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Friday, June 21, 2013

Weighing in on Edward Snowden and the NSA Snooping Scandal

Edward Snowden - NSA Leaker
While there are plenty of issues the Obama administration now faces, such as...

  • The IRS targeting conservative groups for intrusive and horrid scrutiny
  • The IRS leaking private documents to a conservative group's ideological foe
  • The DOJ gathering a wide swath of the AP's phone records
  • Considering James Rosen a criminal for doing his job as a reporter
  • Benghazi
  • Fast and Furious
  • Arming al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria
...I'm going to talk about the NSA snooping scandal and Edward Snowden today.  The others I might touch on in the future, but this article should lead into a more generalized article later on about why the latest concerns are not mere politicizing as liberals like to believe and tout.  

The scandal in a nutshell
So what is the NSA snooping scandal exactly?  If you haven't been following a news source covering the issue, here's a brief run down:  The government is running a program called PRISM which is collecting phone metadata (like the number called, where both parties are, and how long the call is - but not the actual content of the calls) along with other internet data such as emails, photos, videos, stored personal data, etc. all in the name of national security.  This program was unbeknownst to the public until Edward Snowden, a contractor for the NSA, went to the press with this information.  Ever since, the reactions of politicians and the punditry has been quite a unique mix.  Because unlike the other scandals listed above, this one cuts across party lines because of its inception during the Bush administration and its continuation during the Obama administration.  

Edward Snowden - Hero or Villain?
The reception to Edward Snowden has also been a quite thorough mix where simply labelling him a hero or villain is just too simple.  It's easy to think of him as both...

As a hero, he brought to light a clandestine program that has a huge potential for abuse.  This is something the American people needed to know about.  Maybe not in so much detail, but the fact that my emails and my phone calls are probably stored in some big data warehouse doesn't sit very well with me.  And while I'm a law abiding citizen and have nothing to hide, the information sitting there sounds like government overreach just waiting to happen (more on this below).  So for that I thank him.  

As a villian, I believe he want about this the wrong way.  There are whistleblower mechanisms in place that protect those that divulge information without causing any harm to our national security efforts.  Because yes, making public the information about prism makes our enemies aware of how we're going after them.  And if they know how we go after them, they'll find other ways around it.  It's like if you knew your house was being bugged, you wouldn't talk openly about anything you wouldn't want other people to know.  Instead, you might turn up the music loud and/or write down what you wanted to say to those in the house with you.  In this respect, he hurt our national security interests by being so reckless with his revelations.  

Furthermore, I have to question his character for a few reasons.  For starters, instead of courageously standing up for what he believed in, and thus going to jail in the process, he fled .... to China of all places.  I'm a firm believer that if you make a principled stand against the law, that you should be prepared for the legal repercussions of breaking that law.  What Rosa Parks did took courage because she defiantly did not give up her seat though law said she had to.  By running, it's indicative that Snowden thinks he shouldn't go to jail for breaking the law (even though he had legal channels he could have gone through).  It does not matter if he "only trusts the press", he broke the law and shouldn't be trying to evade capture.  And the fact he went to China (well Hong Kong first) casts aspersions on his character by going to one of our biggest global opponents.

Secondly, considering that he considers Dick Cheney calling him a traitor the "highest honor imaginable", it makes me believe he's one that harbors the ridiculous liberal notion that America is an evil empire and/or that republicans are evil.  If he had this type of self hating mentality going into work for the NSA, then it seems to me he was predisposed to take virtually anything he found to be evil and run with it without even bothering to understand its full impact or any of the checks and balances in places. So because America is evil, in his eyes, and he happened to find something on the surface that appeared to fit this view, he just had to go "YOU SEE? AMERICA IS EVIL!!! LOOK WHAT I FOUND!!!"  

So while yeah, what he blew the whistle on is important for us to know, but his motives for doing so fall well outside the realm of heroics and more in the realm of anti-American leftist willing to sell his country out.

Should Snowden go to jail?  Absolutely.  He broke the law.  Plain and simple.  One shouldn't be absolved of wrong doing simply because they "did it for a good cause" (which you can see to me is suspect anyway).  And one definitely shouldn't feel entitled to immunity because they feel justified.  This is how leftists think.  They will willingly break laws and expect not to be prosecuted because they felt fully justified in their actions.  What's funny is this is how a lot of criminals think too.  Take for example the car thief that steals a car that was unlocked.  Their justification:  "Well you shouldn't have left it unlocked!" Like it's somehow the car owner's fault that they were inclined to take a car that wasn't theirs.  Dumb to leave it unlocked, perhaps, but not their fault.  

What this means to the rest of us
Now, onto the bigger picture with what we've been told about PRISM.   For me, it isn't the capability of getting this information that's troublesome.  It's the current mechanism, and its oversight scheme, that bothers me.  

To begin with, storing all this data in some massive warehouse that the government can tap when it needs to is just too big of a temptation.  You see, access to this data is not technologically blocked.  It's only blocked by rules and regulations.  So what that means is that if someone wanted to 'spy' on someone whenever they wanted to, they could.  It'd be illegal, yes.  But there's allegedly nothing stopping them nor is there enough technical oversight to catch this illegal access.  In short, it'd be like having all of a bank's deposits kept in your closet and you're told you can't withdraw any of that cash unless you get written permission from the bank's board of directors.  But, the door is unlocked and there's no cameras watching it.  In other words, there's nothing really stopping you from not only taking some cash, but also getting caught.  The temptation to just take some cash when you feel you need it is pretty high.  And if the risk of getting caught is pretty low, then why not, right?

So while for expedience's sake having this data on hand may be great, the supposedly easy access to "get what you need" combined with poor preventative safeguards makes it too great a temptation.  In addition, if we have all this information stored somewhere, what's to say someone from China or Anonymous can't figure how to get in as well?  

In addition to the mass storage, you have the current "safeguard" oversight mechanisms.  The fact these appear to merely bureaucratic machinations via court, as mentioned above, means that not only could someone easily just ignore the rules and get the data they want, but that this safeguard is prone to corruption since I doubt there's any oversight on the oversight safeguard.  So even if someone "went by the rules" to get the data, we're not guaranteed that those reviewing the request are going to give it the proper 4th amendment litmus test it deserves.  

But we should trust this court to be impartial and uphold citizen rights, right?  Well here's a nice little fact for you:  the court overseeing access to this program has not denied a single request to this data in 3 years.  That's right, 100% approval rating.  Now that in and of itself isn't necessarily bad if it means that only the best cases get brought to the court for approval.  Maybe the DOJ, or whomever, doesn't bring cases that are shaky. 

But this is where all the other scandals come into play.  When we have the IRS unconstitutionally and illegally targeting groups that just so happen to be ideological opponents to the president.  When we have the DOJ going after a journalist that just so happens to be a part of the only right leaning news network on television.  When we have the DOJ gather enormous swaths of AP phone records in a very liberal, dragnet fashion.  When we have an Attorney General that stonewalls and lies to Congress.  When we have partisan judges sitting on various benches, including the Supreme Court, that will place their personal subject partisan view over the mandated objective review.  When we have IRS officials not taking the conservative scrutiny seriously, what's to say they won't abuse (if they haven't already) PRISM to their political advantage? (Tinfoil Hat moment:  The 2012 Obama re-election campaign was touted to be the most technologically sophisticated in targeting individual voters to get to the polls......I wonder where they were able to gather all that personal information....)  

This is particularly why the founding fathers chose to restrict government in a conservative sense.  It wasn't that they doubted their own hearts or intentions.  It was because they knew that it was quite possible for men of lesser integrity to get elected.  Men that would be tempted to abuse the power at their finger tips for their own purposes.  That's why in these situations, they erred on the side of citizen rights than on the side of government with good intentions.  

This data PRISM is gathering should NOT be stored.  If it's needed, the original source should be requisitioned only at the time there's probable cause.  In addition, there should be accountability built in to those that make the decisions to approve getting this information.   If a judge rubber stamps an unconstitutional information grab, they should lose their job.  If the judge rules that the request clearly violates  the constitution, then those requesting should be held accountable for not keeping their case at the highest possible standards.  

Obama is right in saying that if we can't trust the government to do the right thing, then we have a problem.  The problem is the government's crumbling credibility, in all branches, with an executive branch that seems more interested in admonishing those seeking the truth than it is at restoring credibility.