Monday, November 12, 2007

You can trust us; we'd never abuse our power

The principal deputy director of national intelligence seems to think that the internet means privacy no longer exists, so why all this fuss about the government invading it? Well, maybe the internet didn't get rid of privacy, but he does think that it has redefined it:
As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States change their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.

Privacy is no longer people not knowing things that you don't want them to know that they have no business knowing. Now it's that the people eavesdropping on you promise not to tell anyone what they heard.

As an aside, given that he accepts redefining privacy to be the complete opposite of privacy, I wonder if he also would accept "redefining" marriage to allow same-sex couples to wed. My bet is not.

But anyways, back to the article.
Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio, Texas, that he finds it odd that some would be concerned that the government may be listening in when people are "perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an [Internet service provider] who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data."

It almost wouldn't be a proper Republican talking point without an attack on brown people. What on earth does the fact that some people working at ISPs are foreign have to do with anything? Because they're foreigners, they are immediately suspect, but we ought to trust our government to do no wrong? That's inane; neither of them should be listening in on our calls.
He noted that government employees face up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines if convicted of misusing private information.

As Ed pointed out, this is meaningless. "We promise to punish people who do bad" is an empty promise given the government's track record on the subject--declaring that the courts can't even bring up the question of what the executive branch has been doing because of "state secrets"; or because the people suing don't know for sure that they've been spied on, and the government's not going to let anyone know who is on their list.
Millions of people in this country -- particularly young people -- already have surrendered anonymity to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and to Internet commerce. These sites reveal to the public, government and corporations what was once closely guarded information, like personal statistics and credit card numbers.

"Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it's not for us to inflict one size fits all," said Kerr, 68. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that."

This is insipid. People choosing to put up some personal information is in no way equivalent to the government tapping their phones. See, Mr. Kerr, you seem to have missed the fact that in the former scenario people publicized this information voluntarily, and they chose what information they put forth. On my Facebook profile, for instance, I don't even have my phone number up, much less my credit card number. Further, Facebook allows you to prevent the public at large from seeing this information--you have the option of allowing only your friends to see your profile.

He does come awfully close to bringing up a valid point, though. The wide availability of information that can be found via Google, if you're a determined-enough surfer, is staggering. And there are surely people who let out more information than they should, and probably come to regret it later. But that's their (perhaps poor) choice, and nothing the government should be trying to deal with, and certainly not exploit. Further, it has nothing to do with the issue of the government trying to learn information that they don't choose to make public.

And finally, what's with this "it's not for us to inflict one size fits all"? Are you only going to be eavesdropping on the people who think that it's okay, and leaving the rest of us the hell alone?
"Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety," Kerr said. "I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but [also] what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn't empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere."

All right. I, and numerous other American citizens, are not willing to give up our basic right to privacy; we are not willing to give up our right to communicate with each other via the telephone and e-mail without someone else intercepting it. And preventing the government and private companies from doing so are the minimum safeguards we want in place.

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