What if I told you that the most pertinent social science subject -- one that affects every single one of us every single day -- is taught to only a select few? That would be absurd, right? Well, unfortunately this is no fiction. It is the state of legal knowledge in America, and it is profoundly troubling.
Unfortunately, with so much of the public attention focused on the NSA's misdeeds, there is a tendency to forget that the NSA is merely one of a growing number of clandestine intelligence agencies tasked with spying on the American people.
Ever since Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents about NSA surveillance, Google and other tech companies have wanted to reveal the extent of NSA's access -- pursuant to orders of the secret FISA Court -- to their customers' accounts.
Our state of affairs goes against a pinnacle of American justice, equality before law, facilitating everything from war crimes, to torture, to domestic spying, to a predatory, ravenous Wall Street that feeds on the middle class with impunity.
If NSA does, in fact, have a secret back door channel into Google's (and the other firms') user data and communications, it hardly matters how scrupulous the agency is in adhering to applicable legal rules restricting access through the front door.
The debate over the NSA's data collection should lead to a better balance between rights of privacy and requirements of foreign intelligence. But whatever the outcome of that debate, it has failed to acknowledge inherent deficiencies and risks in "foreign intelligence" and the transcendent role of foreign policy in the defense of our national interests. Our foreign policy failures and dilemmas reflect failures of a cerebral sort of intelligence, including a lack of experience in the real world away from Washington, its arm chair polemicists, its ideological think thanks, and too little experience in military ground forces where you learn to expect the unexpected. Policy has been driven by ideologues, militarists, and amateurs, including Members of Congress who are little noted nowadays for real world experience.
The President showed an understanding of the problems created by surveillance, but bolder leadership and strong action are required. We have no doubt those assigned to protect U.S. security want more information to do their job better, but that insatiable zeal for more information is where we get into trouble.
President Obama's proposal that Congress authorize "outside government" public advocates is doubly useless: (1) Congress legislates almost nothing; and (2) such advocates would be too slow and limited to provide balance between intelligence needs and constitutional protections. The FISA Court can provide the rules.
Although the media wasn't listening, Snowden's Christmas remarks broadened the message: the concept of privacy itself, and what we are to leave of it to our children, is important, is in peril, and must be added to the conversation.
President Obama should not allow the NSA to convince him that its comprehensive program is merely an idealistic wishlist that ignores the endless threats of the 21st century. He should treat the reform initiative as the constitutional minimum required to keep the high-tech dynamo from spinning entirely out of control.
Blaming big tech companies for enabling our runaway surveillance state is like blaming Toyota or Ford for drunk drivers. It's a dangerous distraction, and it's the wrong strategy if we want to reform the system.
Trust has been at the core of the U.S. approach to Internet policy for more than a decade and should not be squandered. While many intuitively understand why this must be preserved for human rights reasons, there are also vital economic concerns.
can transparency be institutionalized in an agency that's in the business of secrecy? Can NSA be made to understand that transparency is actually in its interest because the more the public knows, the more legitimacy the agency will have, the more leeway the public will give the agency?
Intelligence committee staffers have monthly meetings where they review footage of strikes, CIA intelligence reports and casualty assessments. There is no public evidence, though, that they have ever spoken to people who suffered injuries or lost family members in U.S. strikes, their counsel, or witnesses from the affected countries.
If the government is going to continue the practice of forcing private companies to hand over users’ private information in the name of national security, then the American public should have a right to know which companies are being asked and how often.
The road forward does not have to be one of either liberty or security. We can take steps to make our national security programs more transparent, accountable, and ultimately more effective.