Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Americans don't care about anything important

Steve Benen provided this graph that shows a fair bit of hypocrisy in how both Democrats and Republicans think about the surveillance state. But Benen is much more of a partisan than I am. His whole point of showing the graph was to push back on the "Democratic hypocrisy" narrative that is forming. He quite correctly noted that the question in 2006 was different than the question in 2013. In 2006, people were asked about an illegal program; in 2013, it is a legal program.

He's reaching, right? We're all very glad that Obama cares enough about the law generally to put a patina of legality on the vile surveillance practices of his administration. It at least provides for the possibility of oversight and maybe even a change of policies if only the American people actually cared about the issue. But the opposite argument could be made. This program is much bigger and it doesn't necessarily involve communication with foreigners.

To my mind, both programs are terrible in their own ways. The Bush program was highly invasive and illegal. The Obama program is not very invasive and legal, but it is vast. What's more, I have little doubt that the information will creep into other uses. The New York Times editorial board has been very good on this issue; however, I thought they asked some naive (but good) questions this morning:
Are the calls and texts of ordinary Americans mined for patterns that might put innocent people under suspicion? Why is data from every phone call collected, and not just those made by people whom the government suspects of terrorist activity? How long is the data kept, and can it be used for routine police investigations?

Let's see now. It isn't that the program might put innocent people under suspicion; it is that it does. All the data are[1] collected for the same reason a dog licks its balls: because it can be done. I don't think that can be stressed enough: the surveillance state does not processes so much data out of any need. It is just like video stores asking for you Social Security number: they don't need it; they are just mindlessly collecting all of the data that they can. That's what the NSA does. The data will be kept forever. And of course the data can be used for other purposes. As I've noted before: it can figure out if you are using illegal drugs and it can be used to figure out if you are having an affair. All from so called meta data.

But I'm not worried about any hypocrisy on the part of about 25% of the Democrats and Republicans. There are any number of reasons they could give for the changes in their opinions anyway. What's more, a lot of those reasons are valid. What I'm worried about is that roughly 55% of both parties are never worried about the government snooping at what we are doing. This is a horrifying, but hardly unusual position for me to find myself in. Large swaths of Americans aren't worried about global warming. And that's more important than this. Large swaths are not worried about income inequality. And that's more important than this. Even fewer care about our racist "justice" system. And that's more important than this.

So many moral catastrophes, so little time.

[1] "Data" is technically a plural. But that isn't why I use it as a plural. It just sounds wrong to me to do otherwise. It's just one of my eccentricities.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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