Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Denying reality: Surveillance state apologists and the obsequious submission to authority

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Ever since the Edward Snowden saga started, I've been writing "surveillance state apologists of the left" tweets, directed mainly at Obama-can-do-no-wrong types who seem to think there's nothing wrong with what the NSA is doing, with what's been authorized under the Patriot Act, and with what the country is doing generally in its effort to go after terrorists. In some cases, these surveillance state apologists are also drone war apologists. Generally, they're a-okay with the national security state, not least because it's one of their own running the show right now, and so they viciously attack Snowden, and Greenwald, and make fun of "emoprogs," and avoid actually having to address the nuts and bolts of what the government is doing in their name, and to them, and what that means for life, liberty, and privacy.

At The Atlantic yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf, whom I admire greatly for his uncompromising views on drones, domestic surveillance, and other aspects of the national security apparatus, wrote about the "privacy moderates" in similar terms -- that is, about those who think that "the national-security state ought to be subject to more oversight, debate, scrutiny, and restrictions" but who also "contrive frames that enable them to criticize both the surveillance state and its antagonists, as if the excesses of both sides are commensurately important and worrisome," and who sometimes "even attack critics of the NSA more energetically than the surveillance state itself." He writes:

I am mystified by the "privacy moderate" who yearns for a debate about the surveillance state without anyone being so transgressive as to leak the information without which there would be no debate.

Indeed. I would just add that there are many not just in the "middle" but also on the left who aren't yearning for any such thing, so enamored are they of Obama, so much have they been taken in by the fearmongering propaganda that is the democracy-crushing currency of the national security state, the state of fear that it feeds to justify its acquisition of ever more power, justifying ever more intrusions into life, liberty, and privacy.

I highly recommend the whole piece, but the following passages stood out to me:

What I sense, but cannot prove, is the privacy moderate's desperation to avoid facing the full extent of the establishment's extreme behavior. Americans once condemned such excesses. The Obama Administration is nowhere near as morally odious as, e.g., the bygone East German state. But Americans didn't just criticize its surveillance apparatus, the Stasi, because the East German regime used it for evil. Quite apart from the character of the regime and its secret police, Americans found the very notion of secret, pervasive spying on innocent citizens repugnant. We found the notion of vast files kept on private citizens creepy, because that isn't the role the state ought to play in a free society. Today, the American state is engaged in intentionally spying on tens of millions of innocent citizens. It did its utmost to hide the truth about that spying. 


In fact, the U.S. government is, right this second, pouring untold billions into what is ultimately an effort to monitor all digital communications; scan all mail; amass a fleet of surveillance drones that can hover in the sky for days on end; develop technology to scan all faces in crowds; assemble gigantic databases of biometric data; break all encryption efforts; indiscriminately spy on millions of citizens in friendly countries like Germany and Brazil; and share spy technologies with allies. None of that is in dispute. What's hyperbolic is calling people hysterical because they see the endgame of various plans to impose ever broader surveillance on whole societies. There isn't a government document somewhere titled, "The Plan to Destroy Global Privacy," but that is exactly what Western intelligence agencies will do if adequately funded and left, unopposed, to their own devices. Anyone who can't see that hasn't adequately grappled with the implications of Snowden's revelations, the history of spy agencies allowed to operate in secret, or the radical new capabilities that advances in data analysis and retention have given states (and are likely to give them in the near future if they aren't stopped).

As a matter of history, Constitutional theory, and policy, the people now running national security in the United States are surveillance-state extremists.

As I and many others keep saying, again and again and again, this isn't about Snowden or Greenwald, or anyone else for that matter. This is about the takeover of America by its national security elements, about the out-of-control growth of the "intelligence community" and its political and corporate allies, and about the challenge to meaningful democratic self-governance that this entails.

But we can't talk about that, can we? Because too many people who should know better are content to live in willful ignorance, attacking those who expose the truth and pretending that all's well even as everything they supposedly stand for is being crushed.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


  • I've been decrying the fear mongering on the left for a long time and convincing us that all this is necessary is, I think the product of that very fear mongering.

    A government can get away with horrors - and ours has done so - simply by invoking the communist menace and now the terrorist menace. Fear of crime, fear of welfare cheats, fear of drugs and even fear of guns to some extent. Seems extremism in defense of extremism is no vice.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 5:44 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home