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Amy and I were going to have a bunch of friends over to our house today but we got rained out. So, I read Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State instead.
It was outstanding – 5 stars.
Let’s start with the punchline from Warren and Brandeis in their 1890 Harvard Law Review article The Right to Privacy where they assert that the right to privacy is primarily a “right to be left alone.”
Ponder that for a moment.
It’s a hot topic in my household since Amy did her thesis at Wellesley on the right to privacy. At the same time, I’ve been very open with my belief over the last decade that there is no more privacy, that the government tracks everything we do, and if you build your worldview around the notion that you have privacy, you are going to be disappointed. I guess I’ve been watching too much 24.
Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t think one should have a right to privacy. If I believed that, the philosophical arguments in our house would escalate dramatically. Rather, I gave up my own belief that I have privacy. And, I’ve felt for a long time that society is in a very unstable situation with regard to data, data privacy, and personal privacy. And I think this is going to get much, much worse as the machines further integrate themselves into everything we do.
So I view the problem of privacy at a meta-level. And as a result, I find books like Greenwald’s fascinating, powerful, and deeply insightful into the cause, effect, reaction, and second-order effect of humans trying to process what is going on, defend their position, and advance their perspective.
I thought Greenwald did a particularly good job of three things in this book:
- Painting a clear picture of Snowden, his character, and Greenwald’s experience interacting with him.
- Addressing the actions of the NSA that should cause outrage, or at least a deep, thoughtful conversation about what the appropriate boundaries for government surveillance in the United States.
- Demonstrating the tactics of the US government, especially through media which is sympathetic to the US government, in shifting the story from the main event (the NSA disclosures) to a continual campaign of discrediting the participants (Snowden and Greenwald).
It doesn’t matter which side of the issue you are on. If you feel like calling Snowden, and possible Greenwald, a traitor, you should read this book carefully. If you believe they are whistleblowers, or even heroes, you should read this book carefully. If you believe the government never lies, or always lies, you should read this book carefully. If you believe journalists aren’t caught up in the game, are objective, and have integrity, you should read this book carefully.
I’ve felt for a long time that it’s a real cop-out to call Snowden a traitor or just react to the surface of what is going on here. There are some really profound forces at work that will impact the United States, our notion of democracy, and privacy, for many years. And the second order effects, including how other nations view the United States and the other four of the Five Eyes or the implications on global companies headquartered in the United States, will impact us for many years.
And, as a bonus, there are lots of revealing PowerPoint charts in the book from the NSA documents which, in addition to driving Snowden and Greenwald’s points home, demonstrate that the US Government needs some courses in making PowerPoint slides nicer.
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.”
“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.