“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
What a weekend it’s been, like watching a global prizefight of epic proportions, with every conceivable side throwing the hardest possible punches.
It began with the first leak in the U.K.’s Guardian, which was echoed in The Washington Post. The specific allegation was that the National Security Administration has obtained “direct access” to all communications records of every American by working directly with Verizon, Google, Facebook, and every other major provider.
That revelation, courtesy of journalist Glenn Greenwald, that the NSA demanded that Verizon turn over all its records on an “ongoing” basis kicked it all off. The Washington Post published a PowerPoint presentation on a program called PRISM, created in 2007 as an effort to collect and store data on every American.
Then, the denials came from the websites and providers. They called the revelations outrageous and ridiculous.
“We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers.”
“Google does not have a back door for the government.”
Apple: “We have never heard of PRISM.”
They all said the same thing. They provide information to the government only in response to specific warrants from the government, and they frequently fight against them.
But skeptics noted that they parsed their words carefully. The phrase “direct access” kept coming back. Besides, what if they are under some legal obligation to lie about what the government knows and can know? Worse, what if the NSA has a direct portal to their services and even the CEOs don’t know about it?
Is this paranoia at work? Well, the Obama administration did everything it could to fuel the frenzy even further, not by denying or denouncing the spy state, but by blasting the leaker himself!
“The unauthorized disclosure of a top-secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,” said James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence. For this reason, he found the revelations “gut-wrenching” — not the information contained therein, but that fact of its release!
Clapper joined the whole bureaucracy of spooks to swear he would get this leaker. That response seriously backfired by seeming to confirm all the truth of the leak itself — making the CEOs look like liars or fools.
A manhunt began.
Then suddenly, it ended.
The leaker himself — an articulate and compelling young man named Edward Snowden — posted a YouTube video that sets a new standard for what is considered “viral.”
This 29-year-old genius worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor with the NSA that advertised its data-collection and storage services. Booz, which employs 25,000 people, has a revolving door with the national security state: The past head of the NSA now works at Booz, just as the current director of National Intelligence once worked at Booz.
Snowden was not the product of an elite education. He had been a code geek who never bothered much with the classroom. He had signed up for the Army, but became disillusioned and was fortunate enough to be discharged. He then worked for the CIA and, finally, with the NSA. He could no longer stand what he was seeing: the sheer intrusiveness, the aggressiveness, the presumption that the data of every citizen belongs to the government.
So he took information about the PRISM program and the NSA’s ambitions. Then he left. Then he leaked. That he would reveal himself on camera for the world to see — in temporary safety in Hong Kong — is nothing short of marvelous and thrilling for its sheer heroism.
In this interview, he explains why he decided to expose the “architecture of oppression.” He confirms the worst fear: “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email.”
Here is the full interview. You can immediately see that this wonderful young person is just like you and me, or perhaps our sons and daughters. This is the real thing. And his response to what he saw around him was completely normal. He just began to feel really squeamish about what was going on.
Q: Do you have a plan in place?
A: “The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me… My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over Internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be.
“They could put out an Interpol note. But I don’t think I have committed a crime outside the domain of the U.S. I think it will be clearly shown to be political in nature.”
Q: Do you think you are probably going to end up in prison?
A: “I could not do this without accepting the risk of prison. You can’t come up against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and not accept the risk. If they want to get you, over time they will.”
Q: How do you feel now, almost a week after the first leak?
A: “I think the sense of outrage that has been expressed is justified. It has given me hope that, no matter what happens to me, the outcome will be positive for America. I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want.”
Listening to him, you hear the voice of a new generation. There is no fear. There a humane quality to his thinking. He believes in openness. He thinks that one person can make a difference. He has the human right to try. His voice is that of Rose Wilder Lane in her great book The Discovery of Freedom.
And fortunately, today, using the very communication systems that government is apparently so dedicated to monitoring, he was able to get his message out to the entire world — without gatekeepers like the NSA.
His approach of going out into the open this way is itself fascinating. He probably figures that he is safer doing it this way than finding a spider hole somewhere in which to live, where he would eventually be found and then shot. Going public allowed him to control the message. It affords him the best chance to make a difference.
This is bravery, but he is probably correct that it is more effective and safe.
His example should be instructive for anyone who is following the stream of revelations and trying to sort out the meaning of it all. One response is to shut down in feature, to stop using Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and even your smartphone. You can drop out of modernity completely, move to Walden, and hide until you die.
To me, that is not an answer. In effect, that is letting the surveillance state win. Your quality of life is destroyed, and to what end? They can still get you if they want you. A smarter and better approach is to use all services but remember what everyone should have figured out long ago. The Internet is a public medium. If you want secrecy, you have to use public-key cryptography with services like Cryptocat and the Tor browser.
Snowden himself sums up this view: “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,”
We’ll know more in the coming months precisely about the nature of the data collection going on. But that anyone should be shocked about the NSA’s goals and methods is supremely naive. The first major book on the NSA that exposed its goal came out fully 30 years ago (The Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford). Nor should anyone believe that the purpose of all this surveillance is to “protect our nation.”
The purpose is to protect the state.
There ought to be a hall of fame for people who have made huge strides in the fast-forward breakdown of the nation-state in the digital age. Julian Assange. Bradley Manning. Cody Wilson. And now Edward Snowden. The times when the powers that be could just “body bag” a person like this are over. Today, this man is probably more popular than every member of Congress, and certainly more popular than his agency-based oppressors.
If you want to understand the rational, sensible attitude of truth-telling defiance that shapes the mind and life of a man like Snowden, read The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane, a Club selection of Laissez Faire Books.