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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Every Move You Make I'll Be Watching You

The British newspaper The Guardian found out that the US has very likely been receiving details  of every phone call most of us make -- who we called, when we called them, how long we spoke.

Where are all of those constitution lovers who are so fond of my 2nd amendment rights to start using those guns to fight against this colossal infringement of our 4th amendment rights?

I'm bothered not just by the blatant violation of privacy rights but by the idiocy of this and of everyone who defends this.

Let's take a specific scenario, where the government knows that some particular person is a terrorist.  Well, the government has always had the ability to go to a judge and get a warrant and find out who is calling this person and who this person calls, and even to listen in on the phone calls. Some of these abilities are impaired by the switch from land lines to cell phones.  The calls no longer go through particular switching stations for particular phone lines in particular places where the government can attach a tap.  However, solving that problem doesn't require getting detailed reporting on who every person in the country speaks to for how long.  So the government isn't, in this instance, adding anything helpful for people whom we know are terrorists.

Let's say the government doesn't know someone is a terrorist until they do something bad.  In such an instance, yes, the government might be able to review records retrospectively and find out who called this phone number.  Emphasis on retrospectively.  This is closing the barn door after cows left, after bad guy does his bad thing.

If you want to say that this is a good thing because we can catch this bad person and keep him from doing another bad thing -- well, I can't argue with that.  But what I can say is that this isn't what the United States is all about, or at least not that the US is supposed to be about.  We're not East Germany in the 1970s, where everyone was spying on everyone else.  We don't keep everyone in prison because we suspect all of us might commit a crime someday.  Or at least we're not supposed to do these things.

And once you start saying that all these little things are perfectly fine because we can't risk anything bad ever happening to us -- again, that's an argument we had 230 years ago which led to our having a Bill of Rights, and those rights are supposed to protect us from exactly this kind of thing.

So again, where are all the second amendment defenders now, when the fourth amendment is once again under attack?

There's also a practical problem here.  For all the computers in the world that make our lives easier, there are real costs to our government to collect all of this data, to organize all of this data, and then the government is either just putting the data off in some dark corner just in case or it's taking time to have people look at all of those phone records for everyone.  That's a lot of infrastructure, a lot of people, a lot of lots of things, all to go looking at data which is 99.9999% useless, records of calls that don't mean anything.  But which are there.

So if you don't want the government collecting gun records for newspapers to find so that everyone knows where the guns are, do you want the government to have all this information on all the people you've called, how long you spoke to them, information which could somehow get out into the world and into the newspapers?

It gets worse.  The government's also been collecting gobs of data from everyone who surfs the web from outside the US, around $20M worth a year for that expense according to The Guardian.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great post! I came to this blog because I was interested in learning more about the publishing industry, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this type of conversation, as well. :) The lack of transparency and accountability is definitely very concerning. If they could justify what they were doing, they should have been able to make their actions public. The moment they are not accountable to the public, they obtain way too much power. I'm personally also very concerned now what will happen to Edward Snowden now. If the government starts arresting whistleblowers as traitors, we're going down a very dangerous path where not only is the government not held accountable for their actions, but where people are also too afraid to stand up to the government... Which basically goes against everything upon which America was founded. Here's hoping things get better and not worse.