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Samizdata quote of the day

Some might say “I don’t care if they violate my privacy; I’ve got nothing to hide.” Help them understand that they are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of human rights. Nobody needs to justify why they “need” a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you. More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.

But even if they could, help them think for a moment about what they’re saying. Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Edward Snowden

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101 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    Leave a comment? Comment alley voo?
    Obviously, i should be able to hide my atrocious spelling from anyone I want, even if it is not illegal. And don’t judges deserve work in justifying warrants for the Police to use? Why should they be underutilised?

  • Thailover

    Edward’s got it right. I can (and do) certainly justify owning a gun and having a carry permit, but when it comes down to brass tacks…I requires ZERO excuses or justification for exercising my rights to their fullest extent. And I certainly do not require a bureaucrat’s permission or approval to defend my life or the lives of my loved ones. (The fullest exercise of my rights does not infringe on anyone else’s rights at all, because I have the right to earn, not to mysteriously “have”).

    “More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.”

    That’s why I was a bit of a stick in the mud about Ireland voting in gay marriage by popular vote, and the voted leaders doing the deed afterwards was seen as a mere formality. Yes, gay marriage is a good thing to have IMO, but whether it’s pro or con, rights are not a populist vote issue, (which is why the Prop 8 vote in California was overturned in higher courts).

    “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

    Why is it that people agree with me defending freedom of speech, even that of bigots, but don’t agree with me defending freedom of association, say, to deny service to people in a private restaurant or other private business? People are hypocrites in this regard IMO. If I defend the right of a private org members to not associate with X,Y, or Z, then I’m a sexist or a bigot supposedly, but if I defend the speech rights of a Nazi, no one assumes I’m a Nazi, but rather they understand that I’m the opposite of a Nazi. There is no difference between defending free speech rights and that of defending the rights of free association. (Or the right to not associate).

  • Lee Moore

    Why is it that people agree with me defending freedom of speech, even that of bigots, but don’t agree with me defending freedom of association, say, to deny service to people in a private restaurant or other private business?

    I think the sort of folk who don’t approve of shopkeepers’ freedom of association are often quite happy about restrictions on “hate speech” too. But insofar as there’s a difference in receptiveness to the two freedoms, I suspect it’s just the utterly normal and natural one (touched on in GH’s post – freedoms that I can imagine being useful to me are more important (to me) than freedoms that I can’t imagine being useful to me. And most of us aren’t shopkeepers.

  • Lee Moore

    I’d like to know a lot more about the detailed content of this “right of privacy” before I afford it the same respect as the freedom of speech. I can certainly imagine all sorts of ways in which my liberty (or the liberty of others) might be infringed by state snoopers, but then I can also imagine all sorts of ways state snoopers could try to gather secrets without infringing my liberty, or anyone else’s.

    For example, I can’t see that mounting TV cameras on motorway bridges offends against anyone’s liberty (the expenditure of taxpayers’ money excepted.) Of course the state may then use the information for wicked liberty destroying purposes, but the sin against liberty comes in those later moves, not in the original bit of motorway camera-ing.

  • CaptDMO

    I have PLENTY to hide.
    There are so many “obscure” provisions “hidden away, just in (ie) PP ACA that I didn’t even KNOW
    I could be charged with treasonous child molester/illegal possession of Pale (circumcised) Penis/”health” evasion/UN treaty violations/ bank transaction documentation evasion/illegal bartering/violent ogling resulting in “public” boner assault/felonious ubering/ and illegal water diversion of my FEDERAL navigable driveway puddles.
    I mean, I can understand the “two counts of illegal discharge of a firearm (both barrels) in a residentially zoned area” when disabling a “hobbyists” drone that “wasn’t doin’ nufin” in the airspace above my house, or maybe the illegal laser/micro EMP “privacy” system….but…
    I USED to live in fear of NSA illegal wiretapping when posting such stuff. Now that illegal wiretapping has been deemed illegal via. “sunset” of the unconstitutional lie in “patriot” clothing , DESPITE the best efforts of our so-called Republican Party American heros in the US,
    I only have to fear …uh….”those damned Ruskies…” that stole all the information needed to
    steal ALL my “electronic access” assets with information our Internal Revenue division of The Treasury “lost”. THEY seem to have all SORTS of ongoing “issues” with their chosen IT contractor folks these days.

  • Mr Ed

    Almost totally OT, but can someone make a proper film about Julian Assange in Ealing Comedy style, dyeing his hair and getting on a sunbed to get himself to look like an Ecuardorian diplomat doppelgänger, recently posted to London, and waltzing out of Heathrow to ‘freedom’ in Ecuador on his double’s diplomatic passport?

  • Paul Marks

    If Mr Snowden believes the nice things he says here there are plenty of Congressman and Senators (such as Senator Rand Paul) that he could have gone to for protection as a “Whistle Blower”.

    Mr Snowden did not do this – instead he went to Mr Putin (who does not believe in any of the find things mentioned in the post) and spread Western secrets all around the globe – handing stuff to the “Guardian” and other historically (and currently) evil organisations, dedicated to the destruction of the West.

    “But the Guardian and Mr Putin are enemies Paul”.

    Both are enemies of the West – the fact that they hate each other is not relevant (the enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend).

    For the activities of Mr Snowden see Tim Starr (who has looked into them).

    I am not interested in discussing the matter with people who have had plenty of opportunity to look into what Mr Snowden has done – and have chosen not to do so.

    If you can not see that Mr Snowden UNDERMINES the position that the 4th Amendment should be supported (which Rand Paul CORRECTLY stood for on Sunday), then I can not help you understand the obvious.

    As the late Mr Owens said when asked why he had represented the racist United States at the Berlin games of 1936.

    “There is nothing wrong with America that Mr Hitler is going to fix”.

  • Paul Marks

    Does Mr Snowden care that Islamist terrorist groups used his revelations to change their security procedures?

    No he does not, no more than Mr Putin does.

    It is up to supporters of the 4th Amendment to show that we DO care.

    In short it is incredibly harmful to people who support Civil Liberties to imply that they are on friendly terms with “Edward”.

    One might as well try and cooperate with Guardian – or the university crowd that it (and other such entities) represent.

    However, people should not need this explained to them – as it is obvious.

    Sadly people (including highly intelligent people) seem to be too complicated to see the obvious.

    One does not cooperate with the enemy.

    And both the Guardian and Mr Putin are enemies.

  • Jacob

    “the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority”

    No.
    But the majority **does** define what these “natural rights” are exactly, and how they are implemented by the legal system and protected.
    For example: what does the “right to privacy” mean? How is it to be implemented? There is no “natural rights” bible that defines this in detail and unequivocally. Legislation is needed, and legislation is done by majority vote.

  • If Mr Snowden believes the nice things he says here there are plenty of Congressman and Senators (such as Senator Rand Paul) that he could have gone to for protection as a “Whistle Blower”.

    I can’t believe anybody is naive enough to believe this.

  • If Mr Snowden believes the nice things he says here there are plenty of Congressman and Senators (such as Senator Rand Paul) that he could have gone to for protection as a “Whistle Blower”.

    Sorry but that is utter bullshit. You are wilfully blind Paul. Even wonderful Mr. Rand Paul thinks that for the service of revealing what is nothing less that conspiratorial treason, he should go to jail. I am baffled you are so unable to pick the right side in this.

    Does Mr Snowden care that Islamist terrorist groups used his revelations to change their security procedures?

    Nor do I care. On this issue Paul you are indeed a naive fool and that saddens me.

  • I am baffled you are so unable to pick the right side in this.

    But Perry, don’t you know that asking strawman questions about the Guardian and Vladimir Putin is a brilliant debate strategy?

  • On this issue Paul you are indeed a naive fool and that saddens me.

    I have no useful information to guide me either way and while I agree with Mr. Snowden’s sentiment I have to question both his actions and thereby his motives.

    It seems to me that naivety is in not doing so.

    Certainly Mr. Snowden my be all that he appears to be and his residence in Moscow nothing more than the consequence of an unfortunate series of events, but I’ve read enough cold war history to know that the residents of Lubyanka Square have a love of thinking in circles and trying to pass off used goods as Snow White.

    Regardless of Mr. Snowden’s status before reaching Moscow he should now be considered as little more than an FSB poodle, barking when Putin needs to kick the West.

  • I have to question both his actions and thereby his motives.

    His motives are interesting but also irrelevant… if much to my surprise he turned out to be an FSB agent, then we all owe Putin a debt of thanks, but I very much doubt that is the case. Snowden’s actions however, which are all that actually matters, have been laudable.

    Regardless of Mr. Snowden’s status before reaching Moscow he should now be considered as little more than an FSB poodle, barking when Putin needs to kick the West.

    Preposterous. Seriously, utterly daft. He, unlike you and indeed Paul Marks, has consistently backed up his contentions with evidence, rather than mere conjecture that serves the interests of supporters of the Panopticon.

  • Jordan

    If Mr Snowden believes the nice things he says here there are plenty of Congressman and Senators (such as Senator Rand Paul) that he could have gone to for protection as a “Whistle Blower”.

    Complete nonsense. Ask William Binney how well that works. And he came before the Obama Admin’s war on whistleblowers.

    Regardless of Mr. Snowden’s status before reaching Moscow he should now be considered as little more than an FSB poodle, barking when Putin needs to kick the West.

    And you have the same amount of evidence to support this assertion that the NSA’s cheerleaders have to support the assertion that mass spying is necessary to protect us from terrorists: zero.

  • Tedd

    Lee Moore:

    One camera on one bridge sounds pretty innocuous, but it’s a sorites paradox: When does it become intrusive? And the always-important pragmatic question: When the inevitable happens and you don’t realize it’s intrusive until it is, how do you to expect to reverse it? The imbalance between how difficult it is to implement a policy and how difficult it is to get rid of a policy means that it’s essential to be extremely conservative about implementing any policy. London will now have cameras until they are technologically obsolete; there will never be a decision to get rid of them. In the U.S., even innocent grandmothers being shot in their homes by police hasn’t managed to get the enforcement procedures for drug laws changed, never mind the law themselves. With government, the slope is always slippery and the fall line always points away from liberty.

  • staghounds

    “Because I have nothing to hide.”

    My response is always “Great! Give me your computer and email log in stuff and let’s look. Right now.”

    No one says yes…

  • staghounds

    “Nothing wrong with America that Mr Hitler will fix” was Joe Louis, not Jesse Owens.

  • long-lost cousin

    Paul-

    Your faith in the ability of the Holder and now Lynch to correctly apply whistleblower protections, without letting either politics or personal vendettas guide prosecutorial discretion, is heartwarming.

  • Laird

    I very much like that last sentence quoted here, but there was another one in Snowden’s comment which was equally good: “A free press benefits more than just those who read the paper.”

    On a more substantive note, the claim that “I have nothing to hide” is a variant on the more general “I’ve done nothing wrong.” And the problem with that is what you define as “wrong” isn’t necessarily what the authorities consider to be wrong, or for that matter what they will consider to be wrong tomorrow. There are also innumerable studies proving that people act very differently if they know they are being watched. That was the whole purpose of Bentham’s Panopticon. This is the answer to Lee Moore’s comment that “I can’t see that mounting TV cameras on motorway bridges offends against anyone’s liberty.” It very much “offends” people’s liberty. If you know that the government knows every place you go, and when you go there, it will absolutely affect your actions even if they are entirely legal. The panopticon state is the death of liberty and must be fought at every turn.

    Ted, Paul Marks has a singular blind spot when it comes to Snowden. He has been making that same ridiculous assertion ever since Snowden’s revelations first came out, and nothing is going to dissuade him. The naïveté is startling in one normally as cynical as he, but there it is.

  • Watchman

    Is there really a right to privacy? I can’t think how the hell you define that effectively – any interaction with another person is a voluntary waiving of the right for a start. Unless rights can be held collectively (don’t go there – that way lies facism…) then a group email is clearly not private. It should however be property – and so accessing it treated as one would treat accessing any other property.

    Better that there was no need for privacy, no state to prosecute and no moralists to condemn – only actions that are legal or illegal. And accessing emails or other communications with no justification to be illegal not through some ill defined right, but because this is someone’s property into which you have broken for the purpose of stealing information.

  • Mr Ed

    The issue of who and what the State may surveil may be considered in the light of whether the State exists to serve you and me, or whether we exist to serve the State. If the State exists to serve us, then if it has grounds for enquiry into any one of us, it may do so by operation and process of law, by obtaining a warrant on oath before a (notionally at least) independent judicial officer (why not a juror?). The State thereby follows the law and its staff risk process for perjury should they lie.

    If however, we exist to serve the State, then what use is there for the operation and process of law? The State surveils us as would a farmer his livestock. Some clever pigs might seek to escape, measures must be taken to protect the Farm…

  • Thailover

    Lee Moore wrote,
    “For example, I can’t see that mounting TV cameras on motorway bridges offends against anyone’s liberty (the expenditure of taxpayers’ money excepted.) Of course the state may then use the information for wicked liberty destroying purposes, but the sin against liberty comes in those later moves, not in the original bit of motorway camera-ing.”

    The laws should at least be consistent. If “the state” can record anyone “in public” i.e. outside their home, with impuity, and do whatever they want with the material, then I should be able to do the same and use said recordings in commercial enterprises without gaining the subject’s consent. I fail to see how earning a profit on project X turns turns project X from something harmless into something evil.

  • Thailover

    CaptDMO,
    What I find absolutely hilarious are the people who assume that because gathering information XYZ is now dubbed illegal, that the NSA, who operates largely dark projects will actually cease and desist gathering said information. That’s like saying, “oh thank god someone made selling meth illegal!” lol. Who, pray-tell, will be able to take the NSA to court should they continue to gather “private” information to use in top secret dark projects? Who will be doing this, a Russian spy? LOL. “Jack Bouer” is on their side, not ours.

  • Thailover

    Re: Laird, 3:20pm post,
    Not only that, but as any lawyer will tell you, if you’re being watched for a week, ‘THEY CAN GET YOU ON SOMETHING’, because there are a gazillion laws and regs on the books and even cops and lawyers don’t know the half of it. There are so many gov regulations on the books that the govs themselves, not only are not familiar with them all, but can’t even tell you how many they have!

    “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” ~ Ayn Rand

  • Thailover

    Watchman wrote:

    “Is there really a right to privacy? I can’t think how the hell you define that effectively…”

    I confess that when someone can break into someone’s home, steal a sex tape, publish and sell it commercially (for a profit) without the “talent’s” permission, as deemed by the courts of law…then I’m a bit fuzzy on the subject myself.

  • Laird

    “Is there really a right to privacy? I can’t think how the hell you define that effectively – any interaction with another person is a voluntary waiving of the right for a start.”

    The key word in that sentence is “voluntary”. There’s nothing voluntary about the state using cameras to track our every move. (And please, don’t try to argue that going outside is “voluntary” and thus authorizes the action. Such a claim renders the word meaningless.)

  • Thailover

    Jordan wrote:

    “…evidence to support this assertion that the NSA’s cheerleaders have to support the assertion that mass spying is necessary to protect us from terrorists…”

    I love the “defense” that statists give for trying to run a police state, in so many words, that a police state polices better than a free nation. The fact that they’re statists and a large portion of their listening audience are also statists, this seems like actual justification to them. However it’s bewildering to those such as myself who understand that BEING a police state is the infraction and that a police state is incompatible with individual rights. How can endorsing a state that is incompatible with individual rights increase my safety?

  • Thailover

    Paul,
    A traitor is someone who betrays his nation (we the people), not someone who dares run contrary to that nation’s rogue government, (proved going rogue by what Mr. Snowden released).

    “Terrorists” are going to periodically change their tactics and plans anyway. To pretend that Mr. Snowden actually put anyone in harm’s way is beyond ridiculous, since those with a draconian agenda to do just that and cart blanch to do just that, and gov resources to do just that…couldn’t and haven’t.

  • Thailover

    John Galt,
    It’s my understanding that Mr. Snowden is in Russia BECAUSE our government, and our Marxist in Chief was after his skull on a platter, and he was refused sanctuary by a score of different nations. That Mr. Snowden is a classic “whistleblower” should be celibrated by those who love freedom rather than vilified for exposing our governments rife illegal activities.

  • Thailover

    Jacob, no, the majority does not determine what “natural rights” people have. Individuals using logic and reasoned argumentation and factual evidence should be the method used, not popular impressions and feelings. For example, a majority voting that ‘gays have no right to marry’ is no different than a majority voting that interracial couples have no right to marry. Such a consensus is not the result of either reason or logic, but rather arbitrary whim and possibly bigotry, (which is exactly why proposition 8 in california was shot down by higher courts).

  • Mr Ed

    It’s my understanding that Mr. Snowden is in Russia BECAUSE our government, and our Marxist in Chief was after his skull on a platter, and he was refused sanctuary by a score of different nations.

    The question that strikes me is that if Mr Obama is such an anti-US liberal deadbeat as he is portrayed or perceived, why does he bother with airstrikes against IS, with the pursuit of Mr Snowden, with drone strikes etc.? Surely by now he would have just let things pass and carry on playing golf. Why would he care about Mr Snowden, except to think ‘Nice one!‘.

    It seems to me more that he is actually embarrassed by the United States (or rather its past) and doesn’t really want to do anything to advance its interests, rather than that he actively hates it.

  • Lee Moore

    Thailover : The laws should at least be consistent. If “the state” can record anyone “in public” i.e. outside their home, with impuity, and do whatever they want with the material, then I should be able to do the same and use said recordings in commercial enterprises without gaining the subject’s consent.

    I think this is the nub. If I buy a telescope and watch my neighbours, I don’t offend their liberty. At all. They remain free to do whatever they want. It’s true, as Laird suggests, that we may behave differently if we know we’re being watched (whether by the state, or by a pervy neighbour.) But that hasn’t got anything to do with liberty. If I hold unpopular opinions, I may fear to voice them lest I be shunned by others – but I am still free to speak if nobody, private citizen or the state, is going to bop me on the head, or fine me, for speaking my mind.

    If we don’t like other people knowing our secrets, we remain at perfect liberty to take measures to block them from public view. (unless the state decrees otherwise, which would be an infringement of liberty.) We may be incompetent to do so effectively, of course, but that is a different matter.

    It is also true that if the state has already made everything illegal, and then sets up ubiquitous surveillance to catch us, then our liberty will be infringed. But the infringement lies not in the surveillance per se but in the fact that the state has made everything illegal. (Note I am only talking about those forms of state surveillance which are not, of themselves, offences against liberty. eg laws requiring computer companies to make their products easily hackable is obviously a direct infringement of liberty.)

    What people seem to be objecting to – under the guise of protecting liberty – is the PRACTICAL EFFECT of state surveillance – ie even if it doesn’t of itself curtail our formal liberty, in practice it has a bad effect (it constrains our voluntary behaviour because we know we’re being watched, and it makes it easy for the state to enforce its separate liberty attacking rules.) This however is one of those HARM arguments, so beloved of lefty anti-liberty merchants. How can a poor man be free if he doesn’t have the money to train as a ballet dancer ? It seems to me that some of the posters here are climbing dangerously onto that slippery slope of positive freedoms, where to be more “free” we have to make people less free – eg banning pervy neighbours from using their telescopes, banning companies from sharing their views about bolshy employees and so on. Of course, constraining the state from doing things that private citizens are at liberty to do is no crime against liberty. But allowing the state to do such things is no crime against liberty either.

    Since I am a conservative, though sympathetic to libertarian concerns, I understand people being concerned about practical effects rather than the high theory of libertarianism. State surveillance can certainly be abused, but it is also potentially useful for identifying criminals (criminals committing offences that even libertarians disapprove of.) So when we move our concerns from high theory to practical effects, we need to accept that the practical effects of state surveillance may be good or bad for liberty, depending on the details. If it mostly catches bombers and fraudsters, then its practical effects are mostly good. If it’s mostly effective at giving bureaucrats another way to bully ordinary non criminals it’s mostly bad.

    To cut a long story short, state surveillance may or may not infringe liberty depending on the details. Even if it doesn’t infringe liberty it may still be a good idea to curtail it, because it’s practical effects may chill deter people from exercising their liberty. But if it doesn’t infringe liberty and it helps prevent or punish liberty-assaulting crimes (which is a perfectly proper use of state power) then curtailing it may reduce the extent to which people can exercise their liberty, by allowing crime to flourish. Consequently whether it is, and to what extent and in what form it is, a good idea, is a practical not a theological question.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Thailover
    June 1, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    To pretend that Mr. Snowden actually put anyone in harm’s way is beyond ridiculous….

    And his putting people in harm’s way would prove nothing even if true. Any putative harm done in the short term by Snowden may be less serious, and to fewer people, than that done in the long term by a secretive government. We need more information before we can do the moral calculus.

  • neal

    Actually, this is very theological. A benign God, that plays. And allows the possibilty of a constant Accuser, that piles up laws and pretentions to make a mess out of Chaos and Order.

    I tend to prefer to let free will and liberty play out. I have seen the machinery of the response.

    Everyone gets to die when cognition gets defensive. Kill everything that does not agree.

    Does not really apply, in the real world.

  • nemesis

    The justification for the presence of a CCTV presumes that crimes will be committed. Does that then not undermine the common law principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’?

  • Nemesis nails it.

  • RRS

    Does all this boil down to:

    What are the functions of government of a free people?

  • Fraser Orr

    >nemesis
    >The justification for the presence of a CCTV presumes that crimes will be committed. Does that then not undermine the common law principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’?

    I’m no fan of CCTV hooked up to the government censors, but this is not a good argument. It is plain common sense to presume that crimes will be committed. That is entirely different than the assumption that an individual person is innocent until proven guilty of a specific accusation against him by the state.

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    Nemesis fails it.
    ‘Presumption of Innocence’ is used by individuals in courts of law. The individual would need to prove that CCTV cameras were set up to catch only him/her-self in the act of a crime, BUT the cameras were not set up for any particular individual. Statistics could be used to show that the likelihood of a criminal act was more likely along one street than another, thus justifying the camera. Whichever individuals were traced would not have been identified before the crimes.

  • Thailover

    RRS wrote:

    Does all this boil down to: “What are the functions of government of a free people”?

    Yes.

  • Thailover

    Mr. Ed, your 9:12 post,

    My opinion is that the left’s great genius is their understanding of how to manipulate the masses and knowing what narrative they want to hear and believe. Political propaganda, IMO, is what Ayn Rand meant as the product of Witchdoctors (and the thug wannabe brutish rulers are the Attilas). That is, ‘the dark wizardry of propaganda’ is one of the few real forms of magick in the world.

    As Alan Moore defined it, magick is the art of manipulating symbols, words or images in order to achieve changes in consciousness. Interestingly enough, the word grimoire, a medieval book of magickal spells, actually means grammar; ditto for the Scottish ‘glamour’, a form of magick, and to cast a spell meant to literally SPELL. When someone like Mr. Snowden spills the beans with hard data, everyone’s spells, their enchantments, are at serious risk, whether on the right or the left of the political spectrum. It undermines the apparent integrity of their spun tales, their virtual reality house of cards that they’ve sold to the public. IMO that’s why Mr. Snowden is considered such a threat, rather than what threat his leaks have actually and practically have posed to our government, our nation or our people.
    Cheers,
    Thailover

  • JohnB

    Paul is correct in that one’s enemies’ enemies are not (necessarily) one’s friends.
    He is also correct in that Snowden’s activities will have been used to tremendous advantage by the enemies of the west, which, for all its profound faults, is still the free-est bit of the world.
    However one can use Snowden’s information, and the info that one gets from RT etc, to gain insights into what is going seriously wrong in the west (snooper’s charter etc).
    The main consideration to bear in mind is that we are all fallible and not only do not have all the information needed for the full picture, but our own prejudices have to be taken into account when trying to obtain a fairly accurate view of things.
    The parameters of our debates are substantially influenced by those who would establish their own advantage.

  • He is also correct in that Snowden’s activities will have been used to tremendous advantage by the enemies of the west, which, for all its profound faults, is still the free-est bit of the world.

    By far the most powerful enemies of the west are in the west. They are the primary threat to us and are found in Fort Meade and Cheltenham, not Moscow and Raqqah.

  • It is plain common sense to presume that crimes will be committed.

    Of course – by ordinary citizens, not by the state. When you or I make that assumption, it is a general one – we don’t go around looking for criminals, but the government does. I think that RRS is asking the correct and the fundamental question in this context. My answer to that is that I don’t think that it is the role of government to look for unknown criminals, only for known suspects, and the CCTV cameras are clearly designed for the former purpose, not for the latter.

  • (Fraser, sorry for failing to address you by name…)

  • JohnB

    Regarding threats to freedom and to the west.
    I agree that as technology approaches a total ability to record, store and recall data, so we shall approach complete totalitarianism. Where ever such ability occurs.
    But I don’t know what one can do about that.
    Perhaps it might be somewhat more humanely managed in the west than elsewhere?
    For the time being, at least

  • PeterT

    By far the most powerful enemies of the west are in the west.

    Absolutely, but I would replace the first use of ‘west’ with ‘traditional freedoms of the English speaking people’ (magna carta, 1689,1776 etc), and the second with ‘Tories’ (as opposed to Whig).

  • With marked reluctance, I think I must dispute what Perry writes here:

    By far the most powerful enemies of the west are in the west. They are the primary threat to us and are found in Fort Meade and Cheltenham, not Moscow and Raqqah.

    IMHO, the real dangers that Perry identifies arise in Washington DC and Westminster. Though out-of-control military and intelligence agencies are a potential problem, most if not all of the current problem is with government/political approval of that with which Perry disagrees (and I concur with him to some extent).

    By far the most important function of western signals intelligence organisations, such as NSA and GCHQ, is to determine and maintain the military order of battle of enemies and prospective enemies. In the world’s public eye, the best known results of that are the success of Bletchley Park in dealing with the German WW2 encryption systems (Enigma etc). The biggest failure, in the UK public eye at least, is probably the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands; that was a political failure in tasking, not an operational or technical failure. But we should have known, then that particular war would never have occurred – which would have been good for all involved.

    The second most important function of sigint is against espionage and political subversion in the home country. On this, I recommend reading ex-ambassador Charles Crawford on The Limits of Government and of Spying, in which he draws strongly on my view. What I wrote includes:

    …the extensive legitimisation of spying should be avoided. There is no possibility of getting it right, as the lawful legitimisation can only specify the boundary between rightful and wrongful means: the definition of what is and what is not spying. The law can no longer specify in advance, the boundary between rightful and wrongful purpose, though it once could do better than now.

    Then:

    The best we can hope for is threefold:

    (i) that those who spy keep a strict sense of proportion between their means and the wrong of which they believe they have probable cause to suspect;

    (ii) that no harm is done by spying on those judged ultimately to be innocent (mostly by keeping secret the results of the spying);

    (iii) that those who spy and disclose their results are subject to full scrutiny (as the normal course of events) and to serious punishment if they cannot justify that their spying and disclosure was in the public interest and was proportionate in the totality of its application.

    It all makes serious reading, in particular Charles Crawford’s interjections and conclusions.

    Back to Snowden, IMHO all disclosures of intelligence techniques and effectiveness are a mistake that damages, perhaps seriously, our own intelligence capability. Snowden did that; I don’t think those of his concerns that were legitimate warranted him going as far as he did.

    Unfortunately, it is very definitely not in the public interest to discuss publicly intelligence techniques and their effectiveness, at least until the technology has become seriously old hat, and its relevance has become historical.

    And I repeat that the real dangers that Perry identifies have arisen in Washington DC and Westminster, not Fort Meade and Cheltenham.

    Best regards

  • Mr Ed

    The biggest failure, in the UK public eye at least, is probably the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands; that was a political failure in tasking, not an operational or technical failure. But we should have known, then that particular war would never have occurred – which would have been good for all involved.

    Indeed it was a shocking failure, and Mrs Thatcher rebuffed suggestions in early March 1982 that there was a risk. But in fact, there were two positive outcomes of that war:

    1. The hapless state of the Royal Navy with its inability to effectively defend surface vessels against missile and low-level air attack was exposed in a small war, and was something that could be partially rectified.

    2. The Argentine Junta fell, and took with it its dusted-off plans to invade Chile over the Beagle Channel, after Chile won the arbitration of 1977 and the abortive Argentine invasion of 1978, a war that could have dragged in the entire South American continent, with Peru, who supplied relief Mirages to Argentina in 1982, and perhaps Bolivia, eyeing a chunk of Chile. The Chilean Marines are trained in what to do.

  • Watchman

    Laird,

    In relation to the question of whether CCTV of you as you leave your house is a breach of your privacy, I am not sure how having your picture taken in public is a breach of privacy. If the CCTV is taking pictures of your property, you can ask for it to not do so (or should be able to under any decent law of property), but if it is not your property then you cannot complain if you are pictured. If a space is public, then there is the issue over whether there should be use of CCTV by public authorities but that is not a matter of privacy.

  • Nigel Nigel Nigel…

    And I repeat that the real dangers that Perry identifies have arisen in Washington DC and Westminster, not Fort Meade and Cheltenham.

    I am well aware the seat of government in the USA and UK are not in Fort Meade or Cheltenham, that is merely where the two largest (and linked) tools of mass surveillance are. And if I have to exchange having the Falklands invaded for not being under panoptic surveillance by my own state, well sorry Falklands, you just ain’t worth the cost…

    …but in reality, it is a false dichotomy, as surveillance of foreign military assets from orbit or via espionage of all kinds are materially different things to mass civil surveillance… but even if it was an all-or-nothing choice, I would then choose ‘nothing’. My point is our governments simply cannot be trusted with tools of the sort revealed by Edward Snowden.

  • Thailover

    Nigel,
    Mr. Snowden went as far as he did because that was the ONLY measure that was not deniable. As is, the head of the NSA repreatedly, willfully & maliciously lied to congress with anticipated, and as it turns out, actual impunity, only to be repeatedly exposed as a barefaced liar by subsequent Snowden releases of information. What was the fall out of the head of the NSA lying to congress during congressional investigations? Absolutely nothing of course. What was the ‘mass media’s’ take? Nothing much. That wasn’t on their agenda planner. I think Perry hit the nail square on the head on this one when he said, “…our governments simply cannot be trusted with tools of the sort revealed by Edward Snowden”.
    Cheers,
    Thailover

  • JohnK

    As has been mentioned, William Binney and other NSA whistleblowers tried to do what Mr Marks has suggested, by going through political channels, and got nowhere. Indeed, worse than that, their homes were raided by the FBI and they were roughed up by the legal system until they agreed to keep quiet again.

    If their attempts had been successful, there would have been no need for Edward Snowden. Equally, the facts of what happened to them meant that Edward Snowden must have known that the course of action proposed by Mr Marks was utterly futile.

    What Edward Snowden has revealed is akin to a secret coup d’état, a system of total surveillance of all citizens which is without precedent in history. If politicians know that every email they have ever sent, every web search they have ever made, and every number they have ever called, is all known to the secret intelligence state, then the prospects of any sort of political control over that state is zero. Under Putin, the secret police gained control of the Russian state in a fairly open way. Total surveillance has allowed the secret state to control the public state in a way that few would have believed possible if Snowden had not proved it. Anyone who thinks the total surveillance state has anything much to do with “terrorists” is fooling only themselves.

  • Thailover

    Nigel,
    PS
    And lets’ not lose sight that much of what Mr. Snowden exposed was government committing illegal actions with denied capabilities. To argue that we are better off not knowing of such things is to implicitly argue that, yes, a police state does in fact police better than a free nation. Although that’s true, the problem is the existence, to whatever degree, of a police state capable of operating with impunity and effective deniability.

  • I can see I have been a bit sloppy in my arguments, so encouraging responses that are away from my main points. Apologies.

    Mr Ed writes:

    But in fact, there were two positive outcomes of that war:

    I agree, and the benefit of ridding the Argentinians themselves of their military dictatorship was very good for them too. Sadly, the follow-through is currently looking distinctly weak. But let’s leave that issue for another Samizdata main posting.

    Perry writes:

    And if I have to exchange having the Falklands invaded for not being under panoptic surveillance by my own state, well sorry Falklands, you just ain’t worth the cost…

    I was trying to find easily understood examples to put sigint into the context of military importance. Having that particular small war being rated as not so important, I cannot disagree with. However, the important risk is general; and the next war (avoided for preference – alternatively won, as second best outcome) could easily be much more important.

    Back on my intended topic, Perry writes:

    …but in reality, it is a false dichotomy, as surveillance of foreign military assets from orbit or via espionage of all kinds are materially different things to mass civil surveillance… but even if it was an all-or-nothing choice, I would then choose ‘nothing’. My point is our governments simply cannot be trusted with tools of the sort revealed by Edward Snowden.

    Perry and I agree that there is a difference; no doubt, though there is more to it than just Perry’s “surveillance of foreign military assets”. We should be able to have both good things: (i) adequate intelligence against military and other foreign threats (with wartime contribution as and when required) and (ii) not living in a police state or something going seriously that way. That we currently do not is the fault of our political system and our government system – this much more than the obvious desire for empire building that afflicts all government employment – not just GCHQ (and the other two intelligence services).

    My point is that you have to somewhat trust the intelligence services with those sorts of tools, otherwise doing their job adequately is too difficult. But they should only be trusted as far as they can be thrown – which (and with the police too) is the current lack. But full public disclosure, particularly of technical capability and effectiveness, is not the solution: that damages the capability too much. I don’t know what is the full solution. However, I’m pretty sure it includes detailed oversight by those who are as highly technically competent as the intelligence agencies themselves, and also high sceptical about the claimed truth of all they observe and highly sceptical of all the predictions that they are given of effectiveness concerning future technology.

    Finally, there is an obvious political problem, which I do not think is currently accepted in the UK. If we have some degree of spying on the public (as I argue we will have), we must accept that it can only be used for the objectives of foreign, military and true national security protection. Despite such systems (including high-tech ones) being fully operational, paid for and available at no extra cost, the outputs of these systems must not be allowed to be used for ‘ordinary’ crime detection or any other purposes. Nor should any international intelligence agreements or exchanges contribute to the circumvention of such usage restraints. This is not only a difficult issue for government – I believe it is a difficult issue for the general public to accept: why should ‘we’ have to ignore those wonderful leads thrown up in NCIS and similar TV series and films? But we must.

    Best regards

  • TomJ

    The problem is not that there is some ineffable Platonic natural right to privacy that must not be disturbed, but rather that it is all too easy to imagine groups or individuals within the aparat or a regime itself using information gathering powers to the detriment of those they dislike. Therefore those powers have to be strictly limited and controlled.

  • Thailover

    TomJ
    Why would a natural right be a problem? But of course there is such a right, which amounts to the fact that I own myself, my life, (hence private v public) and “society” cannot own me by right, because the alleged right to violate the rights of others (slavery) is a self contradiction. Rights are innate and imprescriptable because that which can be granted by X can be revoked by X, which contradicts the meaning of rights.
    Cheers,
    Thailover

  • Laird

    Nigel Sedgewick made an excellent point when he said “the outputs of these systems must not be allowed to be used for ‘ordinary’ crime detection or any other purposes.” And I think that shows precisely why governments cannot be trusted with this power, because they will not agree to such a limitation. In the US (anyway), warrantless searches such as those routinely conducted by the NSA, FBI, et al, with or without supposed cover of the Patriot Act, are blatantly unconstitutional but are accepted because of “national security” claims. If one truly accepts that justification (I don’t), it would be a simple and noncontroversial matter for the “authorizing” statute to provide that whatever information is gleaned by these extra-constitutional means must be limited to national defense purposes, and is not admissible in any other sort of criminal trial. But that is not done, or even suggested. Indeed, the FBI routinely leaks such information to local police forces with instructions not to divulge the source (indeed, to overtly lie about the source), but there is no penalty for anyone in those rare cases where the truth has come out. If the statute provided that divulging any of that information for a non-national defense purpose, or knowingly making use of it in a criminal trial, were a felony, and a few intelligence agents and local prosecutors found themselves in federal prison for violating it, I would be much more sanguine about the government having these tools. But until that day arrives I will continue to oppose them at every turn. The damage to our society is far greater than anything a few random terrorists could possibly inflict.

  • TomJ

    @Thailover: The concept of natural rights are problematic because, leaving aside the thorny philosophical issue of what the nature of said natural rights is, it is impossible to define them; no 2 buggers can agree on exactly what they are, what (if any) exceptions there are to them or how they can be enforced. This rather mitigates against the idea they are pre-existing or innate. To take your example, if you commit a crime in any society care to mention you can be be imprisoned, trammelling your enjoyment of the right to self-ownership. Of course, definitions of what constitutes an imprisonable crime vary with geography and history; things now be viewed as natural and innate were once seen against the natural order of things, and things we now take for granted may be seen as abhorrent in the future.

  • Indeed, TomJ. I rather like the example of a lion who just can’t seem to warm up to the idea of my natural right to life.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Alisa
    > we don’t go around looking for criminals, but the government does.

    But if we vest in the government the role of executing the criminal law we ask them to do precisely that. To give a specific example — the government own and run the roads. Putting aside the question of whether that is good or not it certainly seems reasonable that they, the owners, should set the rules and enforce them, in exactly the same way the owner of a racetrack sets and enforces the rules.

    I would not agree with a policy on the roads that says you can be drunk as a lord or high as a kite and you only get your collar felt if you actually hurt someone.

    Now the comparison isn’t exactly fair. Opposite to what seems to be common wisdom in government and leftie circles, the government should have less rights than ordinary citizens (generally speaking.) And so their inherent power demands that curbs be placed on their rulership of the roads, and we can certainly discuss and argue over the nature and extent of the curbs. But insofar as they rule the roads they do set and enforce the rules.

    >My answer to that is that I don’t think that it is the role of government to look for unknown criminals,

    So would do you object to PC Plod walking the beat? CCTV is just a high version of that.

    To be clear, I am not in favor of them. The reason why is that they make the government function more efficient. And often the best curb to the power and tyranny of government is that it is so very inefficient, and is run by a bunch of ineffective, unmotivated idiots. Not evil geniuses, evil nitwits, so to speak.

  • Fraser:

    So would do you object to PC Plod walking the beat? CCTV is just a high version of that.

    No, I would not, and no, it is not. The way I see it (and other people certainly may see it differently) the plod walking the beat is not there to look for criminals, but to be available to the public in situations where members of the public may need his help as the representative of the law enforcement – such as for breaking a brawl, helping catch a pickpocket, etc. He is not there to take photos of ordinary citizens, collect them, bring them back to his office and keep them there in case one of them some day turns up as a crime suspect. That is what the CCTV does – and BTW, from that simple description you can see how far its proclaimed purpose is far from being realistic. So far, in fact, as to sound almost as a pretense.

    I’m afraid that the roads example is also irrelevant to this discussion, as the law only allows the use of roads under certain (generally reasonable*) conditions of both the vehicle and the driver (*speed limits that are often less-than-reasonable notwithstanding). There are no such laws governing most other public spaces: we should be (and still are?) free to use them under most conditions, including when not fit to drive – and so there is no legitimate need for government to observe us there.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Alisa
    > The way I see it (and other people certainly may see it differently) the plod walking the beat is not there to look for criminals, but to be available to the public in situations where members of the public may need his help as the representative of the law enforcement

    PC Plod does many things and certainly he is keeping an eye on the riff raff seeing if they are up to no good. But the things you list are also certainly potential functions of CCTV too. They can be used to see trouble happening and used to dispatch help (this happens all the time in private spaces too — casinos for example), and although he isn’t necessarily as good at it as a CCTV, PC Plod is also charged with knowing what’s happenin’ and being able to recognize the local villains.

    So again, my problem with CCTV cameras in public spaces is that they are too good. Given the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, I’d rather have too many laws capriciously enforced than too many laws enforced with efficiency. But the notion that one has some right to privacy when acting in a public space seems self evidently contradictory to me.

  • JohnK

    Fraser:

    When one talks about a right to privacy in a public space, one perhaps ought to define some terms. Obviously, if one is walking down the street, other people can see you. A passing policeman can see you, and then you pass, and he is gone. It is rather different than having one’s every movement tracked by cameras covering every public space. Imagine advances in facial recognition such that a total network of cameras could keep track of everyone using every public space, and store that information indefinitely, so that one day a secret policemen can say “let’s have a look at everywhere he has ever been.” They can’t do that now, but they can already do it for all your electronic communications. As soon as they have the technology to do it, they will. When your every movement, and every communication, is logged and recorded for all time, in what sense exactly are you free?

  • TomJ

    When I got knocked off my bike at a junction by a hit and run merchant last year, I rather hoped the CCTV would get him but, alas, it was pointing elsewhere. It has a place. What also has a place is fairly stringent controls on when footage can be accessed (viz in investigation of an actual crime) and stiff exemplary punishments for any official who abuses said controls.

  • Fraser, I never mentioned a ‘right to privacy’ (see this for a take with which I tend to agree quite strongly) – rather, I was discussing government surveillance.

  • Thailover

    TomJ,
    The argument against a surveillance state isn’t that it isn’t useful. But that it can be useful for benevolent purposes doesn’t necessarily mean that “It has it’s place” either.

  • Thailover

    TomJ, your 10:05 post,
    That rights can be defined by logic and reason in no way is diminished by the existence of people who disagree, or people who reason badly, or who use predicates based on unjustifiable presumptions rather than demonstrable, repeatable and independently verifiable facts. For example, X is illegal because it offends Allah is meaningless unless one is capable of proving that the existence of an Allah is even possible, i.e. has a probability greater than zero.

  • TomJ

    1. Anything can be abused in the wrong hands. That it can be abused is not a reason for not using it, but for seeing if there is a way of getting the residual risk of abuse after putting safeguards in place (in a risk assessor’s view of risk, viz likelihood x impact) lower than the benefits. Otherwise we’d have to get rid of the police, the penal system etc and end up with anarchy.

    2. Whatever rights you come up with through logic or reason is going to be based on the premises you base things on. I note that the most influential thinkers on the concept of natural rights, Hobbes and Locke, didn’t include privacy in their inalienable rights. Did they reason poorly?

  • Thailover

    TomJ
    Privacy is derivative of private. Hobbes and Locke certainly did consider private or personal ownership.

  • nemesis

    http://ejlt.org/article/view/221/377
    ‘The changing nature of the presumption of innocence in today’s surveillance societies: rewrite human rights or regulate the use of surveillance technologies?’

  • On this issue Paul you are indeed a naive fool and that saddens me.

    Paul, in this matter is a bit over the top, but I certainly do accept that he has a point.

    Edward Snowdon is not, I repeat, not, a whistleblower in any acceptable sense.

    He certainly released documents demonstrating failings on the procedures adopted by the US government, but these were only a small portion of those documents released. His actions were more akin to grabbing piles of documents almost at random and releasing them, justifying this by pointing to those few which suited the purpose of those who support him. I fail to see what benefit is conferred to any of us by exposing Iranian democrats to persecution that regime, by naming Afghans in Afghanistan who helped, or detailing the details of perfectly legal (in australia) Australian espionage tactics against Indonesia.

    This was not whistleblowing. It was vindictive and malicious damage of western interests, leading to the deaths of people who acted in out interests.

    I am pleased Snowden exposed the surveillance tactics of the US government, and if he had limited his actions to that I would be singing his praises. However, he did no such thing, and instead chose to put us all at greater risk than we need be. For that, I hope he is not enjoying, but merely enduring, his time in Putins Russia.

  • JohnK

    Edward Snowdon is not, I repeat, not, a whistleblower in any acceptable sense.

    The problem is that it is not possible to be a whistleblower on the NSA in any acceptable sense. William Binney and others tried going through channels, the result was FBI raids and homes trashed, and gagging orders, and absolutely no change. Snowden knew that going through channels was an exercise in futility, hence his actions, even though they meant the end of his life as he had known it.

  • Lee Moore

    I don’t think Tom was right to object to natural rights on the basis that people disagree as to what they are. But it’s perfectly fine to object to an alleged natural right if it’s inconsistent with another one that is being promulgated by the same moral philosopher.

    Now, as to my telescope. I understand and accept the limitations on my use of it that are entailed by other rights. I may not use it to bop you on the head (conflict with liberty of person.) I may not bring it onto your property against your will (conflict with your property rights.) But if I point it out of the window of my castle at the window of your castle, and espy you in a state of undress because you have eschewed curtains, what is this “right to privacy” that is allegedly conflicting with my right to use my telescope as I wish (subject to respecting your liberty of person, and your property rights.)

    What is the actual content of this alleged right of privacy, and how does it manage to overtrump my liberty to use MY property (a telescope) on MY premises, as a feast for MY eyes ? Can someone explain ?

  • Lee Moore

    The problem is that it is not possible to be a whistleblower on the NSA in any acceptable sense

    Don’t follow. If CountingCats is right and Snowden got hold of (a) documents demonstrating wicked whistleblowing-worthy behaviour by the US government in spying on its citizenry and (b) other documents demonstrating the US and or other governments doing various other secret but creditable things, or documents identifying foreigners who have helped the US government doing non whistleblower-worthy things, what was to prevent him leaking (a) but not (b) ?

    Of course if you don’t think the class (b) exists and everything falls into (a), fine. But if (b) does exist then leaking (b) as well as (a) is not just whistleblowing. It’s sabotage.

    By all means, feel free to shoot two armed muggers in the shopping mall. But if you take out twelve innocent bystanders while you’re at it, you kinda lose your lustre as a citizen-hero.

  • I see rights as mutually agreed social norms which over time and for all kinds of reasons gained legal status. Most* of us don’t go around killing and robbing each other even in the absence of laws prohibiting such actions, but we also have laws prohibiting and punishing such actions (*because some of us still would kill and rob).

    Unlike the right to life and property though, not all social norms and conventions can be successfully transferred into the realm of law – and the right to privacy is an example of this, for reasons mentioned here earlier. However, the good thing is that most of these social norms (rights) rest on a single one, and that one is property: any such social norm or convention (including the right to privacy) can be traced back to that most fundamental social convention of them all, the right to property. So even those social norms that cannot be successfully made into law, such as the right to privacy, they can still be maintained** as a natural consequence of the legal right to property.

    **Not perfectly, obviously, but as we are all grownups, we know that there is no perfect in this world. Lee’s telescope is an example of such imperfection in the social context, and that cannot be changed in the legal one.

  • JohnK

    Lee:

    My point is that whistle blowing had been tried and failed with regard to the NSA’s crimes. It is unaccountable. Its Director can lie to Congress with impunity. I guess Snowden thought that that the only thing to do was to get everything in the open, and accept that his past life was over.

  • Mr Ed

    Snowden went to work for scoundrels and betrayed the trust they placed in him by gouig to murderers. What’s not to like?

    His reported meeting with the Argie President?

    http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/582338/Edward-Snowden-Argentina-Cristina-Kirchner-Falklands-Falkland-Islands

  • JohnK

    Mr Ed:

    Why do you give a hoot about Edward Snowden? What do you think of the network of total electronic surveillance which the NSA is running?

  • Lee Moore

    John K : My point is that whistle blowing had been tried and failed with regard to the NSA’s crimes. It is unaccountable. Its Director can lie to Congress with impunity. I guess Snowden thought that that the only thing to do was to get everything in the open

    I’m afraid I don’t understand you at all. What does the fact that whistle blowing had been tried before, and failed, have to do with whether Snowden could have, if he chose, limited himself to getting those things into the open that would not have harmed entirely legitimate government operations and which would not have put lives’ at risk ? He chose not to be selective.

    You – he needed to shoot the muggers, because people had tried remonstrating with them before, and failed
    Me – but he shot innocent bystanders as well
    You – he needed to shoot the muggers, because people had tried remonstrating with them before, and failed

    Your response is non responsive.

  • Midwesterner

    Lee, It might help if you would name the specific things that Snowden exposed that were both Constitutional and classified.

    There is an awful lot of utilitarianism implied in the prioritization of “useful” over “legal“. Anybody basing their vitriol against Snowden on the harm done irrespective of the Constitutionality of the activities he exposed should come out and publicly identify themselves as relativist utilitarians.

    Otherwise they should confine themselves to discussing the exposure of activities that both complied with the 4th Amendment and the rest of the Constitution and were classified. The first step on that path is to articulate what those activities are.

    For those not acquainted with the 4th Amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    If you really think that the authors of that amendment would have considered it to be acceptable to enter somebody’s house, pick the lock on their desk, transcribe copies of the documents they found and if caught, saying it’s OK because they left the originals in place, then you might cite some contemporary arguments (for example in The Federalist Papers) supporting that assertion. NSA and the rest are doing this without meeting any of the conditions attached to the required warrants (say nothing of skipping the warrant process entirely).

    There are some suicidally short-sighted utilitarians on this thread.

  • Lee Moore

    It might help if you would name the specific things that Snowden exposed that were both Constitutional and classified

    There’s nothing unconstitutional about US intelligence agencies receiving information from foreign intelligence agencies. Which is classified because foreign intelligence agencies wouldn’t hand it over if it was going to be made public by the US. And Snowden blew a lot of such intelligence.

    Moreover he’s admitted he didn’t even read all the stuff he leaked :

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3027073/Last-Week-Tonight-host-John-Oliver-grills-Edward-Snowden-leaking-documents-knew-harmful.html

    How can you claim to be a whistleblower, if you don’t know if what you’re leaking has anything to do with what you claim to be whistling about ?

  • Tell me, given that much of what Snowden released has nothing to do with the US gvt misbehaviour that he claims so incensed him, how much of that extra stuff embarrasses the opponents and enemies of Western governments?

    Any at all?

    Is this credible?

  • JohnK

    Lee:

    Again, don’t focus on Edward Snowden. Maybe he leaked too much? Maybe he did. From what I can gather, he took everything he could, too much perhaps for one person to read, and gave it to journalists he trusted. Did he break the law? Of course he did, that’s why his old life had to end. Attempts to blow the whistle on the NSA legally had been tried and failed. There was no legal way to hold the NSA to account.

    That’s not the real point here. He revealed an unconstitutional programme of total surveillance of the American people, conducted by an agency whose director lied in the face of Congress with complete impunity. That’s the issue, not whether the botoxed bitch in Buenos Aires now knows, shock horror, that Britain was spying on her government.

  • Midwesterner

    Lee, I asked for specifics, not an escalation of the ad hominems.

    It has been unequivocally demonstrated that the US government is knowingly and deliberately violating the 4th Amendment protections of every single American multiple times each day. Even if the average American only conducts three communications per day that are unlawfully documented in the government’s databases, that is one billion crimes against the Constitution per day.

    I read that article you linked looking for the horrible damage done to US international security by exposing the 1,000,000,000/day 4th Amendment crimes of the NSA and friends. Here is what I found.

    Oliver: The New York Times took a slide, it didn’t redact it properly and in the end it was possible to see that something was being used in Mosul on Al Qaeda.

    Snowden: That is a problem.

    Oliver: Well, that’s a ****-up.

    Also quoting the article: “A report by the Henry Jackson Society last month revealed terror suspects were using human couriers instead of email and phones following the leaks by Snowden.”

    Really? Seriously? It has been common knowledge to anybody paying attention since Bush was sending drones into various places that the US was tracking cell phones. If the terror suspects referred to in the “report” only just realized this, it must be because they are the junior varsity league. /sarc

    You say:

    There’s nothing unconstitutional about US intelligence agencies receiving information from foreign intelligence agencies.

    There is if it is a quid quo pro or any other arrangement to evade 4thA protections.

    In statements to the newspaper and The Associated Press, the NSA said it “does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the U.S. government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself.”

    Notice they don’t say that they turn down the proffered results either. The US intelligence establishment has a pattern of using foreign governments to evade Constitutional restraints, for example extraordinary rendition. The attorney client communications the US was using the Australians to collect (but without explicitly asking them for it, that would be against the law) according to both Australian and US statements was about trade disputes, not terrorism.

    Your arguments sound like outrage that a thief’s personal wristwatch was accidentally impounded along with the piles of stuff he stole in a jewelry heist. Thin soup.

    If there is a shred of utility in a pattern of overwhelming unprincipled and unrestrainable license, you count it a success worthy of protection and preservation. Suicidally short-sighted. If the pathological, bald-faced lying these people have repeatedly and unrepentantly engaged in under oath before Congress does not give you pause, you are walking fodder.

    These agencies have completely defeated their civil and legal restraints. At this point they are the single greatest threat to the American people. Snowden didn’t just do the right thing, he did the only thing.

  • Laird

    I fully agree with Midwesterner’s points. And an additional response to Lee Moore’s complaint is to point out that Snowden himself did not publicly release anything. He gathered together as much information as he could, knowing that he had a limited amount of time in which to do so which precluded his reading every document, and turned them over to a very small handful of journalists whom he trusted to take care in deciding what was released. His specific instructions to them were not to endanger any individual persons or endanger any legitimate intelligence-gathering capabilities of the US government. (Read Glenn Greenwald’s book for the details.) If those journalists screwed up in a very few cases (indeed, the only such screw-up of which I am aware was by the NY Times, which realistically can surprise no one), that’s not Snowden’s fault. He acted as responsibly as was possible under the circumstances.

    A very small subset of the documents Snowden took has actually been publicly released. Most of them probably never will be. All in all I think Greenwald and his group have done an excellent job with the materials Snowden provided.

  • Thailover

    Midwesterner wrote:

    *”Anybody basing their vitriol against Snowden on the harm done irrespective of the Constitutionality of the activities he exposed should come out and publicly identify themselves as relativist utilitarians.”*

    Great catch.

    Thailover

  • Lee Moore

    Laird : Snowden himself did not publicly release anything. He gathered together as much information as he could, knowing that he had a limited amount of time in which to do so which precluded his reading every document, and turned them over to a very small handful of journalists whom he trusted to take care in deciding what was released

    1. Actually he claimed to have read a lot of the documents. Absolutely nothing precluded him from limiting his releases to documents he had read.

    2. A small handful of journalists who loathe the United States. He knew they weren’t going to restrict their leaks to blowing the whistle on eavesdropping on US citizens.

    3. Do you imagine that no damage can be done until material is made public ? What proportion of the documents he took do you imagine the Russians do not have access to ?

    He’s a whistleblower in the same sense that Philby was. Which explains where he is.

  • Thailover

    Lee Moore, 10:28 post.
    I fully agree. Actual rights cannot contradict each other. As to your example, I would suggest that if someone didn’t want to be seen naked by neighbors, they should probably invest in some shades. I personally see no difference in you using a telescope or your bare eyes. “Rational expectation of privacy” is always a tricky one because that phrase seems arbitrary.

  • Laird

    Lee, I disagree.

    1) Whether or not Snowden had read them all (and time constraints clearly precluded that), he wanted neutral third parties to make the decision about which to release. He felt it was too important, and at the same time potentially too sensitive, to make that decision himself. He chose two people he trusted to make the choice (they brought in two more).

    2) They didn’t (and don’t) “loathe the United States”, merely certain things its government is doing. They both (Greenwald and Poitras) are professional journalists with solid reputations. The difference between them and the toadies at most newspapers is that they aren’t afraid to challenge our government. (The New York Times, which was going to run one of the early stories, insisted on getting pre-approval from the NSA. Cowards.)

    3) Snowden took none of the materials with him to Russia; he gave his only copies to Greenwald et al. In all likelihood Putin has none of them except what has been disclosed in the press (and, of course, whatever his own intelligence agencies have gathered on their own, from other sources). To this day, two years later, there is no evidence to the contrary.

    I encourage you to read Greenwald’s book. Even if you disagree with him it’s a fascinating story, and as far as I am aware no one has challenged any aspect of his account. (I don’t particularly recommend Poitras’ documentary about the affair, however. It’s disjointed and, in my opinion, poorly made in a number of respects which are irrelevant to this discussion. Frankly, I don’t think it would make much sense to anyone who hasn’t already read Greenwald’s book.)

  • JohnK

    Laird:

    Was it Snowden’s hope that he could claim asylum in Hong Kong? I rather get the impression that he ended up in Russia faute de mieux. I certainly feel Hong Kong would have been a rather better fit for a young tech savvy man like Snowden to rebuild his life in.

  • Laird

    JohnK, I don’t think he had a particular asylum destination in mind; Hong Kong was just a convenient temporary stopping point. I know at some point he was intending to go somewhere in South American (Argentina?) but backed away from that (which was a good thing, as the flight he was supposed to be on was illegally forced to land by the US). Russia became the destination of necessity, not intention.

  • JohnK

    Laird:

    If I had a criticism of Snowden, it’s that he should have had his escape plan worked out a bit better. It looks bad that he has ended up in Putin’s Russia, even if he has nothing to give them. Given what they now know about how their President was bugged, I think Brazil would have given him asylum, and I think I would choose Rio over Moscow.

  • Beau Sotten

    Natural rights? Homo Sapiens is by nature a predator.

    Historically, we want to be members of a state powerful enough that we are not eaten or enslaved by another state. We also want defenses against the self-predatory nature of our own state and the predators within it, defenses that do not threaten the existence of our state (or we are screwed). It is a dilemma.

    In the natural world, What are the defenses against a predator that do not threaten its existence?

    Inaccessibility (flight, armor, [asylum, rights])
    Toxicity (indigestibility, venom, [embarrassment, litigation])
    Deception (camouflage, stealth, [anonymity, privacy])
    Organization (numbers, [elections, associations])

    Deriving from the contest at the state level, new technologies are diminishing our individual ability to hide and deceive. New forms of deception and inaccessibility will evolve (Tor, BitCoin, etc.), but I suspect we will need to rely on organization and toxicity for more of our personal defence .

  • Homo Sapiens is by nature a predator.

    No, not really. We can be violent and we can hunt, much as a chimpanzee can be violent and sometimes hunt, but much like chimps we are ‘naturally’ more prone to be gatherers than hunters because it is more efficient and less risky. Civilisation (which is how we actually get any benefit from natural rights rather than having to constantly defend ourselves with pointy sticks) and agriculture are actually what defines Homo Sapiens.

  • Beau Sotten

    Homo Sapiens is by nature a predator.

    Yes, really. We have spent only a few percent of our time as a species experimenting with agriculture, not enough to define our nature. That shipped sailed a quarter million years ago. We may be many things, but we are also predatory primates. Or are hunting and warfare recent inventions?

  • Or are hunting and warfare recent inventions?

    No but neither define us. If hunting and fighting defined us, we would still be large but weak chimpanzees living in caves. But growing and making stuff is actually what defines us, so there are billions of us living in cities instead.

  • Mr Ed

    Homo Sapiens is by nature a predator.

    Look at human dentition and the human intestine. We are omnivores. Our capacity for intelligence makes it possible for a great many of us to survive, by the division of labour and accumulation of capital.

    And yet many seek to destroy that which permits us a civil (i.e. peaceful) existence. Civilisation is not pyramids, temples, roads and waterwheels, it is a state of mind.