John Kerry Claims US Is On The 'Right Side Of History' When It Comes To Online Freedom And Transparency

from the might-still-making-right,-despite-technological-developments dept

Once you’ve ceded the high ground, it’s very difficult to reclaim it. At this time last year, the Secretary of State could have gotten away with the following remarks, but just barely. The NSA documents had not yet been revealed, but the US government had been giving up chunks of free speech high ground for quite some time.

Now, with the NSA’s programs exposed, along with this administration’s quest to punish whistleblowers and maintain the opacity left behind by the Bush administration, there’s no approaching the high ground. But that didn’t stop John Kerry — in his remarks to the Freedom Online Coalition Conference — from planting a flag halfway up and declaring it the summit. (h/t to Dan Froomkin of the Intercept)

[L]et me be clear – as in the physical space, cyber security cannot come at the expense of cyber privacy. And we all know this is a difficult challenge. But I am serious when I tell you that we are committed to discussing it in an absolutely inclusive and transparent manner, both at home and abroad. As President Obama has made clear, just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should do it. And that’s why he ordered a thorough review of all our signals intelligence practices. And that’s why he then, after examining it and debating it and openly engaging in a conversation about it, which is unlike most countries on the planet, he announced a set of concrete and meaningful reforms, including on electronic surveillance, in a world where we know there are terrorists and others who are seeking to do injury to all of us.

First off, almost every “cyber security” bill has pushed for security at the expense of privacy. CISPA has done this twice. The new CISPA, being presented by the Senate, does the same thing.

Second, the reforms set up by the administration are hardly “concrete and meaningful.” They’re shallow and limited and do very little to walk back the expansive readings of outdated laws (something Kerry references earlier in his remarks) that have led to these programs being declared “legal.” There is a review currently underway, but almost everything the review board has suggested has been ignored.

As for “examining and debating” domestic surveillance, the president only did so because he could no longer ignore it. The leaks weren’t simply going to stop and so he finally “welcomed the debate” he’d been making stand out in the foyer for the past several years.

But here’s where Kerry treads deepest on his faux moral high ground.

And finally, transparency – the principles governing such activities need to be understood so that free people can debate them and play their part in shaping these choices. And we believe these principles can positively help us to distinguish the legitimate practices of states governed by the rule of law from the legitimate practices of states that actually use surveillance to repress their people. And while I expect you to hold the United States to the standards that I’ve outlined, I also hope that you won’t let the world forget the places where those who hold their government to standards go to jail rather than win prizes.

That last sentence is incredible, in the most pejorative sense. This administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers — the people who “hold their government to standards” — than all other administrations combined. And this administration isn’t done yet. The infamous “Insider Threat” program, one that tells US government employees to look for warning signs like “dissatisfaction with government policies,” began during this administration. Further efforts are being kicked around in the wake of Snowden’s departure from the NSA with thousands of documents, including the Director of National Intelligence telling employees they can no longer speak to the media. The CIA spies on the Senate while a Senator sends the DOJ on a mission to find out who leaked bullet points from the still-secret CIA Torture Report to journalists.

As for the prizes, I presume Kerry is referring to the awarding of Pulitzers to journalists who reported on the Snowden leaks. If so, that’s a very self-serving statement, considering the government had exactly nothing to do with awarding these prizes and if it was in the administration’s hands, those prizes would not have gone to The Guardian and the Washington Post.

Kerry caps it off by casting the internet freedom fight as a battle between right and wrong — which it is — but portrays the US government as being firmly on the “right” side.

[T]his debate is about two very different visions: one vision that respects freedom and another that denies it. All of you at the Freedom Online Coalition are on the right side of this debate, and now we need to make sure that all of us together wind up on the right side of history.

This is a very chilling statement, one that suggests the Freedom Online Coalition needs to side with the US government if it wishes to “wind up on the right side of history.” As it stands right now, the “right side of history” is almost diametrically opposed to the administration’s protection of abusive agencies and persecution of whistleblowers. Kerry’s words read more like a subtle threat. Fight the good fight, he says, but never forget history is written by the winners. Your “privacy” will never be worth more than your “security,” not when those values are determined by the government.

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Comments on “John Kerry Claims US Is On The 'Right Side Of History' When It Comes To Online Freedom And Transparency”

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Michael (profile) says:

we need to make sure that all of us together wind up on the right side of history

Am I the only one that is asking what that means? What is the “right side of history”? Don’t you HAVE to be on the right side of history? Isn’t history in the past and we are (well, most of us) in the present? Is he speaking about being on the winning side of things so we get to re-write history? Is he saying that if we aren’t on-board with the US government we will “be history”?

Ramon Creager (profile) says:

Just 'cause he says so, it's true.

That is the mentality of these ruling elites. Remember this gem?

?We?re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you?re studying that reality ? judiciously, as you will ? we?ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that?s how things will sort out. We?re history?s actors ? and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.?

Anonymous Coward says:

[T]his debate is about two very different visions: one vision that respects freedom and another that denies it. All of you at the Freedom Online Coalition are on the right side of this debate, and now we need to make sure that all of us together wind up on the right side of history.

WTF do you think everyone else is screaming about Kerry? You concede that the position that people the Freedom Online Coalition represents is the “right” side yet the side you represent keeps fighting against that. Only your side can change that to make sure you are also on the “right” side. Everyone else is already there.

Ramon Creager (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, this is a rather muddled statement. Given that he says “All of you at the Freedom Online Coalition are on the right side of this debate”, the rest of the sentence reads more like an incoherent attempt at shoehorning the US gov. position into the “right side” (“if only you knew what we know you’d see we’re on your side”, etc. etc.), rather than as a subtle threat. It’s as if he thinks the problem is a PR issue, not that the government’s position is really at odds with civil libertarians.

bshock says:

Mr. Kerry may not be wrong

As the old cliche goes, the victors write history.

If the oligarchs who control the U.S. government win final, irrevocable victory over the American people, they will certainly write self-congratulatory history books about how their doublespeak version of “online freedom and transparency” was the only good and proper way things could have been.

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