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I spy something true...

Greetings humanoids. There was a lot of good dialogue on the NSA story yesterday, both here and elsewhere so I wanted to continue. First up, here's two conflicting views from a couple of men I have great respect for.

From Senator Al Franken: (highlights)

I’m on the Judiciary committee and the Judiciary committee has jurisdiction over N.S.A. and the Patriot Act...

I have a high level of confidence, that it is used…to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism...

We haven’t quite hit the exact balance we want to. I have been for more transparency and I actually co-sponsored legislation to require the FISA court to release their opinions on why they’ve decided the way they have.

Senator Bernie Sanders has another take...

Kids will grow up knowing that every damn thing that they do is going to be recorded somewhere in a file, and I think that will have a very Orwellian and inhibiting impact on our lives.

I want our law enforcement people to be vigorous in going after terrorists. But I happen to believe they can do that without disregarding the constitution of the United States or the civil liberties of the American people.

I can really see both sides of this argument. I'm an honest guy and now that being gay isn't a crime there isn't all that much that anyone could ever pin on me. What would I have to be worried about? Or so I might think.

Lifted shamelessly from

The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to "white collar criminals," state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.
And worse...
We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading -- on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn't because it was classified and he couldn't legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things. This CEO's name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he's still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.

If that wasn't enough to worry about there is another troubling aspect of this story aside from whether or not the government should be able to surveil us in this manner and that's who's doing the surveilling. By his own accounts, Edward Snowden was a low-level IT systems administrator and network engineer. This isn't Nick Fury and his specialized team of super agents. This isn't Condoleezza Rice or Susan Rice and their crack team of national security experts. In the great drive to privatize intelligence gathering after 9/11 the United States has accumulated close to 500,000 contract workers similar to Mr. Snowden, many with similar access to our personal data. Does anyone really think that's a good idea?

One more issue here, and that's the cost. Last time I checked the Senate was busy with a farm bill that cuts food stamps because, gosh darn it, deficits! So when we as a society have to prioritize our budget matters, it's imperative to look at the cost effectiveness of every program. So even if we accept the argument that terrorism is a danger worthy of sacrificing our privacy to prevent, is this the best, most cost effective way to do it?

$200,000 x 500,000 = I don't think so.

More Americans were killed this year by toddlers with guns than terrorism. Your television falling on you is a more likely cause of death than Al Qaeda. Any response should be proportional to the threat and for all the news media glam behind terrorism, it's simply not likely to happen to any of us.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


  1. You should take a look at The Campaign to End Overcriminalization in America that the NACDL is working on.
    Addresses some of the things you're writing about.

  2. @11:52

    Thanks, I'll check it out. I'm a big fan of FAMM, Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

  3. rather than this orwellian hand-wringing that you have been focused on, now you hit on something meaningful. is the amount we are spending on all this surveillance worth the benefit, especially given the ridiculous size of the contracts that are required to operated it? which size, in turn, led to a lower-level worker with crazy access releasing private information in a traitorous/quixotic fashion? you have a point here. time to scale all this back to reasonably deter terrorists, protecting civil liberties, and watching our coffers. that argument is one that might appeal to everyone from every political stripe.

  4. @12:37
    Thank you. One valid criticism of Glenn Greenwald is that he is so submerged in all this subterfuge sometimes it's the only thing he sees. The more angles we look at this from, the better our perspective.

    It's not my intention to be overly alarmist, but as they said on John Oliver's fantastic Daily Show debut last night, You're Not Paranoid!

  5. shumie time the feds and the patriot act. Rump won't allow this comment- but I am leaving early to boink my college age GF before going home to my wife. The ultimate ST.

  6. @2:15

    For real fun take the GF home to the wife. No one's feeling get hurt and everyone has a good time.

  7. 12:37 when you ask if the cost is worth the benefit, how do you quantify the benefit?
    If the attack we prevent saves a life?
    What about 20 lives?
    What if we intercept something before it even happens?
    Shouldn't the government spare no expense when it comes to keeping its citizens safe?

  8. You gotta love this crap! What else could bring Michael Moore and Glenn Beck together?

  9. Godwhacker,

    Try to not be so HEAVY and intellectual, will you?


  10. GB, in between posting I chase my dog around the house on all 4s. Don't worry. ;-)


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