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    Salon: The backfiring of the surveillance state

    At Salon, Glenn Greenwald writes about the problems that can arise with a “surveillance state” society.

    Every debate over expanded government surveillance power is invariably framed as one of “security v. privacy and civil liberties” — as though it’s a given that increasing the Government’s surveillance authorities will “make us safer.”  But it has long been clear that the opposite is true.  As numerous experts (such as Rep. Rush Holt) have attempted, with futility, to explain, expanding the scope of raw intelligence data collected by our national security agencies invariably impedes rather than bolsters efforts to detect terrorist plots.  This is true for two reasons:  (1) eliminating strict content limits on what can be surveilled (along with enforcement safeguards, such as judicial warrants) means that government agents spend substantial time scrutinizing and sorting through communications and other information that have nothing to do with terrorism; and (2) increasing the quantity of what is collected makes it more difficult to find information relevant to actual terrorism plots. […]

    Today in The Washington Post, that paper’s CIA spokesman, David Ignatius, explains that Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be “clogged” — overloaded — with information having nothing to do with Terrorism.  As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored. […]

    The problem is never that the U.S. Government lacks sufficient power to engage in surveillance, interceptions, intelligence-gathering and the like.  Long before 9/11 — from the Cold War — we have vested extraordinarily broad surveillance powers in the U.S. Government to the point that we have turned ourselves into a National Security and Surveillance State.  Terrorist attacks do not happen because there are too many restrictions on the government’s ability to eavesdrop and intercept communications, or because there are too many safeguards and checks.  If anything, the opposite is true:  the excesses of the Surveillance State — and the steady abolition of oversights and limits — have made detection of plots far less likely.

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