Friday, August 2, 2013

How to feign outrage over PRISM

Around the world, politicians are under pressure to express their outrage over US government surveillance.  It's August, and your PR teams may be on holiday, so here are some hints on how to get a good headline:

1)  Focus your outrage on the American government.  Distract everyone from the fact that your own government does it too.  e.g., Europe has the most privacy-invasive government surveillance regime in the world, based on the mandatory data retention of the communications logs (aka, metadata) on every single electronic communication for periods ranging from 6 to 24 months.  The US does not have such a data retention regime, because it was deemed too privacy-invasive by the US Congress.  But don't talk about that. 

2)  Focus your outrage on foreign private companies (e.g., Twitter or whatever).  Companies of course are not in control of government surveillance, but just the tools.  In any case, only talk about foreign companies, and never suggest that your own domestic companies are subject to similar (or much greater) surveillance. 

3)  Feel free to make up the facts.  Since much government surveillance is by its very nature secret, you can say pretty much anything without risk of being contradicted by the facts.  

4)  Propose credible-sounding but irrelevant solutions.   Like suggesting that the way to rein in US government surveillance is to abrogate the US-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which governs data transfers in the private sector, even though you know of course that the location of data is irrelevant to the US government's power to order access to it.  Location of data sounds relevant, and only a few lawyers know otherwise.  

5)  Use it as leverage for an unrelated political goal.  Politics is all about deal-making, and trade-offs.  So, use this PRISM scandal to exert pressure for whatever else you want: trade deals, global warming treaties, anything is fair game.  In fact, you can even use this as a good excuse to increase your own government surveillance powers:  "we want to be able to do what the Americans are doing." 

6)  Get your headlines now.  You know that all this will blow over.  Snowden will melt away like a snowman in spring.  Nothing much will change in the realm of government surveillance.  Perhaps there will be a few cosmetic changes, like reforming the FISA Court.  You also know that the next big terrorist attack will completely change the political winds.  It's August, so go sailing, and be ready to tack when the winds shift.  

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Mr Fleischer, I can only concur with your assessment of the current state of discussion and debate on PRISM and surveillance in an age of ubiquitous computing.

I've read enough articles and sat through enough talks to understand what you mean.

Once all the grandstanding and posturing has died down, perhaps we can all have a more rational and thoughtful discussion.