One of the most common arguments made by those who promote obtuse domestic spying and reduced individual privacy for American citizens is that if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to worry about. There are plenty of people in Washington DC who espouse these concepts, who believe that the NSA and law enforcement should be given free rein on their activities in order to keep us safe.
At what point do the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans get pushed aside for the common good of fighting evils such as terrorism or mass shootings? How much does America have to change in order to deal with the challenges of modern society?
Perhaps the question we should really be asking is whether the measures that have already been put into place are the result of a changing world or are they working to expand the very challenges they were intended to solve. As with most things that happen in American politics, this question does not have a black and white answer. On the surface, it would appear that the solutions are attacking the effect, but if we dig deeper we will find that they are actually part of the cause.
The taking of freedoms invariably start with small changes that seem reasonable but expand into something asymmetric to their first intent.
— JD Rucker (@JDRucker) December 7, 2015
In the future, we’ll discuss how gun control has the exact opposite effect from what the liberals say. For now, let’s examine domestic spying and see if Washington DC is part of the solution or part of the problem.
Truly Fighting Terrorism
One can look at the recent events that happened in Paris, Aden, London, Beirut, and San Bernardino and think that we need to do more to stop terrorism both in the United States and around the world. The knee-jerk reaction is that we need more military action, more domestic spying, and more law enforcement fighting the terrorists.
This can be a dangerous line of thinking if it’s not analyzed beyond the surface. More is not always better. Do we work towards preventing terrorist attacks by expanding the powers of the NSA? Do we play towards our fears of radical Islamic terrorism by taking Donald Trump’s approach of monitoring mosques and blocking Muslims from entering the country altogether? Should we send multiple battalions of troops to Iraq and Syria to eradicate the monster of the Islamic State before it can advance its cause and radicalize people foreign and domestic?
All of these can seem like plausible ideas. All of them have harsh repercussions that would actually contribute to the problem in the long term.
Of the solutions, the expansion of the role of NSA spying is the least noticeable to the public and potentially the most damaging to the country. It’s easy for politicians like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio to say that the tenets of the Patriot Act were necessary evils to keep us safe, but that’s not the story from those who actually fight terrorism. The FBI, which is our first line of defense against terrorists within our borders, do not use the same techniques as the NSA. This is a distinction that must be understood for what it represents.
The NSA has been charged with collecting the data from digital communications and sorting it in a way that can draw meaningful connections between terrorists. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. In reality, the Inspector General’s report declassified this year revealed that “the secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted.”
It’s the FBI through good ol’ fashioned investigating coupled with modern legal suspect monitoring systems that prevent terrorist attacks. Those like Rubio, Christie, and Jeb Bush who claim that promoting the USA Freedom Act somehow contributed to the San Bernardino terrorist attack (or any attack for that matter) either fail to understand the complexities of national security or are pounding on a talking point for the sake of political expediency.
Could your electronic communication records be used to thwart a terrorist attack? If not, why does the government need it? The answer is that they do not. The NSA wants the data for other reasons that have nothing to do with stopping terrorism. As conspiratorial as that sounds, it’s the truth. This data is clearly effective in other areas such as corporate espionage and demographic structuring, but it has never been demonstrated to have an impact on terrorism or terrorist-related crimes. Never.
The natural progression is this: once the government is empowered to gather private information from its citizens, they develop a need for more information to enhance the data they collect. It sounds like circular reasoning because it is. One can speculate that had Edward Snowden not come forth, the NSA’s activities would have grown in scope and grandeur. I am not one who supports what Snowden did, but I’m also not one who believes the government must collect communication and activity data from every law abiding citizen in an effort to find the needles in the haystack. There are better ways to do this which is why the FBI has had tremendous success and the NSA spying operation has been a bust.
Reliance on authoritarian methods to locate potential terrorist threats is a path that Americans should never allow to happen. Law enforcement agencies are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. Pushing for the dismissal of freedoms and privacy is a road that will lead to things much worse than the terrorism that can happen in their absence. It’s important to reiterate that there has never been a terrorist attack thwarted on domestic soil based upon the information gathered through the communication spying promoted by Rubio, Christie, or Bush.
It’s the FBI who has been wildly successful at stopping terrorist attacks after 9/11. With the power of the USA Freedom Act that Rubio, Christie, and Bush opposed, they can gather information from potential terrorists without having to snoop through everyone’s digital activities. I’ve said it twice now but it must be said one more time: the NSA has not been successful with the domestic spying portion of the Patriot Act. It was a miserable failure and one that the FBI never had to rely on. They tried. It didn’t work, so they resumed their proper activities within the confines of the Constitution.
Do not believe those who are selling you on Draconian methods of national security for the sake of their political careers. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have fought this because their ideology is the best way to keep Americans safe. Bush, Rubio, and Christie are selling national insecurity because they hope your fears will make you too blind to see the truth.
“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Those are the words that are literally posted on the NSA’s website. Big Brother wants to be watching. Don’t let him.