Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In the Presence of Indifference....

So now the loose talk starts, and Edward Snowden is either a hero or a traitor.

Well, here's the definition of treason:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
Now, the revelation of PRISM and the FISA order regarding Verizon's records is not, exactly, a revelation:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
That was in 2006.  I don't remember anyone being called a traitor for revealing that information.  I also don't remember too many people being too terribly appalled, either.*

Just this morning NPR interviewed James Bamford, who has written extensively about the NSA.  Is he a traitor?  He discussed the building the NSA is erecting in Utah, simply to store the massive amount of data it is collecting.   Bamford points out we can store a terabyte in a very small space, yet the NSA building will cover 1.5 million square feet.  And it is, by the way, "Top Secret."

Kinda the way James Bond is a "secret agent."

So why isn't James Bamford's interview this morning an act of treason?  Seriously.  He didn't reveal the PRISM program, but he did tell us what I've known for decades: that NSA is collecting electronic communications information, and has been doing so since it was established.  If it is giving comfort to our enemies in time of war to reveal that, then the number of traitors at large in the country is almost uncountable.  There was, after all, a time when the NSA's existence wasn't even acknowledged; when it truly was a "secret" agency.  At what point to discussions about it's practices become treasonous?

Edward Snowden clearly violated national security law.  He clearly revealed information that could lead to his criminal prosecution, perhaps even his conviction and imprisonment.  But treason?

By the way, if we take Edward Snowden at his word, he was making $200,000 a year working for a private contractor as, essentially, a government employee.**  An income that affords him enough money to flee to Hong Kong and hide out there.  Had he actually been a government employee, he probably couldn't afford the luxury of flight in quite the same way.  And he might well have been better vetted for the position he found himself in, and been less of a security risk.

Ironic, no?

Oh, and just because I've been meaning to say it, on the subject of privacy and e-mails.  I was informed, years ago now, never to put a student's grade in an e-mail.  I was made to understand this was because of Federal privacy laws.  The problem with e-mail is that anyone can read it.  The recipient, anyone with access to that in-box, anyone who gets it forwarded to them, etc.  Not the same thing as a personal letter which, presumably will be opened by the recipient and not just anybody at the point of delivery.  There is, you see, a reasonable expectation of privacy in personal mail that allows us to send confidential information that, yes, anyone could see (parents of college students are often surprised that their children are adults as far as the college is concerned, and so not entitled to information like grades.  At least, not entitled to it from the schools.)  But, by implication (if nothing else) there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in an e-mail.

This whole debate still comes down to expectations; and whether or not you trust the government to follow the laws it has; or should have.

*just to be tediously clear, in 2006 Qwest refused to cooperate with the NSA "because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants."  That's what the FISA court has been providing since that time, on a 90 day basis:  warrants for the search of the records.  It is, IOW, perfectly legal.  Should it be?  Aye, there's the rub. 

**or maybe he didn't:  

 Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, was an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013 for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.
 Which again calls into question Snowden's credibility; and we are back to who we believe in this story; and why.

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