In a speech to GEOINT (which includes the use of satellites, UAVs, and recon aircraft), Donald Kerr, the US’ principal deputy director of national intelligence:
Safety and privacy – it’s common thinking that, in order to have more safety, you get less privacy. I don’t agree with that. I work from the assumption that you need to have both… That’s of course a very hard thing to convince people of. Movies like “The Enemy of the State” and “The Good Shepherd” have poisoned the well of public opinion in some ways, and make people think we focus on safety mainly for governmental activities to the exclusion of all else. My takeaway message for today: We’re not. You can – and we do – have both.
Safety and privacy? Wow, how do we get both? You’re not going to change the definition of privacy, are you?
Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture… But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past… We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment. Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured.
I was taken by a thing that happened to me at the FBI, where I also had electronic surveillance as part of my responsibility. And people were very concerned that the ability to intercept emails was coming into play. And they were saying, well, we just can’t have federal employees able to touch our message traffic… but they were perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an ISP who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data. It struck me as an anomalous situation.
(Source: Remarks and Q&A)
(See also: Associated Press: Definition Changing for People’s Privacy, and discussion on Slashdot)
In other words, privacy means the government doesn’t tell people what it knows about you. But, what are the limits on what information the government can collect – and what can it collect without a warrant? Apparently, quite a bit – that’s the message from other actions the US has taken (see below). This isn’t the East German Stasi talking here.
Not surprisingly, Kerr invoked all kinds of tragedies to justify this “new definition” of privacy. Specifically, he mentions: attacks on the Kenya and Tanzania embassies where he “first experienced the smell of decaying human remains on a large scale”, Osama bin Laden, USS Cole, 9/11, truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beiruit, etc
Remember the days when Republicans were big on keeping government out of our lives? Anymore, it seems Republicans’ primary occupation is fighting the culture war, and teaching people to hate Democrats.
In related news:
The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco.
Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.
While I happen to think Bush sees the constitution and other checks and balances as unnecessary encumbrances to getting stuff done, it’s really not a question of whether the US government under George Bush can be trusted with all this information – the question is whether all future intelligence agencies and administrations (for the next X generations) can be trusted with information – because you know they aren’t going to voluntarily give-up these capabilities. Heck, most of this stuff was done under cover to begin with. At the very least, the number of times the US government (including Bush) has used or attempted to use intelligence to for political purposes should give one pause.