A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on June 10, 2013
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Revelations of the United States government’s Prism Program have brought the matter  of privacy into the spotlight. While it should be no surprise that the United State’s government is scooping up vast quantities of information from communication systems ranging from phones to the internet, the scope and nature of the collection has disturbed many people.

Not surprisingly, the Obama administration has defended Prism on two main grounds. The first is that the program is legal. That is, it went through all the proper secret processes in the dark places of the government. But, of course, mere legality does not make something right. There is also the legitimate worry that this legal program actually violates Constitutional rights.

I do no have any doubts that the program is legal-I am confident that it was properly guided through the dark caverns under the public government and legally set loose upon the world. As far as the Constitutionality, I am not fully re-assured by the assurances that the data scooped up by Prism is being used in strict accordance to the Constitution.

The second is the usual line that it is necessary for national security. The idea is that certain rights need to be infringed upon in order to make us safer. This approach does have its appeal. This is because the limitation of rights can, in fact, make us safer. For example, limiting the right of people to sell contaminated food does make us safer. As another example, limiting the right to own certain weapons (like chemical weapons and grenades) does make us safer. As such, I do not reject the “it makes us safer” argument out of hand.

When considering this justification, there are two main concerns. The first is whether or not the limitation of the rights in question actually makes us safer. After all, while limiting a right can make us safer, this is not always the case. It would, of course, be a bad idea to restrict a right when doing so has no benefit. In the case of Prism, what would be needed would be proof that the program actually made us safer. This might include evidence of foiled plots and arrests of terrorists that resulted specifically from Prism. Naturally, I do not really expect such information to be forthcoming since the effectiveness of the program is no doubt a matter of national security and thus secret. However, I will consider the possibility that Prism did yield some positive results that could be used to justify what are claimed to be privacy violations.

The second concern is whether or not the safety gained is worth the cost resulting from the limitation (or violation of) the right in question. For example, we would be safer if each person had a tracking chip implanted into his body. If a person knows that her location is always known, then she would be less likely to engage in misdeeds and far easier to catch if she chose to act badly anyways. However, such implantation and tracking would seem to be an excessive violation of the right to privacy and hence would not seem to be worth the cost. In the case of Prism, a key question is whether or not the (alleged) gain in security is worth the cost paid in terms of the limitation or violation of rights.

The Obama administration has been quick to claim that the data gathered does not violate the right to privacy of the people that matter. If this is true, then perhaps the security gained is worth the price. However, there is the reasonable concern that this is not the case and it is certainly worrisome when the state engages in such massive data scooping.

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on June 10, 2013 at 9:21 am

    How is O’s promise to run “the most transparent administration in history” holding up?

    Yes, we Scan!

  2. WTP said, on June 10, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Jay Leno: We Wanted a President That Listens to All Americans – Now We Have One

    Can you hear me now? Yes we can!

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 10, 2013 at 10:41 am

    If you’re carrying a cell phone in your pocket, you have a GPS device (chip) on your person. And, unless you take the battery out, the NSA knows where you are at all times, and can even turn the phone on when it’s off (with the battery in) and use it as a listening device.

    When it comes to “intercepting” communications, the government has redefined the term “intercepting” to mean “looking through the content gathered”. The government gathers all our data, and it gets warrants to look through our data whenever it wishes to do so. No warrant to gather content is required, only to look through it. This is what was referred to after 9/11 as “new tools for law enforcement”, which meant: no Bill of Rights for suspected terrorists, which included all of us. The NY mafia suffered from this same fate before 9/11, when “new tools for law enforcement” were needed in order to use the content, which had, for years, been gathered on them illegally, under the Constitution, so that it could be used against them in court in order to prosecute them, which the government did.

    A Florida professor, Sami Al-Arian, suffered this same fate, after 9/11, when the Patriot Act, with its “new tools for law enforcement”, were implemented, and all the data the government had gathered on him by intercepting his communications could then be used against him in court. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_Al-Arian

    The NSA domestic spying story is, in fact, old “news”.

    NSA whistleblower William Binney resigned from the NSA years ago because the spying program he engineered (=Stellar Wind) was pointed at the American peoples immediately after September 11, 2001. He also filed suit in US federal court against the Bush government concerning this long ago, too.

    Why isn’t Mr. Binney, an NSA employee and the inventor of Stellar Wind, on the news this morning? Why all the hoopla about a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor repeating the same story, in much less detail?

    Binney was in fact in a New York Times piece, last year, were he explains all of this, but why not today?

    The National Security Agency’s Domestic Spying Program

    “It took me a few days to work up the nerve to phone William Binney. As someone already a “target” of the United States government, I found it difficult not to worry about the chain of unintended consequences I might unleash by calling Mr. Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency turned whistle-blower. He picked up. I nervously explained I was a documentary filmmaker and wanted to speak to him. To my surprise he replied: “I’m tired of my government harassing me and violating the Constitution. Yes, I’ll talk to you.”

    “Two weeks later, driving past the headquarters of the N.S.A. in Maryland, outside Washington, Mr. Binney described details about Stellar Wind, the N.S.A.’s top-secret domestic spying program begun after 9/11, which was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest, in 2004.

    Source: The New York Times – August 22, 2012 – The National Security Agency’s Domestic Spying Program – The Program – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/opinion/the-national-security-agencys-domestic-spying-program.html?_r=0

    Social media networks like MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook were created by the CIA and NSA for domestic spying purposes. Geospatial social networking is an integral part of NSA Stellar Wind domain network data gathering program.

    VIDEO – NSA Whistleblower: Everyone in US under virtual surveillance, all info stored, no matter the post – http://youtu.be/TuET0kpHoyM

    VIDEO – NSA [contractor] whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’ – video – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/09/nsa-whistleblower-edward-snowden-interview-video

    FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool

    “The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

    The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.”

    Source: FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool – http://news.cnet.com/2100-1029-6140191.html

    The heavy hand of totalitarianism, which we’re now experiencing, didn’t originate with B. Obama, nor with G.W. Bush, but with R. Reagan and G.H.W. Bush…

    See: 9/11, Iran-Contra, and Treason –  http://wp.me/pPnn7-1rg

    VIDEO – Alternative Views: A SIGNATURE—AND FASCISM! (1989) – It’s morning again in Gulags NDAA America: Building a path for Bush-Obama era USA – http://youtu.be/r59IXxOTxVQ

    VIDEO – Alternative Views – UNDER THE BUSH WITH THE CIA  – CIA Operation CYCLONE, NWO, Afghanistan, Bush Senior, CIA Drug trafficking (1989) – http://youtu.be/O5Lnnn9smmg

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