Information about where we go, what we do, what we buy, is collected and acted upon every day of our lives. We get daily advertising targeted directly to us personally. Computers and the internet have made this info easy to come by, useful for us and others, and potentially dangerous.
Edward Snowden, who spilled the beans about the government’s giant program to collect and analyze everybody’s communications, did not release terabytes of damaging information about us, or about our government. He simply told us what the government has been doing without our knowledge since 2006. I don’t view this as particularly upsetting, damaging, or even important. Congress, after all, knew about it and approved it, and as I said, industry knows far more about us. But nobody told us.
Computers and the internet
have made spying on us easy.
The government is not lurking in our closet like Stasi spies, recording our every word from bugs behind the wallpaper. What they record is the phone numbers or internet addresses, the date and time of the communication, and its duration. That’s it. The people who sell you things know a lot more about you than that. But there are problems with even that little bit, and at the least, I would like to have known that this information was to be collected. But Congress and the administration kept it secret. The government norm is to stamp millions of things TOP SECRET, which is clearly not justifiable.
Was the NSA program worth it? Federal cops have interrupted several attempts to blow up ordinary Americans. But did the program allow this to happen? We haven’t been told. If it actually did, then we must think again about what we have lost vs. what we have gained.
Was the NSA program worth it?
So now there is all this discussion about government spying, which nobody likes very much. But the people left out of the discussion are those whose lives were spared because the FBI made an arrest, because that arrest made it an event that didn’t happen. We can’t ask them because we cannot know who they are, and the government hasn’t even told us if there are such people.
But we can ask those who were grievously wounded by the Boston bombers. Would those who lost limbs condone the NSA program if the bombers had been caught beforehand because of it? And we can put the question to ourselves personally. Do we value our own lives enough to voluntarily surrender this bit of privacy? Sadly, it’s a sign of the times that it has become necessary to ask.
The people left out of the discussion
are those whose lives were spared
because the FBI made an arrest.
This is the moral calculus we must make, but we can’t do it if we are uninformed because of government secrecy.
So someone let the cat out of the bag. Edward Snowden told all, and now he expects his life to be made miserable. True to form, and in defiance of all kinds of whistleblower protective laws, the government is huddling to see how many things they can charge him with. Right wingers—the same people who are always complaining about how intrusive government is in our lives—are hoping the death penalty will be brought back for the case.
Would those who lost limbs in Boston
condone the NSA program if the bombers
had been caught beforehand because of it?
I conclude two things from this event and others like it: (1) Government protection of whistleblowers is hypocrisy. All whistleblowing is prosecuted. Government whistleblowers who are not imprisoned stayed free because the government couldn’t prosecute without revealing state secrets. Industrial whistleblowers are punished in other ways. (2) Blowing the whistle on illegal or morally corrupt practices is always costly to the whistleblower. Virtually all the whistleblowers in industry and other fields have suffered for their acts in one way or another. All whistleblowers are selfless heroes, and should be rewarded, not punished.