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Saturday, June 15, 2013

NSA: The Real Question

There has been a lot of hysteria over the recent revelations about secret NSA programs. Some of the most frantic protests from the more libertarian and technically minded organizations on the web have suggested that the NSA programs are illegal. Unfortunately, much of the sentiment behind these protests are missing the real question.

We know that the government and police are allowed to spy on citizens if there is good enough cause. The classic example are phone wiretaps performed under warrant. Few people are against these legal, law enforcement tools. And few people would be against similar means on electronic communication, such as e-mail.

Unlike phone taps, which requires a technician to fiddle directly with wires, technology makes spying on individuals very easy in the internet age. This is good in some ways, because it makes the government's job easier, and we want government to be efficient. It is also bad in other ways, because if spying is so trivial, it becomes more open to potential abuse.

For example, consider the subject of PRISM. If the current descriptions are true, the PRISM project is of breathtaking scope. That said, has anyone found any evidence that information from PRISM has been used illegally to harass any citizen? Anything at all?

I personally want the NSA to work as effectively as possible, and use the latest technology to perform it's duty. The real question we should be asking is not some much how the NSA collects information, but what administrative and legal controls are used to access that information. If those administrative controls are found lacking, then they should be fixed. Otherwise, let the government do its job.

Posted at: 5:13 PM (Edited: June 15, 2013, 7:18 PM)
Categories: Science and Policy