Thursday, June 13, 2013

Snowden, Dissent and Dissonance

I have been asked several times over the last few days what I think about the National Security Agency disclosures by Edward Snowden.

First, nothing that Snowden disclosed surprised me with regard to our capabilities.  I always thought that we had to have the capability to easily access phone calls, records, emails and the like as part of our    national security apparatus.

That capability has to be very close to real time if it is going to be useful as well.  Therefore, there is logic to having the key to get in to this information if it is necessary on short notice.

The real question is not that we have the capability but how is it being used?  It is one thing to have the key to your neighbor's house in case any thing goes wrong while they are on vacation.  It is something else altogether if you use it for indiscriminate snooping when there is no reason to enter their house.

That is the unanswered question here.  How was the access being used?  What were the safeguards?  Was the NSA working with the judicial system or other independent overseer to insure that the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures of a citizen was not being violated?  

The reason that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was important in the adoption of the Constitution among the several states was that those living in the colonies under the rule of the King of England were often subject to raids and searches of their residences based on general warrants.  In effect, these were open-ended "fishing" expeditions where no specifics by name or place were given in the warrant.  It basically gave carte blanche for the law officers to do almost anything under very general legal language.

The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights that was enacted in 1780 (written by John Adams) and enacted as part of the Massachusetts Constitution was the basis for the Fourth Amendment and it made clear there needed to be both specificity to the search warrant and that they also must be reasonable.

Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right, if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation; and if the order in the warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons, or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure: and no warrant ought to be issued but in cases, and with the formalities, prescribed by the laws. Wikipedia citing Mass. Const. pt. 1, art XIV
 Therefore, at this point, until I know more, I don't know what to think.

Second, is Snowden a hero or villain?  I am not sure of this either at this point but it is clear that he should be arrested and charged as a criminal.  He appears to have violated the laws of this country.  He certainly violated the terms of his employment and his security clearance with Booz Allen and the government.  He should be tried so that his fellow citizens can determine his guilt or innocence.

If he believed that what the NSA was doing was wrongful there were many avenues he could have taken short of going to the press to air his grievances.   You can be a dissenter but you don't have to destroy our security infrastructure at the same time.

In addition, it is one thing to be a whistleblower and it is something altogether to commit treason against  your country.  Mr. Snowden's actions in the last two days regarding his comments about United States intelligence operations directed at China is not whistleblowing.  If Mr. Snowden wants to be viewed as a hero that did not help his cause.

Finally, I always find it interesting in looking at issues like this to see the reaction of people based on their politics.

I remember a few years back when George W. Bush was in office that even the use of NSA monitoring of foreign phone calls of suspected terrorists to the U.S. was being criticized by Democrats as a vast overreach and an affront to American values.

Who was the leading Democrat making that charge?  Barack Obama.

Watch this debate between Candidate Barack Obama and President Obama on this issue.  Are you confused?  I sure am.

It is also interesting to look at poll data on this issue.  This is a poll by Pew Research that compares the public's views on the NSA surveillance program in 2006 (Bush Presidency) and 2013 (Obama Presidency).

Overall, 51% stated that they believed that the NSA surveillance program was acceptable in 2006 and 56% were on board with the program in 2013.  However, what is really interesting is the partisan split.

Note that 75% of Republicans found the NSA surveillance program acceptable under Bush but only 52% were fine with it under Obama.  At the same time, only 37% of Democrats were with the Bush Administration on this but 64% think it is just fine with Obama.  Independents might give a better perspective on overall attitudes with 45% on board with Bush but only 38% supporting the Obama NSA policy.

This poll data demonstrates a basic principle of behavioral science called cognitive dissonance.  Most people tend to only reference those perspectives that support their pre-existing views while dismissing facts and opinions that threaten their world view.  No one is immune.  However, reading BeeLine should assist you in building up cognitive consonance in which you have a belief system founded on facts, values and knowledge that is internally and intellectually consistent.

President Obama, for one, apparently has yet to find that consonance.  Perhaps I need the NSA to send him an email with a link to BeeLine?

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