It has officially become “hip” to jump on the anti-establishment bandwagon against the NSA, PRISM, and the Obama administration as a whole, even when we know so little about what has actually transpired thus far.
In fact, according to one editor here at PolicyMic, about 90% of the site’s articles about the issue thus far are on the anti-government train already. Call it groupthink, ignorance, or just plain lack of due diligence, but we are all far too ready to devolve into a nation of conspiracy theorists when someone we consider to be an “expert” comes forward and tells us that bogeymen are hiding in our internet routers.
Edward Snowden is a computer genius and full-blown, top secret-cleared intelligence analyst; nobody debates that. But the fact that he is the one source/ leaker/ whistleblower, whatever that Glenn Greenwald cited about the surveillance program he has outed should strike a different kind of chord if Americans are going to be rational about just what kind of debate we should be having. For all the times we have questioned the legitimacy, accuracy, and professionalism of our news outlets in the past, those same critiques are largely absent from the current debate; a juicy news story slaps us in the face, and like the blood thirsty, voyeuristic, over-dramatic culture we’ve become, we attack.
I don’t doubt that Snowden is telling the truth about what he says programs like PRISM and the mass collection of phone data are capable of. According to him, NSA analysts at his level could tap into President Obama’s personal email account if they wanted to –assuming he had one. But unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for most of your adult life, you’ve been aware that this type of surveillance is possible, legal, and has been going on for years. While that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a debate about it, it does mean that the average person’s reaction shouldn’t be full of fire and brimstone, you know, since you’ve been paying attention to what your government is up to given that it’s your duty to help uphold our democratic values as an American citizen, right?
The debate we should really be having is whether or not we want to allow the government to go to sometimes extreme lengths to not only protect us against harm, but to ensure a vibrant future in the face of emerging challenges; if you think the only people we spy on are AK-47 toting Muslim extremists, think again.
People have argued that if the government is going to maintain the notion that we face constant threat from evildoers, that they should tell us what those threats are, exactly what they plan on doing to protect us, and how such actions will affect our democracy. This argument carries no weight. If you give U.S. citizens this information, you’ve also given it to our enemies, providing them with the opportunity to work around our countermeasures. It should be no surprise if an endless cycle in which national security officials scramble to deal with a constant barrage of innovative enemies that are constantly updating their techniques to work around ours begins, leading to often times ridiculous measures. At some point, someone has to hide a pistol in their boot; our enemies openly brandish theirs without hesitation.
Almost every country with something to lose has a national security system in place, not because they like spending tax dollars on it, but because they have enemies. Telling the world their strategies is counterproductive and ultimately renders the system useless; Greenwald and Snowden have taken it upon themselves to do just that.
When you have thousands of faceless, non-state enemies spread around the globe, drastic measures may sometimes be taken. Are they the correct measures? Are we as a nation comfortable giving up some privacy in the face of threat? And what is the correct balance of security vs. privacy? These are the questions that matter; huffing and puffing about it accomplishes nothing.