June 7, 2013

PRISM: Total Information Awareness is Here, The Government's Got It and We're the Target

On the one hand, it’s really almost too easy to baste Obama on the chasm between his rhetoric as a candidate and his practice as a president when it comes to national security.  If we are being adults about it, we all know that the reality is that every president, once they become responsible for American security and start getting briefed on the hair raising threats brewing out there, wants every tool at their disposal.  Nobody wants to hear "I didn't get Bin Laden cuz I didn't have the tools".  Look at the fallout of the Boston Bombing, the question being asked is how come we didn't head these guys off at the pass?

On the other hand, we really do have to ask ourselves whether or not we want to live in a society where our government practices total information awareness on its citizens. I look at whats being revealed and I think to myself "that's the kind of stuff I would expect to be SOP in N. Korea or China."  Perhaps we should not be so up in arms.  Unlike a N. Korea, or a China, where such tools would or are used routinely now, we live in a country where our speech freedoms are guaranteed, where we can remonstrate with government, bear arms and so on.  Maybe that's our protection against the government control that could be enabled by use of this tech.  And then again, maybe its not. 

And we have another problem here.  Congress authorized this activity under the aegis of the Patriot Act. Some of its provisions are so broadly written (Section 215) that they authorize all we have learned of and likely more I'm certain we have not.  And either out of a desire to not be portrayed as weak on security (Diane Feinstein comments come to mind) or because they have already been complicit in the ongoing utilization of these tools (these oversight processes CIA Director Brennan tries to reassure us with) I don't see many elected officials strongly questioning the wisdom of these practices or just how far we have or should go with this. In fact, it seems to be the opposite, with officials trying to reassure us its all okay.

The media is expressing shock and awe.  The American people are trying to decide if they are cool with this in the name of security and we don't have all the info to decide. Meanwhile Congress and the administration are playing hide the ball and going for cool out measures hoping to make it all go away.  

Here's the thing.  There will always be a desire for more information, more info tools, more authority to get what they want, when they want it, to go after the bad guys effectively.  And in an age of nerve gas, free range bomb making info, lone wolves and transnational terrorists, we want the government to be effective.......really effective.  Its a fact that the threats are not going away and they likely won't diminish.  When the military develops war game scenarios to assess potential adversaries, they assess capabilities, not intentions.  As citizens evaluating PRISM and other total information awareness tactics being used by our government on its own citizens, we should approach it the same way. How much info awareness is enough? 
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