Deeper into the surveillance debate

“Remarkably thoughtful essay; if you read only one thing this week, make it this.” (John Gruber at Daring Fireball)

The security state operates as a ratchet. Once you click in a new level of surveillance or intrusiveness, it becomes the new baseline. What was unthinkable yesterday becomes permissible in exceptional cases today, and routine tomorrow. The people who run the American security apparatus are in the overwhelming majority diligent people with a deep concern for civil liberties. But their job is to find creative ways to collect information. And they work within an institution that, because of its secrecy, is fundamentally inimical to democracy and to a free society.

Maciej Ceglowski puts his best case against the unfolding surveillance state and, as Gruber says, it’s a good one. David Simon, however, isn’t persuaded. He sees Ceglowski as missing the deeper issues and endangering the odds of reaching a sustainable and satisfying outcome:

Reform of the systemic is the only practical hope we have of rationalizing the necessary and continual conflict that will accompany the introduction of every single new technological capability, and a system that is capable of measuring the potentials and risks and then writing, keeping and enforcing the rulebook is the fundamental here.  And yet the scare-tactics that accompany this NSA leak are enough to turn potential allies into cynics and take eyes off the legitimate and essential prize.

He closes with a summation of where he thinks the battle needs to be fought:

If Mr. Maciej wants to address not merely the programs that intrude in ways that he finds unnerving or untenable, but instead focus on process and system, then I can be enlisted.  If this is about oversight and accountability and reshaping the shadow government of the FISA court, I’m in.  If it’s about establishing clear, definitive laws for how the inevitable waves of new technology are to be employed, and having a real discussion about what law enforcement goals and security concerns justify what level of intrusion, I’m committed.  And if it’s about all of us kicking in, and admitting that citizenship requires shared risk and shared sacrifice — if it promises a compact between all of us, and rules that equate for the country as a whole –then I understand and agree with the fight.

Happily, they got together on the comments thread following Simon’s post. Ceglowski’s summary on Twitter: “I’m afraid our argument degenerated into a violent agreement at the end.”

Skip the essays if time’s short but do read their brief conversation. It’s almost enough to give you hope.


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