I guess you could put me in the “concerned” category on the various — and disputed — accounts of how the government data mines phone records and obtains email and search information from internet companies.
On the one hand, I’m concerned about those who have bad intent towards the country. These people and governments exist, and the electronic tools used by the U.S. government undoubtedly could keep us safer than we would be without such measures. How much safer is unknown.
But I’m also concerned with what could be done with the information gathered about American citizens not suspected of a crime if put into the hands of politicians and political groups, and bureaucrats who work for or are sympathetic to such politicians and political groups.
The threat, oddly enough, is proven by the leaks which (allegedly) exposed the programs and were provided to Glenn Greenwald. If some government employee who has sworn to keep information secret is willing to leak the information to Glenn Greenwald for (allegedly) good purposes, what’s to stop that person from violating his or her oath by leaking data-mined information to Glenn Greenwald or Media Matters or the Human Rights Campaign for other than good reasons about a Tea Party group, religious figure or conservative politician?
In the age of Obama and the unique mainstream media disinterest in anything that damages Obama, this already has resulted in a flourishing culture of intimidation directed at the Tea Party, traditional marriage supporters, conservatives, and other opponents of Obama and the Obama agenda.
A point discussed here many times is the criminalization of life, particularly with regard to gun laws. Professor Glenn Reynolds has made the point more generally in his paper Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime.
Prosecutors have become kings, with the ability to find a crime committed by just about anyone. Data mining and access to internet activity can help find terrorists, but it also can be used to find crimes which were not previously known to have been committed by political opponents.
A “find the target first, then find the crime” political approach requires access to information of an unprecedented level. Which is exactly what is happening.
The issue goes beyond the NSA programs. Obamacare is a form of data mining.
Obamacare will put into the hands of the IRS medical and health information of an unprecedented level. As bad as leaks as to which websites you visit would be, the threat of leakage of your medical information could be equally devastating to freedom of speech and the political process. It would take a mere nod and a wink to convince someone that participation in the political process was not worth it if the result was the exposure of sensitive medical issues.
You can’t separate the data mining, the culture of intimidation, and criminalization of daily life.
The answer to this problem is not easy, precisely because of the legitimate national security concerns. That where to draw the line may be difficult to ascertain does not mean that a line should not be drawn. The wholesale creation of a national database of everything electronic crosses any reasonable line.
Obama’s response is that we should trust the government.
The Obama scandals tell us otherwise. From the phony Benghazi talking points, to IRS targeting, to deceptive measures to obtain journalist phone and email records, the Obama administration at multiple levels and in multiple agencies has proven that it is not worthy of our trust. Or of our information.