Early Returns: NSA Surveillance Reforms are Not Impressive

EFF tries to strike a note of cautious optimism about President Obama’s NSA reform package, Obama Takes First Steps Toward Reforming NSA Surveillance, but Leaves Many Issues Unaddressed, even though by my reading Obama’s reforms, such as they are, don’t do very well on yesterday’s EFF scorecarrd.

Simon Davis is more pessimistic:

US privacy advocates are right to conditionally welcome some of Obama’s reforms, but they should take into account two critically important implications that the President avoided.

The first of these is the NSA’s intimate operational partnership with Britain’s SIGINT agency, GCHQ. Nothing in his reform package indicates a brake on the current arrangements which allow GCHQ to collect information on US persons.

The second key element is that the proposals appear to merely shift the current collection and retention of metadata from a centralised NSA operation to more of a European-style communications data arrangement that requires commercial entities to maintain a distributed retention. That arrangement in Europe has been deemed unlawful, but there is every chance the US will adopt it.

All things considered, the prospects for genuine intelligence reform at the global level are more bleak than they were 24 hours ago.

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2 Responses to Early Returns: NSA Surveillance Reforms are Not Impressive

  1. Vic says:

    I keep wondering where we’d be now if Snowden had not happened?

    Would we ever hear about any of this? Did the WH and Congress REALLY not know what NSA was doing? If not, what are the ramifications of THAT?

    I genuinely have a hard time coming to a conclusion about what Snowden did, in a vacuum (was he a traitor, whistle-blower, or a bit of both?). But the whole picture of Government here is at least frightening – both in its capabilities and in its apparent, admitted incompetence. And if NSA is capable of operating this way without any accountability, keeping the President in the dark and repeatedly lying to Congress, what other agencies are doing similar things? Does invoking the magic words, “National Security and Terrorism Prevention” really give an agency carte blanche to do whatever it deems fit to do? (We already know the IRS has done questionable things. Surely the CIA, FBI and DoD has…) Is it really acceptable that nobody outside of these agencies in the Executive or Congress seems to have any idea what is being done?

    The only thing scarier than all this is the fact that there are apparently only about 50 people in the United States that care.

    • jones says:

      It’s not that nobody cares — everybody cares and they love it. They’ve been trained to love their servitude, and this surveillance is part of it.

      How much of this would be possible without smart phones, the web, online video, online reading, online everything? People love it. People even log into FaceBook to build psychological profiles of themselves, and report all their daily thoughts and activities so we don’t need a secret police sneaking around collecting these details surreptitiously. People love being managed like cattle. People LOVE it.

      Nobody questions the value of growth. America likes growth. Communist China likes growth. Soviet Russia liked growth. We treat technological developments as though they were inevitable, or some byproducts of an “evolutionary” process, but really, this level of economic growth and the technological developments associated with it are very much the product of deliberate policy decisions.

      It’s an unexamined assumption that makes it all possible, why we measure increases in our standard of living as GDP growth, rather than as increases in leisure due to labor-saving automation. Since 1965, worker productivity has doubled — largely due to automation. But since 1965, wages have stagnated (increased 4% adjusted for inflation) and the workweek has remained constant.

      The growth curves for worker productivity over the past 60 years is almost identical to the increase in the value of slaves during the last 60 years of slavery in the US.


      Both charts above cover about 60 years on the horizontal axis, and double at roughly the same rate vertically.

      Now as wages stagnate and healthcare costs rise, what smaller amounts of disposable income people have they spend on new, mandatory expenditures like cable tv, internet, movies, video games, and gadgets. You have to have these things, or else you’re almost as much of an outcast as a homeless man. What would you talk about around the water cooler? What would you do after work, except examine your empty life?

      Filling our lives up with crap — giving our hard earned money right back to the people we work for — saves us the pain of examining our lives. That’s why we love our servitude — it’s the only thing that gives our lives meaning.

      Again, it’s not that nobody cares about the surveillance, people love it. The thought of living without the internet and gadgets and the growth that makes it possible is just more terrifying than terrorists. And the reason why it is more terrifying to be without entertainment is that the terrorism problem isn’t real. People don’t experience terrorism.

      Most people traumatized on 9/11 were traumatized by the MEDIA, in virtue of the fact that most people don’t live in New York City. The fear of terror is a conditioned response, not a real fear rooted in actual experience. People experience being without Internet periodically, and the boredom they find in their own lives is very, very real.

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