Spies & Lies


When discussing the USA Patriot Act, it is common for defenders to jump on the 9/11 argument. That is, mass surveillance - including collecting metadata and other information from U.S. citizens - is warranted in order to protect national security and prevent another massive terrorist attack, like the 9/11 attacks.

There are several convincing (at least, to me) counterarguments to this line of reasoning:

1) There is no evidence that mass surveillance has uncovered and foiled any plot like the 9/11 attacks, and "plots" that have been foiled are often questionable. Sometimes, scarily so.

2) Mass surveillance isn't something that started post-9/11 - the DEA was tracking calls for a decade beforehand - and mass surveillance didn't stop 9/11 because mass surveillance isn't actually very good for looking for terrorist plots.

3) Mass surveillance under the Patriot Act isn't really about terrorism, anyway. It's about drugs. At least, that's how it's actually being used. It's used for a failing War on Drugs, and shouting "Terrorism!" is, at best, misleading the public.

4) There's a lot of irrelevant (to the government) information to dig through, and it just keeps piling up. That makes it harder for agencies to actually find real terrorist plots (or, for that matter, big drug deals). It's a bit like saying, "Hey, guys, I dropped my keys in this pile of elephant poop right here, and now I can't find them. Can you rake some more poop from all over the circus over here for me to dig through?" You're going to have a harder time finding what you need, and you're going to get really filthy doing it.

5) Lastly, and most importantly, suspicionless mass surveillance is a violation our rights to free speech and to privacy. The government has no legal right to interfere with our right to communicate with each other, even if that communication is revolutionary or otherwise unpleasant to the government. The government also has no moral right to invade our privacy and collect our information willy-nilly.

Mass surveillance isn't an effective tool in a War on Terror - but it's been transformed rather handily into a tool on a War on the American People. When our own government decides we, the citizens of the U.S., are the enemy, we have a problem. It's time we fixed it!




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