The myths surrounding the revelations by Ed Snowden about the unchecked surveillance state are like zombies that never die. After I posted the Day We Fight Back information on my Facebook timeline on Tuesday, a friend I’ll call “Susan” (not her real name) replied with the following comment:
I’m sorry but I believe it’s a small price to pay for our protection from evil.
The myths surrounding the NSA’s surveillance persist, despite some excellent attempts to counter them with facts. An article from The Guardian, republished on the ACLU website, tries to set things straight.
Within minutes after the Guardian published that first leak on the NSA’s activities, pro-surveillance forces starting making bold claims about how necessary broad spying is to our very security. And almost every justification for indiscriminate spying on Americans and people abroad has been methodically refuted ever since. It turns out that assertions made by the administration, members of Congress and security commentators were little more than myths.
Just a few of those myths:
NSA surveillance programs have thwarted terror attacks here at home.
Administration representatives insisted during hearings that spying, including vast collection of phone metadata, had stopped 54 terror incidents. When pressed for specific details, the administration said around 10 were based in the US. That number finally shrank to one San Diego cab driver who was convicted of sending $8,500 to a Somali terrorist group. So it turns out that there were no attacks in America that were derailed by domestic spying.
We’ve stayed safe. Doesn’t that prove the government efforts have worked?
This is like believing that government spying has prevented alien invasions or stopped boogeymen from hiding under our beds. The 9/11 attacks argument is a straw-man justification for whatever the NSA wants to do, just another way of scaring us into accepting anything in the name of Keeping Us Safe™. NSA spying would not have stopped 9/11, because the government already had information it needed, and didn’t effectively share or act on it.
NSA’s programs only work if they collect all information on everyone.
In their investigation the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found no cases supporting the need for bulk collection, and concluded that bulk collection has not provided any information that the NSA could not have gotten using more targeted surveillance.
They’re only collecting metadata, not listening in on our calls.
The NSA reportedly traces three hops from a target: Alice knows Bob, Jeff, and Rebecca. But if Jeff becomes a target, Jeff’s three hops mean the NSA can check out Fran, Evan and Gloria. The Guardian calculated that if Alice has 50 friends, the number of targets generated under the NSA’s three-hops rule would be more than 1.3 million people. I really do hope that you (and everyone you know, and the 1.3 million people they know) don’t mind too much. Are you OK with the government knowing whom you call and when, from where to where, and how long your call lasts, and for the government then to know who those people called and when and for how long?
There’s no less-intrusive way to achieve the same goals.