I have a number of points I want to make regarding the NSA’s data collection. Most of my points relate to the false argument that these programs are saving lives (i.e. ends justify the means). However, I have not yet had the time to sit down and write out a full post. In the meantime, I really really really recommend reading this blog by the Economist. I’m not normally a fan of block quoting from other articles but I’ll do so here because I think there are three points you need to read even if you can’t make time to read the full thing. Here are three main arguments I intend to advance in my upcoming post, with quotes from the article that clarify and explain such positions. I urge you to reflect on these.
1. If we won’t give up privacy rights to prevent far greater (domestic) threats to life such as alcoholism or gun ownership, then why would we give them up based on the far weaker threat of terrorism:
The thrust of this argument is simple: terrorism is such a minor threat to American life and limb that it’s simply bizarre—just stupefyingly irrational and intellectually unserious—to suppose that it could even begin to justify the abolition of privacy rights as they have been traditionally understood in favour of the installation of a panoptic surveillance state. Would Americans give up their second-amendment rights if it were to save 3000 lives? Well, it would, but we won’t. Surely the re-abolition of alchohol would save more than 3000 lives, but we’re not about to discuss it. Why not? Because liberty is important to us and we won’t sell it cheaply. Why should we feel differently about our precious fourth-amendment rights?
2. Our irrational fear of terrorism might best be explained by the fact that there are some people in power who have a lot to gain from that fear:
We are … stuck having to listen to enormously powerful, secretive, professionallydissembling people who are very possibly violating Americans’ constitutional rights en masse assure us that they are in fact making James Madison proud, and that, in any case, we really ought to be terribly grateful for their unheralded toil, as the completely untroubling spy-craft about which Americans absolutely cannot know has thwarted multiple terrorist attacks, saving an untold number of lives. I don’t want to die. Do you?
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[T]errorism (whatever that is) rattles our sense of safety far beyond reason. But why does it do that? Because it injures our national pride, and Americans are too insecure to countence that sort of insult against ego? Because we are in the grip of deep-seated but erroneous belief that hegemony buys total security? … Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that certain people benefit enormously from an irrational fear of terrorism.
3. We need to examine the distinct possibility that our government’s “war on terror” is itself creating potential terrorism threats and that a better solution to our safety concerns is to turn an eye to our own behavior:
If [terrorist plots] have become more common, we’ll need to ask whether the war on terror itself helps explains this increase in terrorist conspiracy. If it turns out that America’s security apparatus is thwarting plots that it is itself through its other activities inspiring, a long, detailed list of authentic, thwarted plots may tell us only that America’s overweening security apparatus has so far successfully neutralised its own predictable dangers. This sort of “security” can’t justify the loss of even a little liberty.
These are three main points I intend to advance and further explain in an upcoming post. I think the Economist post quite nicely reflects some of these sentiments and arguments and I strongly urge you to read the post in full.