Several readers express their distrust of the government:
There is a key distinction that has not been raised. As some readers have mentioned, we give up personal data to Internet companies. This is the trade-off we all make for using the Internet. While some companies are able to track and profile your usage, you can somewhat control your tracking preferences.
The government, on the other hand, apparently has access to not only your Internet usage (or metadata) but also other metadata (e.g. phone calls), and the ability to tie it all together – more so than any private company. The government also has the power to investigate, subpoena records, arrest, interrogate and generally make someone’s life pretty miserable. Which is fine by me if there is a high degree of confidence that the government pursues only bad guys.
Without getting into a discussion of slippery slopes and what may happen if low-level bureaucrats start playing with readily available data, my main concerns are regarding:
1) the standard that must be met before a specific individual is targeted and 2) the recourse available to a person who is incorrectly targeted. On #1 it’s not clear how much rigor is applied by FISA judges, and on #2 who knows what one can do.
James Fallows has a series of recent posts about private pilots being harassed because they apparently fit some profile. And I’m sure you’ve heard (and perhaps even written) of people who have mistakenly been put on the TSA’s do-not-fly list, and have no way of getting off the list.
For me the real issue is about transparency, and knowing the rules. There’s obviously a trade-off between privacy and security imperatives – this is a discussion we should be having in the country. I’m not sure our elected representatives are having it on our behalf. Or if they are, they can’t tell us what they’ve discussed because it’s all secret.
Another is on the same page:
Of course I trust corporations more than my government. Corporations cannot have me followed. Corporations cannot arrest me. Corporations cannot send an armed SWAT team into my home. The US government can do all that. And the US government has an ugly history of doing that. It’s been a few decades since COINTELPRO was shut down, but it seems entirely likely that the FBI would do it again if they could. We should not risk the FBI using PRISM to monitor dissidents by labeling their surveillance targets as terrorists the way they did with occupy protestors. We should not risk police forces like those in New York and Chicago getting access to a system like PRISM for monitoring the local mosques or plot against future Fred Hamptons. Our government has a long history of abusing its powers.
To prevent abuse of PRISM, we need to shut it down now, before it falls into the hands of a government likely to use it for very bad acts. There will be future Lyndon Johnsons and Richard Nixons. We should not make it easier for them to abuse those who elect them.
The consequences of my information being in the hands of a corporation aren’t that severe. More likely than not, the primary effect on me is that I’m going to be served with targeted marketing. At the very, very worst, some of this data might have some conceivable impact on my credit score. As such, my concerns over the abuse of that data is fairly mild.
If the government misuses my data, however, the consequences could be dire. If I end up as a false positive on an NSA terrorist watch list, my life is now under suspicion and I have very little recourse to address that suspicion. Even if the only consequence is that I end up on a no-fly list, my life can experience serious disruptions and inconveniences. And, of course, we have no way of knowing what the NSA is actually doing with that information, so a certain degree of legitimate paranoia seems warranted.
With the NSA spying, you cannot opt-out. You can’t even know you are being targeted, and prior to Snowden’s decision, you can’t even know that a program exists that could target your supposedly secure communications and purchases! I think most would agree with me that you cannot declare opt-in situations to be the equivalent opt-out. They simply are not, and American citizens should realize that they are trading away a great deal of their freedoms for precious little security under this program.