Friday, July 12, 2013

You can run, but you can't hide

Government surveillance is running amock, worldwide.  This is the sort of topic that Obama and I might have debated, when we were both idealists at our alma mater, Harvard Law School.  

Revelations about US government surveillance continue to surprise in their scale and scope.  We all now know that the NSA is hoovering up trillions of communications logs.  We all now know that there are essentially no legal protections of non-US citizens from US government surveillance.  We all now know that the FISA court, which is meant to provide judicial review of snooping on US citizens' communications, is little more than a rubber-stamp.  We all now know that US government spying is directed at friend and foe alike.  We all now know that the US government is bullying governments around the world to hand over the whistle-blower Snowden (forcing down the Presidential aircraft of a Sovereign State?), and most governments are collaborating meekly.  

As more people wake up to the idea of living in a Panopticon, one would think there would be a serious political debate about how to subject government surveillance to serious legal and judicial checks and balances.  Where's the serious debate about finally updating ECPA, so that emails sitting in users' accounts do not lose most effective privacy protections after they're more than 180 days old?  Where's the serious debate in countries around the world about their own governments' surveillance programs, not just about the Americans'?  e.g., the French privacy watchdog launched an investigation into foreign government surveillance, curiously excluding France's own recently-documented surveillance programs.   Where's the serious debate about whether Europe's much-debated privacy-law revamp has completely missed the boat by failing to address government surveillance?  Where's the serious debate about whether US government surveillance makes a mockery of the long-debated, long-negotiated US-EU Parliamentary accords over the privacy safeguards governing US government access to Europeans'  Passenger Name Records or SWIFT bank transfer data?

I have long had a healthy wariness about governmental abuse of power. In my personal life, I've had a taste of what a government can do to prosecute an innocent person, sentenced to jail for a non-crime, then acquitted, and still being put through a decade of criminal justice hell.  

If the Snowden revelations do not suffice to create the political momentum to impose meaningful legal and judicial checks on secret government surveillance, then we're all on an unstoppable trajectory towards total surveillance.  Or we can follow the lead of France's President, who expressed his outrage at revelations of US government spying by suggesting that trade talks with Les Americains should be subjected to a mid-July two-week delay.   Take that! 

Obama and I were at the same law school, and I recognize the skillset of my fellow Harvard Law School grad, where we were all trained in rhetoric, sometimes so empty that it would prompt even Ari Fleischer to zap (btw, no relation to me):  "It's like George Bush is having his fourth term..." 

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