw authorization. Additionally, the wielding of aggressive capabilities, including spying, should require specific targets as authorized by a declaration of war against said targets. It shouldn’t matter if every other country is barbaric enough to do this, lead the world on a better path.

You can declare war against Al-Qaeda, you can’t declare against terror. You can declare war against specific named drug cartels and their allies, you can’t declare war against drugs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Looks to me like too much spying damages democracy.

By the standards of ‘people will die’ we should never send another troop into combat from this day forward if that metric used. By those same standards, no one should drive, no one should fly, no one should ride a train, car, or mobile conveyance. No one should ever again work a hazardous job such as the oil and gas industry, a repair electrician, or ship’s captain. Some how that metric doesn’t look valid in that context.

What we have been treated to once again, is another misdirection attempt. It holds as much water as my flour sifter.

Postulator (profile) says:

What is wrong with total transparency?

I think government should be totally transparent. It is there for the citizens, and they need to know what is being done in their names. Without knowing what my government knows, how can I trust anyone, from politicians to the public servant who assesses my tax return?

In the digital, all-accessing age the default position should be “publish everything”, with opportunity to argue for specific restrictions.

GEMont (profile) says:

No Matter What!!!

“Furthermore, the goal of a free society should not be to stop terrorists from any possible way of communicating in secret, but to recognize that this is going to happen no matter what, and to focus on alternative means of policing, intelligence and law enforcement to do our best to protect against it.”

Actually, the bolded part of this statement is incorrect.

Terrorists are not attacking the USA because they hate our freedoms, or our lifestyle, or any of the common but utterly silly rationalizations given by those who profit from having an “enemy” to blame things on and to use as an excuse for stripping Americans of every last right and legal protection in the name of security.

Terrorism – real terrorism – is entirely a response to Military Adventures by greater powers such as the USA, invading the lands and destroying the social infrastructures of resource-rich, or small, foreign nations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, for domestic commercial reasons. It is a response to Empire Building.

If the Russians had invaded the USA and plowed all your homes into the ground and killed all your able-bodied men and boys and destroyed your hospitals, schools and businesses, you can damn well bet that American survivors would immediately become “terrorists” in the eyes of the Russian Occupation and would whenever possible, find ways to bring their anger to the shores of Russia itself.

That form of rebellion against invasion and eradication, is common to all nations, all peoples.

If you stop invading and destroying other people’s countries and mass-murdering their citizens, you eliminate terrorism altogether, thus the no matter what part is removed from the equation altogether, eliminating the need to fight Terrorism altogether.

If you buy into the false rationalization that Terrorists exist because Americans have SUVs and flat screen TVs, then you might as well accept the rest of the Fed’s crap and admit you believe that the NSA needs to have a Snoop and Scoop office in your bedroom to protect the USA from Alien Invaders.

… or have your tinfoil hat upgraded to sheet metal.

Loki says:

The details of this claim are, obviously, a lot more nuanced, but it seems like it’s built on a false premise: that people are seeking absolute and complete transparency in everything that the government does.

The reason people demand this level of transparency is directly related to the level and quantity of ignorant, incompetent, deceptive, disingenuous, and/or fake arguments we are being presented with her.

Joachim Geisler says:

US are on WAR against democracy and transperancy

We are in 2013 in the same situation like 1788.

90% our finance products are products of playing-Banks.
The Problem is: the pay no TAX like the People of French King and Church in 1788, before the revolution in 1789 starts.

We Need clear bank products and no politic like soviet Union and stop the Oligarchie, with no tax payment.
A oligarchi-System need NSA. Democracie ist a open System!

NAS ha a lot of work:
Who we bring Food vor 4000 Indian childreen, we kill every day. Who we bring trees in the Sahara?

800 Mill. People are hungry,
800 Mill. People has no work,
800 Mill. People has no clear water,
800 Mill. People has no houses.

The Problem is: US states is on war agains demorcracy.
Nice weekend

Best regards
Joachim Geisler

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