Monday, December 9, 2013

The Problem with "Reform" in Government (re: NSA)

So if you're not living in an internet-disconnected hole, you've probably read some of the information stemming from the Snowden disclosures (the biggest, and bravest, disclosure of clandestine government abuses since Watergate, by a good margin). Recently, the largest US tech companies chimed in with an open letter, requesting that the US do something to change course, before their business interests are more irrevocably damaged (I appreciate the stance, but let's not pretend it was magnanimous; they see the writing on the internet message board, so to speak). Unfortunately, I think they, like many other people, do not yet grasp the real problem with the expansion on unconstitutional government surveillance in the US, and why it's far worse than most people currently think.

The real problem, which most have not grasped yet, is how to address the issue of a government which is more than willing to defy the law (and indeed, the Constitution itself, the basis for the rest of the laws), and compulsively and unabashedly lie about doing so. How do you put limits on a government which has repeatedly demonstrated a propensity to ignore any such limits, even if you wanted to?

Sure, the issue right now is bad... but trying to fix the issue is even worse.

Let's suppose for a moment that the government gives the tech industry exactly what they are asking for (notwithstanding how monumentally unlikely that is, with Constitutional abuser-in-chief Obama in office, or head NSA cheerleader Fienstein in the Senate, but consider anyway for the sake of argument). The government says they have implemented new restrictions, maybe they pass some more laws, people apologize, etc. Everything is all good, right?

Would you believe them? This is the same government which has basically continuously lied about what they were doing, continuously overstepped the law, and continuously expanded power and control without respect for any boundaries in the past. These surveillance expansions have been done despite nominal oversight already, and in direct conflict to Constitution itself; what in the world would make anyone believe that the government would feel any more limited with a few public statements or simple laws?

Remember, Obama is the president who claims the authority to execute Americans at-will, arbitrarily. This is the president who claims the dictatorial right to choose which laws are actually enforced, and how they are interpreted (see, for example, immigration enforcement, or the complete cessation of such under Obama). This is the president who thinks its fine for the HSA/TSA to search/detain anyone, at any time, for any or no cause, for indefinite periods of time, without any legal recourse. You think that president gives one crap about any "law" which would purport to limit his authority in any way? Really?

The real problem here is not [just] that the government will use any means at their disposal to monitor, track, detain, and control their population, regardless of any tissue paper nominal restrictions they might choose to publicly display and privately ignore. No, the real problem is that there is absolutely nothing the government could possibly do that would convince anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together that they were not going to continue to do so without limit, to the maximum extent of their capability. No law, no statement, no laughable "oversight" would have any effect, and (aside from possibly a few very naive people) won't convince anyone otherwise, as they shouldn't. The real problem is that, for people who care about the government monitoring their online/telecommunication activity (which should be everyone, but in reality is only a subset of people), you simple cannot trust any company which is within reach of the US government, and there is nothing the companies or the government can do to regain that trust. To the extend that online business revenue depends on that trust, that revenue is gone, forever, and it could very well take the open internet with it.