OK. I’ve asterisked the title so as not to break any rules. And first up, as anyone who knows me
I am the biggest Obamab*t there is
But we seem to be falling out in recent weeks over the issue of the NSA and Snowden revelations. Thanks to my Murdoch investigations here during the Hackgate Scandal (which is still unfolding as you can see from my Daily Beast timeline) I’ve become a big fan of privacy, and antipathetic to corporate blackmail and surveillance.
So, when the extent of digital surveillance became apparent thanks to the Guardian and the Snowden revelations, my concern wasn’t over the Obama administration (most the programmes were established beforehand) nor indeed the character of the government. But one simple thing has always concerned me: the effect of this kind of surveillance on potential government whistleblowers and investigative journalism
One would have thought the chilling effects on whistleblowing and investigative journalism should concern every reporter.
On the vituperation heaped on Greenwald and the Guardian, I urge you to read David Carr in the New York Times
If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack.
Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?
I couldn’t agree more: as I wrote a few days ago
Since when has the emotional complexion of the source been the main point of the story? The attacks on Greenwald display the same problem. He may be partisan, argumentative and thin-skinned (he blocked me on Twitter a year ago for an innocuous comment) but does that disqualify him from landing a major scoop? Attacking a source or intermediary is just another version of the ad hominem fallacy. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Journalism is about disclosure and transparency, not heroics and personality. It’s the story, stupid.
I’m still a fan of Obama. But you can’t rely on the governance of good people. As Evgeny Morosov has shown us over the failure of the Green Revolution in Iran, these same tools of social networking and communication can be easily misused by rogue intelligence agencies, and for an future government, they are a secret policeman’s wet dream.
For the historic background I’d urge you to read James Bamford’s excellent piece in the New York Review of Books. As he says…
One man who was prescient enough to see what was coming was Senator Frank Church, the first outsider to peer into the dark recesses of the NSA. In 1975, when the NSA posed merely a fraction of the threat to privacy it poses today with UPSTREAM, PRISM, and thousands of other collection and data-mining programs, Church issued a stark warning:
That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…. I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.
I’m still an Obamabot. But I also still remember Bush. The issue of massive collusion between state and private corporations over surveillance is, unfortunately, an issue which transcends any particular President.
I hope my fellow Obamabots can take the long view, and not consider this just an attack on this administration. We came together over certain ideas of equality, liberty and justice. Those ends are not served an intelligence system that could quickly be turned to squash civil dissent.