Long Time Mass Surveillance Defenders Freak Out Now That Trump Will Have Control

from the shoulda-thought-of-that-before dept

The Lawfare blog, run by the Brookings Institution, has long reliably been a good source to go to for reading what defenders of mass surveillance and the surveillance state are thinking — in a non-hysterical way. While I disagree with much of what’s posted on there, it tends to be thoughtful and interesting reading. Its founder and Editor-in-Chief is Ben Wittes, who’s always good for an impassioned defense of the NSA’s surveillance on Americans, and was all in on forcing tech companies to break encryption. He wasn’t worried, you see, because he was quite sure the NSA would never spy on him. Because, you know, he’s a good guy.

And… yet. Something seems to have changed. And that something is who is suddenly about to be in charge of the surveillance state apparatus:

When we founded this site more than six years ago, I never in my wildest dreams imagined myself writing these words about a man who will take the oath of office as President of the United States. We began Lawfare on the assumption that the U.S. federal executive branch was a tool with which to confront national security threats. While I accepted that its manner of doing so might threaten other values?like civil liberties?or prove counterproductive in protecting national security goods, I never imagined I would confront the day when I ranked the President himself among the major threats to the security of the country.

Today, we have to confront that possibility.

Your lack of imagination is really fucking us all over now, isn’t it Ben? This is exactly why so many of us — the people he likes to mock — have said all along that the concern with the surveillance state is always based on the fact that you have to imagine what will happen when the people you trust the least are in power.

Wittes is suddenly having something of an existential crisis about all of this:

So while I of course hope for a successful Trump presidency, I know of only one way Trump can succeed in the national security arena. And that is by radically changing the reckless persona he embodied during a long campaign?changing how he behaves, changing what he believes, changing what he aspires to do, acquiring a sense of restraint, and changing the way he talks about people and groups. And while I agree with Clinton that we owe Trump a chance to lead, the burden is on him to make these changes, not on us to suspend disbelief and pretend we live in the world he has described.

I will be candid and confess that, Clinton?s admonition notwithstanding, my mind is not entirely open about Trump?s capacity to do this, or even his interest in doing it. I have, in fact, deep doubts. And that leaves me, and I think most of America?s national security community, in a very strange position.

Maybe take the time to explore that strange feeling and you can start to understand why so many of us have been concerned about the entire apparatus that you’ve been cheering on for years, because, as you once said: “I have a great deal of confidence that the National Security Agency is not spying on me.” There are an awful lot of people who haven’t had that confidence for a while. And a great many more who won’t have that confidence under the next administration. That strange feeling that Wittes has is finally a recognition that maybe he should be concerned about those people too.

This isn’t a post to mock Ben, but to highlight why so many of us were so concerned all along, even as he mocked us. This is serious stuff and believing that unconstitutional warrantless mass surveillance is okay because you trust the guy in charge only works if you can always trust the guy in charge. And you can’t… as Ben and others are suddenly discovering.

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Comments on “Long Time Mass Surveillance Defenders Freak Out Now That Trump Will Have Control”

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44 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Again, I told you so!

I have been saying for a long time now that all parties should fear surveilance. Eventually a party will have the power to shut down opposition with these powers and data on everyone. Now people are starting to understand. I guess they thought “their guy” would be the one in power when it happened. Doesn’t say much for that person that they thought “their guy” abusing power would be ok.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Again, I told you so!

Wait until people start freeking out when Trump starts using Executive Power!!! Just doing the SAME THING as OBAMA which they didn’t have a problem with. Even with Obama saying he has a Pen and a Phone, meaning he can pretty much do what he wants and who cares about congress. Sounds like a Dictator, but the Democrats were all for it. It’s their guy!!! Like what, a Republican President was never going to get elected ever again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Large stores of data

Not to mention that just having giant databases of data on essentially everyone will be abused. It will start out as good intentioned breaks, but eventually local law enforcement will have access to everything down to how many cold meds your household purchased in the last year…. No wait, we are already there. Enjoy the future with the lack of privacy feature.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

here’s the problem, and it highlight Trump’s presidency, and Sanders’ run. Establishment politics. Legislators in Washington have tribal mentality, on BOTH sides.

But really, this highlights what, at least myself, has been saying for a while now. It’s about trust, we don’t trust our government. And now the NSA/FBI surveillance defenders are learning that lesson the hard way.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: "This isn't a post to mock Ben...as he mocked us."

cavil alert !
actually, petard would technically not be pronounced with a hard ‘d’ unless there was an ‘e’ after the ‘d’…
but the point is still valid, if not the rhyme…
i would further mention he IS a fucking tard if he doesnt realize that WE ALL are being spied on, only he is a suckup to Empire, so saurons evil eye will not be trained on him…
they are still slurping up all his info, just The They wont do a ything about it unless he steps out of line…

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "This isn't a post to mock Ben...as he mocked us."

Coyne, you’re right, if said in English, which this is, since the “hoisted…” quote is not part of the English lexicon. Petard is also now a fully English word, pronounced in a way that rhymes with…um…retard.

Art G’s point (irrelevant in this case) is that in French pétard has a silent “d” at the end.

sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: Not Me, Couldn't be, then Who?

No, they haven’t been living in a vacuum.

Ben Wittes has (had?) a blind faith in the inherent “goodness” of the US Government, based on a vastly different set of starting assumptions.

Now, he’s being forced to revisit some of his first principles. This is a good thing, because he’s respected in his communities in ways that groups like this one are not, which means in theory he has an ability to influences said communities.

Expect some fairly sharp changes in mentality from pundits in the next couple of years. Hopefully they don’t come too late to make a difference, although I expect that they have.

HegemonicDistortion says:

Here’s a link to the piece, in case anyone’s Google is broken:
https://www.lawfareblog.com/burden-donald-trump

One of his colleagues, Susan Hennessey, more or less says it’s no big deal, all the robust legal and procedural will stop him if he tries. She must be new to government.
https://www.lawfareblog.com/duty-serve-trumps-america

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

One of his colleagues, Susan Hennessey, more or less says it’s no big deal, all the robust legal and procedural will stop him if he tries. She must be new to government.

Someone get me the name of whoever’s selling her such effective rose-tinted glasses, those things have got to be wicked powerful for her to make such a blindingly naive statement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Government surveillance would be a lot less pervasiveness if people restricted their conversation to actually talking to people in their physical presence, and didn’t try us to use the Internet to solve their problems. That would also make it much easier for the politicians to rule the country for their own benefit.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is true…well except for the remote phone exploits that allow phones (both mobile and landline) mic’s to be surreptitiously turned on to turn the phone into a bug even tho it’s not being actively used.

Or maybe you’ve got Siri or hello google on, which means the mic’s has to always be on (to detect the spoken keywords) therefore available for eavesdropping.

Or smart TV’s or games consoles with embedded cameras and mic’s also potentially always on by design listening in (or watching) any conversation in their pickup range. Tablets and laptops the same.

Or hell, maybe they’ll start putting mic’s into smart light bulbs or toasters so you can voice control even more.

Unless you consciously take steps to ensure there are no mic’s in the vicinity, it can be pretty hard to actually have a completely private conversation these days even if you aren’t specifically under surveillance (in which case there are bugs and shotgun/laser mic’s to also content with…tho the latter are pretty easy to defeat if you are paranoid to be concerned about them).

RR (profile) says:

Future elections

Trump will have the power to sink any competitors in future elections – presidential and congress. Everyone has something embarrassing in their past. Maybe not “pussy grabbing” bad, but it’s there, already stored away. It would take a “flawless” person or another Trump who doesn’t give a shit to survive the kind of info “unknown sources have revealed”.

Anonymous Coward says:

BTW, I would be all in favor of getting rid of Donald Trump as president and signing that petition … if Hillary Clinton is not his replacement. She is a liar and I do not care for her at all.

As much as I’m not a democrat I’d vote Bernie Sanders over Trump. But between Hillary and Trump, for me that’s a very tough decision.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"Now you know how it feels"

This isn’t a post to mock Ben, but to highlight why so many of us were so concerned all along, even as he mocked us.

In which case you would seem to be a more generous person than I, as I certainly would take the opportunity to return the favor. He brushed aside concerns because ‘his’ guy would never abuse that power, and now that someone from the other tribe is in power, only now does he become worried, despite people trying to explain all along why the powers themselves were problematic and it was only a matter of time until someone he didn’t like got them?

He’s not wrong is believing that Trump having access to such powers is a problem, he was wrong in believing that Obama having such access wasn’t a problem, or that the powers themselves aren’t a problem and mocking those that tried to point this out, as well as point out that so long as the powers existed it wasn’t ‘if’ someone he didn’t like would get them but ‘when’.

Giles Byles (profile) says:

Oops, there was a headline fail:  longtime as a modifier (adjective) is one word.

The time to de-fund the NSA was September of 2013 when our esteemed Congress came back from vacation.  We’d had all summer to digest the Snowden revelations.  But what happened on that day?  Nothing.  Deafening silence happened.

Since then, thousands of photon splitters have been purchased by our esteemed government & Bluffdale is chugging away.

The only upside is that the spooks’ “collect it all” mentality has neutered their whole system.  They have too much data & no way to make sense of it.  They didn’t listen to their pal Binney & instead made his life miserable for a time for being a “whistle-blower.”

Here’s another grammar gotcha from a comment above:  “You can not fix stupid.”  Cannot is (usually) one word.

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