Not-to-Miss Reporting and Opinions on the NSA Leaks

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It’s been over a week since the new revelations about NSA surveillance programs started rolling in. Since then, there’s been a non-stop storm of reporting and opinions in the media. Here are a few articles we didn’t want you to miss. We’ll continue to keep you updated with tweets and links to interesting perspectives on this important story.

Snoop Scoops, by Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker

In the closing years of the last century, newspapers and broadcasters reported extensively on a program known as Echelon, under which the N.S.A. and allied intelligence agencies used satellite receivers, underseas-cable taps, and powerful computers to download and search a hefty proportion of the world’s electronic traffic. (“If you made a phone call today or sent an e-mail to a friend,” Steve Kroft began a “60 Minutes” report, in February of 2000, “there’s a good chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country’s largest intelligence agency.”) After 9/11, when such activities expanded exponentially, the press did its best to keep up….This month’s leaks to the Post and the Guardian add rich texture to the picture, but what is genuinely new is that, confronted with unmistakably authentic N.S.A. documents, the government, up to and including the President, has begun to feel compelled to come clean—or, at least, less dirty.

The Making of a Global Security State, by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

Much attention has, understandably enough, been lavished on the phone and other metadata about American citizens that the NSA is now sweeping up and about the ways in which such activities may be abrogating the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Far less attention has been paid to the ways in which the NSA (and other U.S. intelligence outfits) are sweeping up global data in part via the just-revealed Prism and other surveillance programs.

Sometimes, naming practices are revealing in themselves, and the National Security Agency’s key data mining tool, capable in March 2013 of gathering “97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide,” has been named “boundless informant.” If you want a sense of where the U.S. Intelligence Community imagines itself going, you couldn’t ask for a better hint than that word “boundless.” It seems that for our spooks, there are, conceptually speaking, no limits left on this planet.

How the NSA is Just Like Wall Street, by Robert Reich,

It is rare in these harshly partisan times for the political left and right to agree on much of anything. But the reason, I think, both are worried about the encroachments of the NSA on the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, as well as the depredations of “too big to fail or jail” Wall Street banks on our economy, is fundamentally the same: It is this toxic combination of inordinate power and lack of accountability that renders both of them dangerous, threatening our basic values and institutions.

Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance, by Moxie Marlinspike, WIRED

Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?

Is Edward Snowden a Hero? A Debate with Journalist Chris Hedges and Law Scholar Geoffrey Stone, Democracy Now.

What we’re really having a debate about is whether or not we’re going to have a free press left or not. If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press.

How Spy Agency Contractors Have Already Abused Their Power, by Lee Fang, The Nation

Could the sprawling surveillance state enable government or its legion of private contractors to abuse their technology and spy upon domestic political targets or judges?

This is not a far off possibility. Two years ago, a batch of stolen e-mails revealed a plot by a set of three defense contractors (Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal) to target activists, reporters, labor unions and political organizations. The plans— one concocted in concert with lawyers for the US Chamber of Commerce to sabotage left-leaning critics, like the Center for American Progress and the SEIU, and a separate proposal to “combat” WikiLeaks and its supporters, including Glenn Greenwald, on behalf of Bank of America— fell apart after reports of their existence were published online. But the episode serves as a reminder that the expanding spy industry could use its government-backed cybertools to harm ordinary Americans and political dissident groups.

How the Spy Story of the Age Leaked Out, by Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian

On Sunday night, Snowden gave the last of what had been almost a week’s worth of interviews. It was his final night in that hotel room: the final night before his old life gave way to a new and uncertain one. He sat on his bed, arms folded, television news on without the sound, and spoke about the debate he had started, homing in on a comment Obama had made on Friday, in response to the leaks.

You can’t have 100% security and then also have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience,” the president said. Society had to make choices, he added.

Snowden challenged this, saying the problem was that the Obama administration had denied society the chance to have that discussion. He disputed that there had to be a trade-off between security and privacy, describing the very idea of a trade-off as a fundamental assault on the US constitution.

In what were to be the last words of the interview, he quoted Benjamin Franklin: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.

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