Ex-DHS Director Michael Chertoff: The Public Spying On Famous People With Their Smartphones Is A Bigger Issue Than NSA Spying

from the wanna-run-that-by-me-again? dept

Former director of Homeland Security (and current profiteer off of any "security" scare) Michael Chertoff has penned quite an incredible op-ed for the Washington Post, in which he argues that the real threat to privacy today is not the NSA spying on everyone, but rather all you people out there in the public with your smartphones, taking photos and videos, and going to Twitter to post things you overheard more important people say. Seriously. It starts out by claiming this is a "less-debated threat":
So it is striking that two recent news stories illustrate a less-debated threat to privacy that we as a society are inflicting on ourselves. Last week, a passenger on an Acela train decided to tweet in real time his summary of an overheard phone conversation by Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA (and my current business partner). The same day, a photo was published of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler at a summer party where he was surrounded by underage youths who apparently were drinking.
But he then goes on to argue that this kind of thing is more troubling than the NSA revelations, which Chertoff suggests is no big deal:
Of course, the delicious irony is obvious: In one case, the former NSA chief becomes a victim of eavesdropping. In the other, a politician critical of teen drinking fails to intervene when he is surrounded by it. But both stories carry a more troubling implication. The ubiquitousness of recording devices ­— coupled with the ability everyone has to broadcast indiscriminately through Twitter, YouTube and other online platforms — means that virtually every act or utterance outside one’s own home (or, in Gansler’s case, inside a private home) is subject to being massively publicized. And because these outlets bypass any editorial review, there is no assurance that what is disseminated has context or news value.
It would appear that Chertoff seems to believe that there should be no expectation of privacy for the things you actually do in private -- generating metadata about who you call, where you go, what websites you visit, etc. But, stuff that you actually do in public should never be "broadcast" because it might embarrass famous people.

And, yes, it's the famous people being embarrassed that seems to most concern Chertoff:
If a well-known person has an argument with a spouse or child at a restaurant, should it be broadcast? If a business personality expresses a political opinion at a private party, should that opinion (or a distortion of it) be passed on to the rest of the world? If a politician buys a book or a magazine at an airport, should a passerby inform everyone?
See? Think of those poor well-known people, having people telling others about what they do. What a shame! Incredibly, he argues that it's this exposing of the public actions of famous people that creates real chilling effects -- and not the NSA's spying, which he calls "exaggerated."
Are we creating an informant society, in which every overheard conversation, cellphone photograph or other record of personal behavior is transmitted not to police but to the world at large? Do we want to chill behavior and speech with the fear that an unpopular comment or embarrassing slip will call forth vituperative criticism and perhaps even adversely affect careers or reputations? Do we need to constantly monitor what we say or do in restaurants, at sporting events, on public sidewalks or even private parties?
I don't know what clueless PR flack thought this was a good strategy, but the clear connotation is hard to miss: Look, we the powerful people get to spy on everyone, but the second you turn the tables and spy on us and the things we do in public, what a horrible shame! Something must be done!

Filed Under: famous people, michael chertoff, michael hayden, nsa, nsa spying, smartphones, surveillance, the public


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2013 @ 6:08pm

    I have rights!

    What about the 300 million victims you're illegally spying on?

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