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So the NSA has spied on Americans. Guess what…

So the NSA has spied on Americans.

Guess what…

… if you are one of the approximately 6.8 billion people who do not have the ‘privilege’ of being taxed worldwide by the USA (i.e. you are not a US national), the fact the NSA has made a mockery of the US constitution is of purely academic interest.

I just watched a rather good Guardian presentation on the NSA revelations. As I watched outraged talking head after outraged talking head decrying what the US has done, and generally agreeing with them I might add, I was also struck by the fact some gave me the impression that the fact the NSA (and GCHQ) have actually intentionally damaged the infrastructure of the internet itself was not as important as the fact they had spied on Americans.

No, it really is not the main issue at all, not by a long shot.

The fact the intelligence agencies of Germany, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and (particularly) the UK were complicit with the NSA making us all less safe by subverting the encryption upon which our economies increasingly depend (not to mention our right to privacy), well that is a vastly bigger issue. And it is why the Snowden revelations are of global interest, not just American interest.

The First World’s security states, like the foam flecked wild horses pulling the NSA’s chariot, are out of control and that makes this a vastly bigger issue than the breaking of one country’s constitutional limitations.

If the NSA had improbably somehow managed to only spy on foreigners and not a single American, whilst introducing backdoors and flawed encryption standards world wide, it would not make this any less dire.

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24 comments to So the NSA has spied on Americans. Guess what…

  • Regional

    Germany, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and (particularly) the UK all have left wing governments and their security agencies are dominated by persons of a left wing mind set.

  • J M Ward

    The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, would be outraged to see you describe his Government as “left-wing”!. He is leader of the Conservative Party, and, on current evidence, slightly right of Genghis Khan.

  • Regional

    John Galt,
    The Left spies on citizens yet claim to be the champions of liberty.

  • Ben

    (Re-commented from elsewhere. I hope you don’t mind.)

    The problem is not that they tapped Angela Merkel’s phone, or their surveillance of the communications of foreign and domestic diplomats, suspected criminals and terror suspects. That’s their legitimate job.

    The problem is that they did and continue to do it to vast swathes of the population of the USA, Europe, and other countries, without any probable cause to believe that in the case of most of those individuals there was any need to do so.

    That goes for foreign nationals too. The right to be secure from unreasonable searches and surveillance is incorporated into the European Convention on Human Rights as Article 8, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as Article 12, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as Article 17. The USA ratified the ICCPR with reservations but there was no reservation from Article 17. The UK ratified it without reservations.

    Clearly Merkel doesn’t understand this, as she thinks it’s fine for them to tap her citizen’s phones just not hers: Which is the wrong way around.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    The word ‘citizen’ is almost entirely absent from the US Constitution, and a good argument can be made that its restrictions on the government apply to all persons, not just US citizens. That argument, unfortunately is not one that will be heard by the nudge-and-wink school of constitutional law that presently obtains.

  • Pardone

    Seeing as GCHQ sells Briton’s data to foreign governments(MI5 and MI6 are effectively amoral whores with their legs wide open), they are also committing treason by taking money from the British taxpayer while working for foreign entities.

  • Laird

    PfP, the first sentence of your comment is correct, however the second is not. The US courts generally take the position that Constitutional guarantees apply to all persons within US jurisdiction, whether citizens or not. That’s why illegal aliens are routinely granted those constitutional protections, and even non-constitutional benefits such as health, education and welfare benefits. Those same rules generally do not apply to non-resident non-citizens, though, primarily because the US government has no jurisdiction over them and so our Constitution cannot reasonably be applied to them. But that is why we resort to legal fictions to maintain our detention facility at Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) to house hostiles from our “war on terror” whom the government wishes to detain. Those persons cannot be properly classified as “enemy combatants” because they do not represent any recognized nation and thus are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, but if we brought them onto US soil they would have to be afforded all the rights enumerated in the Constitution (notably including habeas corpus and a jury trial).

    Our current relationship with our own Constitution is, shall we say, complicated.

  • bobby b

    “If the NSA had improbably somehow managed to only spy on foreigners and not a single American . . . it would not make this any less dire.”

    Sure it would.

    Humanity has a chance to make quantum leaps of progress – in technology, in interrelatedness, in communication qua communication – thanks primarily to our new connectivity. But, just as with a currency, we need to have developed a common belief – more a faith, actually – that our new systems and paradigms are trustworthy, that they truly embody the value we’re about to communally assign to them.

    BO’s acts denigrate the essential value of the net. Once we are no longer sure that Ms. Sebilius or Mr. Holder can’t read whatever they’d like to read from whatever computer strikes their fancy, then this great and promising tool loses significant promise and value.

    That affects you and me equally. The benefits that you and I and humanity might reap if we’re able to properly develop and exploit “interconnectedness” could be huge – epoch-defining – but BO’s adulteration of the medium of those connections leaves us unable to trust in it.

    We both get this. Sucks for me, and sucks for you. It’s a big deal.

    But while you’re sitting there in the corner slumped over, licking your wounds and cursing Obama and wondering who’ll start writing the new software to replace all the software that Obama has made worthless, I’ll be sitting in my own, more American-style, corner, ruing the rape of the internet just as bitterly as you, but also agonizing because much of the rape has been accomplished only because BO has consistently and regularly and brazenly exceeded his Constitutionally-defined presidential powers.

    On top of my despair over the wrecking of the worldwide currency of connection and communication, I’m left not knowing for certain whether BO’s illegal but essentially unchallenged acts will now constitute the new “normal’. Since no one of note seems to be challenging BO’s ascendancy from wielding 33.3% of our national government power to wielding something closer to 100% of it, have we thus ratified his acts? Just as our courts’ rulings and rationales of today provide part of the basis – part of the precedent – for tomorrow’s Constitution, there is likewise precedential significance in the unchallenged acts of a president.

    So, your week sucked because BO has significantly degraded the value of one of current society’s most valuable and transformative tools.

    Well, my week sucked because BO has significantly degraded the value of one of current society’s most valuable and transformative tools, and then it sucked even more because, on top of that, this soulless, honorless thief of a president has possibly done real damage to a timeless national compact that has provided (or possibly just enabled) stability and justice and fairness for my country ever since it was written.

    So, I’d posit that my week sucked worse than your week. If we assign variable “X” to “how badly Perry’s week sucked”, then “how badly Bobby’s week sucked” will be written as “X + Y”, where “Y” is a positive real number. “Y” thus represents exactly how much more dire the willful Constitutional violations by BO make this scenario, for us Americans.

    In short, (yeah, yeah, I know, that ship has sailed), BO may well trash the ‘net, but our chances of eventually getting it back – of regaining the entire medium demonstrably freed of BO’s poisons – are higher in a world in which the relationship of the citizens of the USA to their federal government is guided and controlled by our pre-Obama Constitution, and lower in a world in which Obama transforms the USA into a mix of Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

  • Sure it would.

    No bobby, it really wouldn’t. This monster is not Barack Obama’s creation, he is just the latest person at the top feeding it. Did you vote Republican in the last couple elections? Do you really think the NSA would have done anything different under John “I support the bailout” McCain or Mitt RomneyCare? And if not a single American got spied on (yeah right), just us pesky foreigners, they would *still* have wreaked havoc with the fundamental infrastructure of the internet… that matters a whole lot more than the already largely ignored US constitution. Sure, the latest manifestation of how the US constitution is being pissed on might matter a lot to you, but as one of the 6.8 billion, well to quote the sage of Atlanta, “My dear, I don’t give a damn”.

    Yes I do wish US taxpayer money stopped flowing into GCHQ, so I have an interest in US politics too, but really… “OMG THEY VIOLATED OUR CONSTITUTION” really seems almost comical at this stage, given decades of RICO, civil forfeiture and the host of other ways politics on your side of the puddle have developed. The internet matters more than any of that.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Laird
    November 4, 2013 at 2:33 am

    PfP, the first sentence of your comment is correct, however the second is not. The US courts generally take the position that Constitutional guarantees apply to all persons within US jurisdiction, whether citizens or not.

    True enough, but if a government can affect persons, it is exerting jurisdiction regardless of where the persons are.

  • Laird

    PfP, that’s too broad a definition of “jurisdiction” to have any utility. Your neighbor can throw trash in your yard, which certainly affects you. Does that mean he has “jurisdiction” over you? Not in any meaningful sense.

    Perry, I understand your point that the metastasization of the NSA is a long-term, systemic issue, not attributable solely to either major political party (indeed, you don’t have to look to history for evidence of that; simply examine the reactions to the Snowden revelations, and the proffered justifications of the NSA, by political leaders on both sides of the aisle for proof of that). However, I think you’re missing bobby b’s larger point. Things have indeed been getting progressively worse here for decades, but under Obama the rate of decline has increased drastically (just as has the rate of growth of the federal debt). It’s no longer a linear progression but an exponential one. And if that isn’t stopped the entire world will be far worse for it, not just the US.

    One tiny ray of hope would have been provided had it somehow transpired that the NSA was only spying on you “pesky foreigners”, with your strange ways of thinking and your funny accents, and not on the American people at large. That would have shown that our government still respected the civil liberties of its own citizens (and frankly, one can argue that a central purpose of any government is to spy on foreigners). In such a world it would not be too large a step to begin to rein it in in other areas as well. But that’s not the world we live in. So the continued evisceration of the US Constitution, and everything it stands for, is a serious issue for you over and above our government’s intrusion into your internet privacy.

  • One tiny ray of hope would have been provided had it somehow transpired that the NSA was only spying on you “pesky foreigners”, with your strange ways of thinking and your funny accents, and not on the American people at large. That would have shown that our government still respected the civil liberties of its own citizens (and frankly, one can argue that a central purpose of any government is to spy on foreigners).

    A purpose of any government is to spy on foreigners, I agree. But my point is that if the US (and indeed the UK) do that by wrecking what is nothing less than the engine of the future, the internet, in order to spy on foreigners, then the US (and the UK) has become a global problem… and if somehow the NSA and GCHQ managed to not spy on Americans whilst doing that, it would not make the US (and UK) any less of a global problem.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Laird
    November 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    PfP, that’s too broad a definition of “jurisdiction” to have any utility. Your neighbor can throw trash in your yard, which certainly affects you.

    If my neighbor can throw trash in my yard and I’m powerless to stop him, he certainly is exerting ‘jurisdiction’. Remember Catch 22? “They can do anything to you that you can’t stop them from doing.”

  • marvo

    It matters because of American Exceptionalism (which you may not agree with). Until now there was one country which was different in its ideals, and in that it tried to live up to at least some of those ideals. Read the declaration of independance and the constitution if you want a flavour of it. The NSA revelations show that there is no major state left in which the ideals of personal freedom and limited government are taken seriously any more.
    I agree with your point that there are other issues than the NSA spying on US citizens, but then the Guardian being upset by this is delightfully hypocritical. It has never been upset by the securuty apparatus in socialist states. Does it run negative stories about the Cuban internal spy network? It is the channel for this story because it is anti-american. And it is anti-american because the US is percieved to be insufficiently socialist for the tastes of the Guardian.

  • It matters because of American Exceptionalism (which you may not agree with).

    I really do not buy into that notion because…

    Until now there was one country which was different in its ideals, and in that it tried to live up to at least some of those ideals.

    … the US constitution has been largely a dead letter since FDR. Did the First, Second and Fourth Amendments stop the state confiscating private gold, extraterritorial taxation, and civil forfeiture without even a criminal indictment, let alone a criminal conviction? I love the ideas behind the US Bill of Rights, but in practice it does not really work that way so unfortunately the US is not that different to the rest of the First World in reality.

  • Laird

    Unfortunately true, Perry. But the idea of the US has remained the ideal to which many aspire (including many of us in this country). The point marvo is making (I think) is that the Snowden revelations have shown unequivocally that that ideal has been seriously corrupted, if not completely destroyed. And the entire world is the worse for it.

  • No argument from me on that Laird.

  • marvo

    People have been trying to get around the constitution since its beginnings. I didn’t mention FDR as I assumed common ground (and we have it).

    I would argue that personal liberty and a limited state were an exceptional idea. Personal liberty being under attack by a government agency with apparent support from most of the political establishment of the main parties is important. Those of us outside the US cannot now even point to the US and say ‘look they have freedom, it doesn’t cause mass unrest / dogs and cats over there’. But I think we are mostly agreeing.

  • Bill Reeves

    The biggest tragedy IMHO is the impact this will have on the spread of information technologies. One of the wonderful things about software is that it is essentially free at the margin, leading to rapid adoption and standardization around the world. This has delivered immense, almost incalculable economic benefits. Now everyone will look at new tools with a jaundiced eye, introducing real marginal costs into the adoption of new global best practices and standards.

    The result may be a poorer, more balkanized world. Thank’s a bunch Global Dad. Can you please just not touch our stuff anymore?

  • Bezzle

    http://20committee.com/2013/11/05/russian-intelligence-is-behind-the-snowden-show-german-intelligence/

    “As I’ve noted at length already, the drama surrounding the continuing leaks of classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency, care of the defector Edward Snowden, has now taken center stage in Germany. Which is not altogether surprising because Germany is such a close partner with the United States in security and other matters, and also because a significant component of the Wikileaks apparat lives in Berlin.

    To anyone versed in counterintelligence, specifically the modus operandi of Russian security services, the Snowden Operation* is a classic case of Active Measures, in other words a secret propaganda job. That its ultimate objective is fracturing the Western security and intelligence alliance is made increasing clear in the tone of the reporting coming from the Operation, especially its German mouthpiece, the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. Relying on fronts, cut-outs, “independent” journalists, plus platoons of what Lenin memorably termed Useful Idiots, is just what the Kremlin’s intelligence services do when they want to engage in Active Measures. We’ve been down this road before – in many ways what’s going on now is merely a replay of the operational game from the 1970s based on the CIA defector Phil Agee (KGB covername: PONT), but with broadband access – yet the Snowden Operation is unusually successful and brazen, even by Moscow’s high standards in this regard.

    This is also the conclusion of the German security services, based on a new report in the Berlin daily Die Welt. The recent Moscow visit of the leftist Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele with Snowden caused a global sensation. It was also transparently the work of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Noting the stage-managed aspect of the photo op, ”There is no doubt that this was a room that was prepared by the intelligence service,” concluded a German senior intelligence official, adding that this was ”a typical FSB room ” – meaning fully wired. To expand on Die Welt‘s reportage:

    The three-hour conversation had been recorded in this room with microphones and video cameras. After analyzing the course of the visit, German security experts came to the conclusion that the FSB completely organized and monitored Ströbele’s visit to Moscow, and effectively used it for its purposes. The goal of the visit had been to rekindle the debate about the NSA spying affair, thus burdening relations between Germany and the United States even more. “This is playing into the hands of Russia,” said the intelligence official, criticizing Ströbele’s action. That the Green Party official allowed himself to be used by Russia for that country’s interests was to be regarded as “borderline,” he explained.

    The Snowden Operation is far from over, and more German-related Active Measures are to be expected. That said, it’s somewhat reassuring that, no matter what politicians may say, German intelligence is at least aware of the real game that’s afoot here.

    *Until some future Vasili Mitrokhin tells us what Edward Snowden’s actual FSB covername is, I’ll be terming what’s going on the Snowden Operation (Операция Сноудена).”

  • Bezzle is really desperate for the certainties and verities of The Cold War it seems. Sorry but no sale on your conspiracy theory. The *actual* conspiracy here is going on in Washington and London, not sclerotic Russia. The Russians are a banana republic with rusty nukes and the Kremlin poses vastly less threat to me than the boys in Cheltenham.

    Moreover, if by some miracle the Russians were #running# Snowden, then blimey… Russia has done us all a great favour.

    My guess is Bezzle is the ‘useful idiot’… of self serving security states franticly looking to discredit Snowden before they get defunded.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Perry, just don’t accept an invitation to tea from Mr Putin or his staff and you’ll be fine.

  • What makes me laugh about things like Bezzle’s “revelations” is they do not actually deny what the NSA/GCHQ has been doing, they just try and change the focus to “It is a Russian operation!!!”…

    …as if then people will say “Oh! Really? The RUSSIANS are behind these revelations??? Well in that case OF COURSE it is perfectly OK for the US and UK governments to hoover up all my data and weaken the security infrastructure of the internet!”