“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 […]
That Edward Snowden has put the whole political, corporate, and governing class in a bind. With his revelations that a heretofore obscure agency has long been collecting all data on our digital lives, Snowden very plainly blew up the whole perception that government is somehow of, by, and for the people. The picture he paints is a government straight out of a dystopian novel.
For a few weeks, the ruling class hoped the whole thing would just go away. Maybe the NSA could continue to data mine, the corporations would continue to cooperate, and the 48-hour news cycle would eat this story same as any other political flash in the pan.
Wholly owned government mouthpieces like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are disgracing themselves daily on national television by demanding that Snowden be forcibly returned and prosecuted. In fact, Graham is even demanding that the U.S. pull out of the 2014 Olympics to protest the asylum Russia is providing for this nice, young whistle-blower.
It’s not enough that Graham wants to lock up or fry the guy who did such a wonderful service for us all; now he wants to punish American athletes by denying them the chance to compete in the event that would define their lives. And why? Because Russia is entirely too sympathetic to human rights for his taste?
Meanwhile, the pressure is building for Congress to intervene. Actually, thanks to swarms of emails landing all over Capitol Hill, many politicians have had to go against their cowardly instincts and actually dare to protest. The House Judiciary Committee, for example, dragged a few administration officials to a hearing, and several members pointed out certain obvious truths, such as that many people aren’t so thrilled about the Stasi-like system of domestic surveillance that gives the government the power to blackmail any citizen, anytime, forever.
The ACLU has filed thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests, and is making the results public. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a real live lawsuit against the NSA. Google and other Internet companies are pleading for the right to make public all the data requests they have received from government. And public opinion polls have shifted from indifference to outright opposition to what’s going on.
But isn’t there is a slight problem here? This is the Congress that voted for the Patriot Act and its slippery language in Section 215 that seems to repeal the Fourth Amendment. Where were these guys when it mattered? During the hearing, John Conyers of Michigan stated the fallback position: “We never — at any point during this debate — approved the type of unchecked, sweeping surveillance of United States citizens.”
Meanwhile, administration officials hemmed and hawed, bound by loyalty oaths not to reveal what they know. Their congressional interrogators know full well that they cannot and will not tell the truth, and that if they do, they too will have to head for the hills and outrun the likes of Lindsey Graham.
The companies protesting are in even worse shape. When these orders from the government arrive that demand data, you’d think they might be free to say no. Not so. The orders come with extreme threats: If you reveal anything about this demand to anyone, you will face prosecution. This is the reality, and it is also why I’m pretty sympathetic with Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others. It’s not like they have made a free choice to sell out the customers to the state. They are acting under extreme duress.
Try to look at it from their point of view. These companies are founded and run by a kind of idealist. They are technicians who have a special entrepreneurial gift to see the needs of others. Their fanatical attachment to the dream of running a business is driven by the desire to do spectacular things for others. Dealing with the laws and regulations is something they do only because they must.
They would prefer a system once called free enterprise.
So when the spooks arrive and push their way around, they really do face a choice: Comply and keep doing business, or protest and risk everything. On the whole, I admire the way these tech companies have resisted when possible and revealed what they could. But clearly, the public resentment against the surveillance has emboldened them.
Can they or we count on Congress to do something to stop the great American data mining operation? I seriously doubt it. Even now, no member of Congress is in a position to stop it. The NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the rest of the national security state is a government unto itself. Its arrogance is boundless. It doesn’t feel restricted by any act of Congress, much less any ancient dead letter like the Constitution. It is like the secret police in most states in most times: completely above the law.
And this counteroffensive poses an even greater threat to the political class. There’s not a politician in Washington who doesn’t have something to hide. And there’s a pretty good chance that some branch of the national security state knows precisely what is it. Therefore, too much protest and too much resistance can very likely unearth the bit of information that gives the average politico nightmares. As the NSA is well aware, the power to know is the power to control.
Public opinion itself is a stronger force against surveillance than anything Congress can or will do. It inspires entrepreneurs to get to work and make available ever more protections against surveillance. Many of these tools — such as encrypted email and chat — have been available for many years. But they are gaining prominence and users only now that the fears of the most conspiracy-minded paranoids have been confirmed.
In an ideal world, such tools would not be necessary. But no country with a state bent on spying on its own citizens is such an ideal world. The American Revolutionaries had to use code to communicate. So did the refuseniks of the USSR. So have all resistors in all countries. Our times are no different except in this one respect: We have better tools than any generation in history. We needed only a good reason to be inspired to use them. In our times, freedom has a minimalist definition: It means staying one step ahead of the power elite.