Last month, a thoughtful report on norms for digital intelligence (i.e. spy-work) was released. It acknowledges that the public resents being targeted for excessive, clumsy surveillance. On the other hand, it correctly stipulates that government needs effective intelligence collection in order to protect the public from powerful, secretive foes, including China, Russia, and Iran.
The balance between privacy and security won’t happen until intelligence collection is regulated by safeguards that the public believes will produce ethical behavior.
Too many local and appellate judges use the bench for partisan legislating. The FISA court seems to believe any farrago that intelligence officials serve up. It offers no chance for those under surveillance to oppose the allegations of authorities who violate their privacy. Government departments routinely hide or deny their violations of the publics’ privacy, pretend the e-mails are gone, delay compliance on FOIA requests, intimidate and wiretap journalists, and mount partisan attacks on political foes.
The DOJ, Treasury, State, White House and intelligence agencies have squandered the publics’ trust for good judgment and honesty in Washington. These are supposed to be the places where intellect and integrity concentrate. But today, they are unsuited to monitoring safeguards against unethical behavior against the public, because they are the main source of attacks on the public.
Consumers are victimized by an eavesdropping government and by cyber-crime weasels stealing our money and sense of privacy. Abroad, US corporations are being stripped of advantages they earned in high tech markets, because of foreign backlash against NSA snooping. Domestically, law enforcement tries to extort our telephone companies and social networks into spying on customers.
In May 2013, the DOJ told the Associated Press that it “obtained the records for more than 20 telephone lines of its offices and journalists, including their home phones and cellphones.” The huge dragnet will reveal communications with confidential sources and “disclose information… that the government has no conceivable right to know.” The DOJ has offered no credible explanation for this, and the invasion may silence AP’s sources on many fronts.
The DOJ threatened to prosecute James Rosen, a Fox reporter who published politically embarrassing material about a nuclear bomb test by North Korea. The information came to Rosen from the US Department of State. The existence of a State Department source inside North Korea was the real secret, not the bomb test per se. Attorney General Eric Holder backed away from demanding Rosen’s prosecution, but the DOJ’s histrionics had already done more damage to the real secret than was necessary.
When the DOJ pursues its partisan agenda through surveillance and politically motivated intimidation, it squanders trust. Illegal surveillance also comes from the local end of the police community. Local police had been scouring the contents of smartphones for evidence of involvement in crime, but that became permissible only with a warrant. Devices such as a Stingray were used by police to locate the cellphone of a person of interest. Some state courts have decided that is an unreasonable search.
For local law enforcement, NSA sometimes collects evidence against criminal suspects. Local law enforcement fabricates a false source for that evidence and prosecutors introduce the evidence into court. This form of evidence tampering is called parallel construction and it is unacceptable. If the tampering is revealed, the criminal walks.
NSA’s country-wide surveillance of consumers’ telephone metadata, and its monitoring of telephone conversations in foreign countries, has chilled relationships between the US and some trading partners. France, Germany, China and Brazil claim to be deeply offended, and have used that excuse as justification for plans to launch their own country-specific branches of the Internet, served by their own hardware and software that is free of imbedded US surveillance technology (e.g. SS7 networks in telephony and NSA-cracked encryption on the Internet). Unfettered US surveillance harms exports by a US sector that once had a strong competitive advantage.
American consumers and businesses can righteously fume about criminal actions by our government, but anger will not fix the problem. We will need to be more patient, smarter and better disciplined than those who have hijacked our democracy.
Indeed, there is much to be learned from tactical guidelines that they practice to achieve their goals, but we must resist deferring to their judgment – it’s proven to be bad. Take courage, we can win lawfully because we control their employment and term in office.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research