Creating Chilling Effects On Speech Is A Feature, Not A Bug, Of The Surveillance State

from the shut-up-you-people,-we're-protecting-you dept

We've discussed a few times how the pervasive surveillance efforts of the NSA and others have tremendous chilling effects on how people communicate and how they act. We've discussed how this is a "cost" to the program that not many, especially those who are backing these programs, seem interested in measuring or even thinking about. Of course, implicit in our assumption is that these "costs" are things that are negatives of the program. Others would point out that for those in power, that's not so much a cost as a benefit. It's not a bug or an unintended consequence, but a feature. Chilling speech and clamping down on communications? Why that's a good thing for those in power.

Josh Levy, from Free Press, has a great guest post over at Boing Boing where he discusses how the NSA's surveillance regime is a huge attack on free speech, and how this is both inevitable, and for some, the intent of the program:

The chilling of free speech isn’t just a consequence of surveillance. It’s also a motive. We adopt the art of self-censorship, closing down blogs, watching what we say on Facebook, forgoing “private” email for fear that any errant word may come back to haunt us in one, five or fifteen 15 years. “The mind's tendency to still feel observed when alone... can be inhibiting,” writes Janna Malamud Smith. Indeed.

Peggy Noonan, describing a conversation with longtime civil liberties advocate Nat Hentoff, writes that “the inevitable end of surveillance is self-censorship.”

Hentoff stressed that privacy invasions of this magnitude are “attempts to try to change who we are as Americans.” In fact, they are attempts to define who we are as human beings.

Meanwhile, over at the Atlantic, Bruce Schneier has a post discussing the detainment of David Miranda, where he comes to similar conclusions, that these authoritarian police states clearly have no practical benefit, except to enable a powerful government to show off its power to invade your lives:
This leaves one last possible explanation -- those in power were angry and impulsively acted on that anger. They're lashing out: sending a message and demonstrating that they're not to be messed with -- that the normal rules of polite conduct don't apply to people who screw with them. That's probably the scariest explanation of all. Both the U.S. and U.K. intelligence apparatuses have enormous money and power, and they have already demonstrated that they are willing to ignore their own laws. Once they start wielding that power unthinkingly, it could get really bad for everyone.
Of course, Schneier sees some upside to this in the long run -- which is that such blatantly ridiculous activity seems to only embolden others to push back on this trampling of our rights. Hopefully, that pushback works, because the alternative is horrifying to those who believe in a free and open society.

Filed Under: chilling effects, free speech, nsa, nsa surveillance


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2013 @ 6:50am

    While I certainly do not support all of what has been revealed about USG intrusion into our lives (I await revelations concerning other groups, both government (state and federal) and private), it does seem to me that the current "chilling" is arising only because the cat is out of the bag. As is often said, "ignorance is bliss".

    Certainly what has been disclosed is troubling, to say the least. Yet, I have to wonder if it has sunk in with most persons just how much private information that can easily be abused they willingly, sometimes even enthusiastically, turn over to third parties over whom they have absolutely zero control.

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