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Worry more about your privacy and less about surveillance


The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects Americans “against unreasonable searches and seizures of either self or property by government officials.” When the government oversteps its authority, those responsible must be held accountable for their actions. With few exceptions, however, government surveillance focuses on protecting life, property, and the American way. Private surveillance, on the other hand, is governed by no laws, and is conducted for self-interest and profit.

In volume, stealth, and intrusiveness, the private sector far surpasses anything the government has attempted or even contemplated doing. Yet, while Americans regularly read or hear about the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) intrusion into their lives, not many seem to be accusing private companies like Walmart or the Ford Motor Company of spying on people. It comes down to whether Americans trust companies like Verizon, Target, and Google to respect their privacy more than they trust the U.S. government.

The intelligence community’s focus is on foreign threats and activities overseas. The CIA and NSA operate under strict rules and regulations, including a ban against collecting information on Americans. The current policy states that “signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support national and departmental missions and not for any other purposes.”

The private sector, on the other hand, focuses on the bottom line, and operates unfettered. Google a resort in Mexico, and see how ads for that destination continue to pop up every time you open your Internet browser. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. You can’t imagine all the things going on behind the scenes that you aren’t able to see.

Government surveillance, of course, increases when a known terrorist or other enemy of the United States contacts an American citizen. Following 9/11, NSA analysts were given limited access to the bad guys’ communication links to the United States. Even then, however, the privacy of American citizens remained a top priority. Going forward, if a known terrorist communicates with an American citizen, I suspect most Americans would feel more comfortable knowing someone is watching their back.

Having spent more than 40 years as an intelligence officer, I know first-hand that the U.S. intelligence community has made its share of mistakes (being dead wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and condoning torture spring readily to mind). And I continue to believe in the necessity of strict congressional oversight and restrictions, which separate the U.S. intelligence community from other intelligence organizations like the K.G.B. This oversight is critical for an intelligence community serving a democratic country.

It is true that the U.S. intelligence community has at times been overzealous in protecting against terrorist threats and others who could do the United States harm, but not because it was seeking to pry into the private affairs of American citizens.

For me, the NSA and Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) “bulk” collection and storage programs fall into the overzealous category. I am aware of the argument that “more is better,” but when weighed against privacy rights and the questionable predictive value of these materials, these arguments don’t make sense.

As in other areas, we the Intelligence Community tends to overstate our its capability to predict future events. I suspect the efforts to stop or disrupt terrorist attacks are on par with law enforcement’s (rather poor) record on stopping premeditated murders, kidnappings, and the spread of illegal drugs.

For me, the larger problem is the massive effort by private companies to collect every bit of data they can about me: my health, what I buy, what I eat, where I shop, who I talk to, and on and on. All of this is done not only without my permission, but also without my knowledge – and it is legal.

Of course, I don’t want the government snooping around in my private affairs any more than you do. Yet, if it is in the nation’s security interest and my privacy remains protected, access to my metadata doesn’t seem like too much for my government to ask of me.

© The Mark News

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The surveillance issues raised by Snowden and others are important, but not as important as freedom of speech in general. AFAIK, no reporter is held in US prisons because of what they reported. Snowden signed a contract saying he wouldn't reveal the NSA's secrets and Bradley Manning signed an equivalent statement when he became a soldier. I may regret the fact that they are imprisoned or under a hunt from the justice department, but that doesn't change the fact that the US respects freedom of speech more than probably 99% of other countries.

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Freedom Index: "Reporters Without Borders"

"Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it. Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.

This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks."

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@makes1 You will be able to explain why Japan is at 59, then. At least the problems in the US are temporary.

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makes1: Freedom Index: "Reporters Without Borders"

A sharp rise in US rating the first two years of Obama's administration, followed by sharp drop in the succeeding years?

Beer goggles wore off?


-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"the US respects freedom of speech more than probably 99% of other countries."

Out of ~ 200 countries, . . . "in the United States (46th)"

New math?

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@makes1 Correcting for anti-American bias.

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@Burning Bush

"I prefer, value and demand privacy and anonymity." "Stand tall, be proud..."

Are these not contradictory?


"Snowden signed a contract saying he wouldn't reveal the NSA's secrets and Bradley Manning signed an equivalent statement when he became a soldier."

At some time, they probably also swore to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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The 4th Amendment is dead letter. It was lost back in the 1970s with the War on Drugs. So was due process for seizure of property and eminent domain.

The author is right about one thing: corporate spying is worse than anything the government is doing, yet people give them the information willingly! You cannot get a job without the level of intrusion that is blatantly un-Constitutional!

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Something that most people don't understand about the US Gov spying. Any data is NOT shared with corporations - this is different than most other government spying around the world where they feed local companies the information for competitive reasons.

For the people who do think that giving up a little privacy to be "more secure" is a reasonable trade, especially if you have nothing to hide. http://www.wired.com/2013/06/why-i-have-nothing-to-hide-is-the-wrong-way-to-think-about-surveillance/ - that is the wrong argument. Even if you don't have anything to hide, someone you know probably does and there are real safety considerations whether they live in a small town nearby or in a hostile nation around the world. Everyone needs for every government to protect our privacy.

Today, I do NOT feel free to exercise my freedom of speech in the USA. There is simply too much surveillance happening here by tracking us online, as we drive, as we travel, and as our mobile devices move around the city, state, country and overseas. Smartphones truly are personal tracking devices. http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/15/346149979/smartphones-are-used-to-stalk-control-domestic-abuse-victims

Still think we don't need privacy?

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