I Love Living In America

I woke up to a flurry of grumpy stuff about our government intermixed with lots of posts wishing everyone a happy 4th of July. The dissonance of it bounced around in my head for a while and – when I was on my walk with Amy and Brooks the Wonder Dog – I finally asked Amy a few questions to calibrate my reaction to some of the stuff I had read this morning.

For example, in the “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me category”, the U.S. Postal Service Is Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement. I don’t send physical mail anymore (except for the occasional post card to a friend or thank you letter) so I’m not sure I care, but then I realized all my post cards were probably being scanned into a computer somewhere and I shouldn’t be writing messages like “The NSA Is Spying On You” on my postcards (or on blog posts, for that matter.)

Then there was this awesome, long post on TechDirt by Rob Hager titled Snowden’s Constitution vs Obama’s Constitution. It does an outstanding job of explaining the Snowden situation in the context of the Fourth Amendment and the concept of reasonableness. And there are some great hidden gems in the article, such as the notion that Hong Kong is rated above the US for “rule of law” and “fairness of its judiciary system.” Oops.

“By international standards, the US and its judiciary rank below Hong Kong on a 2012-13 rule of law index . While American propagandists routinely imply that the US system is a paragon against which all others must be measured, in fact, objectively, Hong Kong ranks #8 and #9 respectively on absence of corruption and quality of its criminal justice system, well ahead of the US’s #18 and #26 rankings . The World Economic Forum – which certainly suffers no anti-US or general anti-plutocrat biases — ranks Hong Kong #12 in its 2012-13 index on judicial independence. That is substantially higher than the appallingly low US ranking of #38 on the same index, which is proportionately not that far ahead of China’s #66 ranking. If due process was his priority, Snowden was clearly no fool in choosing sanctuary in Hong Kong, though he is aware of the coercive and corrupting power that the US can and does bring to bear on virtually any country. Though China is better situated than most to resist such pressure, it appears that even China preferred not to pay the cost. Or perhaps his security could not guaranteed as effectively in Hong Kong as in Moscow, for the time being.”

Then there was the semi-expected self-referential “what is a journalist” articles such as Snowden’s leaks force media self-examination and Jeff Jarvis’ There are no journalists. I love Jeff Jarvis.

“Journalism is not content. It is not a noun . It need not be a profession or an industry. It is not the province of a guild. It is not a scarcity to be controlled. It no longer happens in newsrooms. It is no longer confined to narrative form.

So then what the hell is journalism?

It is a service. It is a service whose end, again, is an informed public. For my entrepreneurial journalism students, I give them a broad umbrella of a definition: Journalism helps communities organize their knowledge so they can better organize themselves.”

After our walk Amy sent me another article about the Fourth Amendent – If PRISM Is Good Policy, Why Stop With Terrorism? that included additional applications of PRISM to child pornography, speeding, and illegal downloads.

Then I noticed my friends at Cheezburger supporting the latest Internet Defense League Standing Up for The Fourth Amendment campaign, which as a member of the Internet Defense League, I also support.

After all of this, I was able to convince Amy to go to see White House Down with me this afternoon. I love going to afternoon movies, and it’s awesome to live in a country that not only shows a movie like this, but allows it to get made!

Happy 4th of July. For all of its flaws, America is an amazing and resilient country and I’m proud to be an American.

  • Robert Siegel

    Amen, Brad!

  • Jeffrey Hartmann

    I completely agree with you, for all its flaws and the distortions we have come to believe about life here it is still an amazing place to call home. Happy Birthday America, let you grow through these trying ‘teenage’ years into something even more wonderful.

  • “I shouldn’t be writing messages like “The NSA Is Spying On You” on my postcards (or on blog posts, for that matter.)”

    I think you have this one backward: we should ALL be doing it then no one can tell who to watch. 🙂

    Happy fourth, Brad.

  • Amazing people make America an amazing place. It’s always been the people, and it always will. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Happy Independence Day!

  • Austin

    Auto-typo: “the nothing that Hong Kong …” -> “the note…”

    (Pls. feel free to delete this post-fix.)

  • Austin

    A certain Austin-based, former director of the NSA once side-commented that the products of the NSA were sought after in no small way by the law enforcement community, for obvious reasons of proving or disproving guilt, and/or engaging in hot-pursuit. Apparently, to the best of my understanding, the standard response back in his heyday was basically ‘no way.’

    Now that Snowden has decided what’s best for us as a nation, superseding the judgement of our new-historical-low-approval-rating elected officials, it will indeed be interesting to see if this sort of exculpatory evidence is deemed accessible by defendants.

    Lights, action…popcorn!

  • Austin

    Fourth Amendment purgatory(?): 2012 FOIA response to EFF request regarding printers’ microdots.

  • Happy Fourth! We live in the greatest country the world has ever known!

    WRT to Snowden, there are two separate issues, 1) the content he exposed and 2) the means by which he exposed it. Concerning the content, I’m absolutely terrified by the surveillance that is taking place by not only the NSA but the entire intelligence community. Its unnecessary and abuse is inevitable. I hope this becomes an issue in upcoming election campaigns since that’s really the only way we the people can change it.

    Concerning Snowden, he is not a whistleblower, he has committed espionage. He provided classified information that he swore an oath to protect. He may even have planned to do all that before he even took the oath. He not only violated oaths and legal agreements, he then allowed the information to fall into the hands of hostile govts. If that’s not espionage, I don’t know what is.

    As I see it the rub is the connection between these two things. He clearly did something wrong but he exposed something that I think most reasonable people would consider outrageous. The real question is do the means justify the end? In my opinion, they do not. We live in this world by our honor and our word. While he saw something that was wrong, two wrongs do not make a right. He will meet his justice.

    • Austin

      I’m torn. Snowden definitely crossed some lines to my way of thinking, and to the point that he can and should and will be punished.

      But I’m unconvinced that We the People, collectively, are capable of understanding much less making an intelligent decision about the limitations of our collection agencies. IMHO, that’s disingenuous, or arrogant, or self-defeating, or all three. Making those sorts of national security decisions are what elected officials are for, with obvious caveats and all the trials & tribulations of unforeseen consequences. YMMV.

      • The first three words, “We the People”, say a lot about America. It says a market makes better decisions than one individual in a command and control type format. We the People is the fundamental principle behind capitalism and free markets.

        • Austin

          Yes, and this all applies to national security intelligence collection…how?

          You can’t have that cake privately, and eat it in public as well. It’s one or the other. In this particular case, setting boundaries on national (U.S.) data collection is also not likely to carry much water internationally.

          How we’ve solved that problem to-date — and yes, as We the People — is via our elected representatives who are cleared for such information. If there’s a better plan, I’d love to hear it…but a public discussion of intelligence secrets and methods is an oxymoronic phrase.

    • Re: “he then allowed the information to fall into the hands of hostile govts.” – how do you know this?

      • He took classified information to Hong Kong (aka China) and Russia. You have to assume that information is now in their hands. Whether intentionally or by stupidity, he has exposed that information to hostile govts.

        • “You have to assume that information is now in their hands.” – Actually, there is no evidence of that so I don’t think it’s a safe assumption. It’s what the massive campaign against him wants you to believe as a fact, yet there is no evidence of it as far as I know.

          • With all due respect, don’t you think you’re being a little naive?

          • One of the fundamental principles of our Constitution is that you are entitled to due process and a fair trial with rules of evidence. That’s the meta of the whole Snowden thing. So whether I’m being naive or not is irrelevant.

          • I agree. If and when he comes to trial, your assertion will be debated as it should be. However, as I alluded to, there is no way to prove or disprove it because the only parties involved in that transaction are the foreign govts. and Snowden himself, both of which are unreliable. What is factual is that he knowingly took classified material into foreign lands and that those foreign govts. had knowledge of the fact that he was carrying classified information. That in and of itself is a violation and will count against him in court as evidence of espionage.

          • Austin

            100% correct…except for the use of word “eluded” (–>”alluded”).

          • Fixed!

          • Austin

            Russia’s FSB and SVR are not the Keystone Cops. Frank’s conclusions are shared by many in our own government, and by people who have a body of experience that well informs them. Hyperbole aside, FWIW, I agree, too.

            As for Snowden, with no particular glee on my part, something tells me he’s ultimately headed here. Choices have consequences.

          • There are two elements here. Brad is asserting (correctly) that we have no physical evidence that the material was transferred from a legal point of view wrt to Snowden’s espionage charges. See my comment below.

            The other part is the operational part. Anyone that operates in the intelligence or defense communities must assume that all the information was obtained. To act otherwise would be reckless.

          • Austin

            It’s beyond an assumption. It would be complete incompetence for the FSB and/or the SVR to not have accessed this information that dropped on their front porch. I do not suspect them of that shortcoming.

      • StevenHB

        The existence of the programs was classified. Snowden shared classified information about the programs with the media, and, by extension, their targets and potential targets. So this alone makes him a criminal.

        The programs offend my sense of the Fourth Amendment but that doesn’t make it appropriate for one person to violate the terms of his security clearance and declassify them unilaterally. On the other hand, it’s not entirely clear what someone in possession of classified information about potentially illegal activities of the US government is supposed to do.

        Regarding the further details: I thought that he had it well-encrypted meaning that even if someone got the media, they’d unlikely to be able break the encryption.

        • There’s no such thing as unbreakable encryption. The best you can hope for is that the encryption is strong enuff to prevent the adversary from gaining access to the plaintext while the information is still relevant. I think it would be wise to assume that the Chinese and Russians have plenty of resources to decrypt this information. It might take a little while, but they’ll get it.

    • “We live in the greatest country the world has ever known!”

      This is unthinking jingoism. That America is a great country with much to be proud if is not in question. That it also harbors mind blowing idiocy and corruption is also plain to see. Does it really help us better see ourselves to constantly tell ourselves how fabulous we are? I think not.

  • Austin

    Those darn French. How are we supposed to force the 4th amendment on them? 😉

  • Yup. I think that resiliency and ability to change/adapt are great characteristics of the US.

  • Austin

    Sometimes, even the ‘little people’ can call the scene. From today’s WaPo:

    “And Svetlana Chibisova, a 45-year-old tour agency manager, found it strange that an American carrying U.S. secrets would travel by way of Russia, where security agencies are very much in control.

    “I don’t understand what he was thinking,” she said. “Is he a little boy with no idea about the consequences?”


  • America has warts. But it is the greatest place to live. I had a friend consider giving up citizenship. His accountant told him you may hate things about America now, but in times of stress, there is nothing more valuable than an American passport. I can safely say that a lot of folks from Europe in 1933-1946 , Cuba from 1959-present and Asia from 1960-1985 would say the same.

  • Can’t think of anywhere I’d rather go, except to visit. PRISM, NSA and all. Still stinks though.

  • Austin

    Not an NSA harangue for sharing, but today Killer Apps provides an interactive map of the Soviet Union’s Russia’s telecom listening posts:


    Excerpt from the above article: “…these posts are hardly Cold War relics. Most of them are still “monitoring the communications of the U.S., Europe and virtually every other country of any significance or size around the world…”