Why sinfulness should make us wary of NSA surveillance

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

June 20, 2013

Thanks, Bethany, for a thoughtful approach to a politically charged subject. I had never really given any thought to the impact on those on the outskirts of society and I think you raise a really important point on that issue.


I would be curious to know your answer to two questions:
-Given the sensitive nature of the data, what kind of checks and balances could you envision? Would the public have to be aware of them?
-Would there be a point (a certain number of foiled plots, perhaps) where you would consider this a necessity?

I think one of the major dangers that you touch on briefly is the idea that with incomplete data we (both as individuals and as a system) cannot be sure of the validity of the threat. Our legal system, including a jury of peers, is in place in part to protect the rights of those accused and to ensure due process. How many of the 'foiled terror plots' were given due process? How many were 'foiled' by way of drones? This should give us pause.

Esther Aspling
June 20, 2013

I really appreciate this thought out view on this program. I have a totally different perspective on why I don't care about it for myself, but this is really thought provoking on its implications for people on the fringe.


June 20, 2013

Thanks for your comment, Kory. I share your concerns about due process, and I think that's part of my answer to your first question. At the least, I'd like some kind of judicial review.
I can understand a need for secrecy, but I also think the onus is on the NSA to defend why we need it, to someone whose only obligation is to defend the rights of citizens. I wouldn't need to know the details if I knew there was somebody responsible for those details who was trustworthy (a tricky qualification to get Americans to agree on, I realize).
I don't know that I would ever consider this level of surveillance necessary. Someone would have to make a better argument than a vague appeal to "safety" and "terrorism" to persuade me, certainly.

June 20, 2013

Good job bringing these points out, Bethany. When you mentioned Solove and wrote "sometimes partial data can make an innocent person look guilty", I immediately thought of Proverbs 18:8 - "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts." Partial data, like gossip, leads to more than making someone look guilty. It can ruin their life.


June 20, 2013

If you're going on the notion that all people are sinful and thus even the "good guys" can do the wrong thing. Then what good would checks and balances do with the same people who are sinful?

I mean I guess you could argue that if you have enough eyes, or layers or levels then someone will catch something at some point. But Im saying unless you change the entire Democratic system and environment, if people in our govt, want to spy, they will. And Im ok with that.

Im not saying don't have checks and balances, Im just saying its not the easy.

Additionally, I'll admit, Im not all that worried about spying. The story broke and people acted surprised. I mean seriously, what world do you live in. There are and have been traffic cams, weather satellites and CCTV in use for many decades. We are going to get spied on, there is no way around it. You can shut down PRISM or whatever but a person only need access some network and boom. So if you want spying gone you would have to systematically eradicate all camera networks or find perfect people. None of which is going to happen.

We will get spied on and I have no doubts that PRISM is but one program among a slurry of others that you don't know about that are spying on us and everyone else they can. Im not committing crimes, so why do I care? Let them spy on me. Bad people could use partial data but there would have to be enough partial data that is already bad to put some puzzle together. I think the fringe elements that are too concerned are like people who live in a movie. Unless they go all Jason Bourne on the government there is little concern and the government or its agents have little vendetta to be raised. The average person is no threat to the agents doing the spying so they will live a perfectly healthy normal life being spied on all the time. It what it is. There are more concerns to worry about then this. At least in my opinion.

Also, and I think you tried to say this in your article without saying it, but Liberty and Security are not mutually exclusive. Too many people think they are.

Add your comment to join the discussion!