If Only All 'Narcisstic Traitors' Were This Reasonable And Insightful
from the read-the-interview dept
On Thursday, Snowden did an online Q&A which is well worth reading (if you haven't already) and what struck me about it -- as with nearly every statement Snowden has made since he went "public" back in June -- is how perfectly grounded and reasonable he sounds. Obviously, I tend to be on his side on these issues, so there's a bias there, but I'll readily admit that many others who are worried about the overbearing surveillance state sometimes do, quite clearly, come off as kooky extremists, at times unwilling to listen to reason (and yes, this is true about just about any controversial issue of folks on all sides of the issue). Yet, reading Snowden's words (and not just in this interview), he consistently comes across as measured, thoughtful and reasonable (almost to a fault) in making his points clearly, concisely and powerfully. There was a recent article that highlighted some of his online comments from years ago, where he came off more brash and and insulting, but it seems clear that, assuming it is the same person, Snowden has matured greatly since then.
In the interview, Snowden does not come off as an "extremist." He does not dismiss those who disagree with him, even giving a measured answer to a question about NSA insiders fantasizing about killing him:
It’s concerning, to me, but primarily for reasons you might not expect.Snowden, unlike some others, doesn't talk about totally dismantling the NSA. He notes that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for espionage and surveillance. But he also recognizes that there need to be limits. Take the following response, for example. This is not the response of a wild-eyed, narcissistic extremist "traitor." This is someone recognizing that surveillance is necessary, but that bulk surveillance across the board goes way too far and has very real consequences around the globe:
That current, serving officials of our government are so comfortable in their authorities that they’re willing to tell reporters on the record that they think the due process protections of the 5th Amendment of our Constitution are outdated concepts. These are the same officials telling us to trust that they’ll honor the 4th and 1st Amendments. This should bother all of us.
The fact that it’s also a direct threat to my life is something I am aware of, but I’m not going to be intimidated. Doing the right thing means having no regrets.
Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.Similarly, he provides one of the best answers I've seen to date for exactly why people should be concerned about the collection of all this data. Some of that comes out in the answer directly above this, but the key point is that this ability to dig back into your history, and find out anything you've done and everyone you've spoken to in the last five years becomes a real issue. People keep insisting that they have "nothing to hide," but it's amazing how much crap law enforcement can pin on you should you suddenly become a target. Today, at this moment, you have nothing to hide. But times change, and the fact that the government can dig back into your history with ease, and make connections that may seem benign to you now, but taken out of context could be incredibly damaging, is a real risk.
I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.
This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.
It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me. The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance — the same way we’ve always done it — without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.
When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkel’s phone, if reports are to be believed), there’s no excuse to be wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri.
The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.If you'd like to see more on "databases of ruin" check out Paul Ohm's paper from a few years ago. Since it was written less than five years ago, the NSA can look up exactly what he was doing the day he submitted that paper, by the way.
The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.
The power these records represent can’t be overstated. In fact, researchers have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in “databases of ruin,” where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without the government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently as today by the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board.
Fundamentally, a society in which the pervasive monitoring of the sum of civil activity becomes routine is turning from the traditions of liberty toward what is an inherently illiberal infrastructure of preemptive investigation, a sort of quantified state where the least of actions are measured for propriety. I don’t seek to pass judgment in favor or against such a state in the short time I have here, only to declare that it is not the one we inherited, and should we as a society embrace it, it should be the result of public decision rather than closed conference.
But again, reading the above answer, you see pretty clearly that Snowden is laying out a well-reasoned and comprehensive response to a simple question, and isn't acting in the manner you'd expect a crazed "narcissist" or "firebrand" to react.
In fact, from the beginning, he's stayed almost entirely true to his word that his goal was to provide information and allow for the debate to happen. He has not twisted the meaning of things (contrary to some claims), nor has he agitated for any specific changes. Whenever he's spoken, he's simply laid out the facts in a pretty calm and logical way.
So, for those who believe that he really is this fire-breathing, narcissistic traitor, can you point to a single shred of evidence to support any of that?