On June 7 President Barack Obama defended the two secret National Security Agency (NSA) spying programs that were exposed by whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden, saying: “You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.”
Obama insisted “the right balance” had been struck between security and privacy, and said that we are “going to have to make some choices as a society Americans” so that the country can effectively fight terrorism.
This is a false choice, and a dangerous one for a free nation, according to several experts who spoke with Bob Sullivan of NBC News.
“You have pollsters and pundits and (National Intelligence Director James) Clapper saying, ‘Do you want us to catch the terrorists or do you want privacy?’ But that’s a false choice. It’s like asking, ‘Do you want the police to exist or not?'” Dan Solove, a privacy law expert at George Washington University Law School, told NBC.
“I’ve never liked the idea of security vs. privacy, because no one feels more secure in a surveillance state,” Schneier, author of “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Insecure World,” told NBC. “There’s plenty of examples of security that doesn’t infringe on privacy. They are all around. Door locks. Fences … Firewalls. People are forgetting that quite a lot of security doesn’t affect privacy.
“The real dichotomy is liberty vs. control,” Schneier added (emphasis ours).
Furthermore, it’s not even clear if dragnet domestic surveillance is any good at fighting terrorism.
“Law enforcement is being sold bill of goods that the more data you get, the better your security is. We find that is not true,” Ashkan Soltani, an independent security researcher, told NBC News.
“The NSA has this fetish for data, and will get it any way they can, and get as much as they can,” Soltani added. “But old ladies who hoard newspapers say the same thing, that someday, this might be useful.”
Last month NSA chief Keith Alexander testified that the programs for bulk collection of domestic phone and Internet data prevented “dozens of terrorist events.”
But U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who both sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, challenged that assertion recently then they said that claims made by intelligence officials “should not simply be accepted at face value.”
The senators stated that they asked for but never received evidence of the effectiveness of the NSA’s bulk email collection program, adding that the disingenuous claims led them “to be skeptical of claims about the value of the bulk phone records collection program” as well.
“I don’t think collecting millions and millions of Americans’ phone calls — now this is the metadata, this is the time, place, to whom you direct the calls — is making us any safer,” Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has said.
Perhaps most importantly, the programs create huge potential for abuse since NSA analysts use their own discretion to look at the content of messages or listen to phone calls of Americans.
“The abuse is rampant and everyone is pretending that it’s never happened, and it couldn’t happen,” Russ Tice, the original NSA whistleblower who claims to have seen a 2004 wiretap order for Barack Obama, told Business Insider. “I know [there was abuse] because I had my hands on the papers for these sorts of things.”
Solove has a test, called the “Hoover test,” to consider extension of government powers.
“Put J. Edgar Hoover in charge of the program. If your reaction is ‘Yikes!’ then there isn’t adequate protection built in,” he said. “One of the tests should be is how do we feel if we don’t like the people in charge, because we don’t know who will be in charge of it in the future.”
According to Tice, we should look at the past and present first.
“Outrageous abuses … have happened, and it’s all being kept hush hush,” Tice told BI.