Boingboing points out this Wired article about a reporter who crashed a conference of wiretapping providers, mentioning this quotation in particular:
‘He sneered again. “Do you think for a minute that Bush would let legal issues stop him from doing surveillance? He’s got to prevent a terrorist attack that everyone knows is coming. He’ll do absolutely anything he thinks is going to work. And so would you. So why are you bothering these guys?”‘
It’s an interesting read, but I fundamentally disagree with the above statement, and this is the problem.
It’s not the surveillance that bothers me, it’s the resistance to oversight, even after the fact.
If there was any confidence that what they were doing was a reasonable tradeoff, they wouldn’t have to a) lie or b) break the law to do it. Yet they’ve done both of these things.
If the law enforcement community said “well shit, we’re out of ideas about how to stop these people, and so we really need to have our computers read everyone’s email and tap everyone’s phones and we guarantee that this information won’t be used for anything else, and anyone we find doing something nefarious will be dealt with according to due process”, then we could, you know, engage in a meaningful discussion about this. And then we could move on to the fact that “terrorist” is not a useful designation for a criminal, and then maybe we could fire the people who thought up this brilliant idea and find someone who would practice actual security because wholesale surveillance and profiling have been widely debunked as largely useless for anything besides persecution, political attacks, and invasions of privacy.
But we won’t, because that’s not what this is about.
This opinion of a member of the Dutch National Police is particularly telling:
‘He said that in the Netherlands, communications intercept capabilities are advanced and well established, and yet, in practice, less problematic than in many other countries. “Our legal system is more transparent,” he said, “so we can do what we need to do without controversy. Transparency makes law enforcement easier, not more difficult.”
The technology exists, it’s not going away, and it’s really not the problem. The secrecy is the problem.