Why the Snowden the Movie Matters

By | October 7, 2016

I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.

I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

Friend, here’s why:

NSA surveillance is legal.

True, as was slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.

Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.

As for the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA), set up to review government requests for wiretapping, it approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. The FBI made 15,229 National Security Letter requests in 2012 on Americans. None of those even require FISA rubber-stamping. And here’s DOJ trying to keep classified a court ruling that says it might have acted unconstitutionally.

The first FISA ruling ever released in full came from Edward Snowden. Before that, no one outside a small circle inside the government had ever seen one.

And you know who represents the “suspect” (i.e., you) in front of the FISA court? No one. You don’t even know they’re reviewing you.

If all the NSA’s activities are legal, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public, in front of the Supreme Court. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. Unfortunately, when Amnesty International tried to bring such a case before the Court, the case was denied because Amnesty could not prove it was subject to monitoring– that was a secret!– and thus was denied standing to even bring the suit.

Unfettered surveillance violates both the Fourth Amendment protections against search, and the First Amendment protections on the right to peaceably assemble, online in this instance.

Anyway, whatever, FISA. I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care? If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide!

The definition of “wrong” can change very quickly, especially if you have no way to defend yourself, or even know you’re under suspicion. Are you really, really ready to risk everything on what is right and wrong today staying that way forever? Seems like a fool’s bet, given America’s witch hunts in the 1950s for communists, and Islamophobia today. Things do change.

Well, I trust Obama on this.

Good for you. There’ll be a new president soon. You also trust him or her? How about the one after that, and the one after that? Data collected is forever. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish.

FYI, whether you trust Obama, Trump, Hillary or the next presidents, do remember your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and the DMV. Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? That they have your information so well protected hackers will never get to it and dump it out onto the Internet?

How about other governments? The NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British and Israeli intelligence. Those are foreign governments that your American government is informing on you to.

Distasteful as this all is, it is necessary to keep us safe. It’s for our own good.

The United States, upholding to our beautiful Bill of Rights, has survived (albeit on a sometimes bumpy road) two world wars, the Cold War and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of our civil rights. Keep in mind that the Founders created the Bill of Rights, point-by-point, specifically to address the abuses of power (look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment) they experienced under an oppressive British government.

A bunch of angry jihadis, some real and many imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system. Prior to 9/11 we did not have a mass-scale terror act (by foreigners; American Citizen Timothy McVeigh pulled one off.) Since 9/11 we have not had a mass-scale terror attack. More than 15 years in, we must accept 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, and cannot be a justification for everything the government wishes to do.

There is also the question of why, if the NSA is vacuuming up everything, and even sharing that collection abroad, this all needs to be kept secret from the American people. If it is for our own good, the government should be proud to tell us what they are doing for us, instead of being embarrassed when it leaks.

After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide, right?

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

Category: Liberty
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