By Nathan Barton
John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute addresses a serious situation we face in the next two weeks in his recent commentary via Laissez Faire). Here is the heart of his analysis:
As it now stands, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—the legal basis for two of the National Security Agency’s largest mass surveillance programs, “PRISM” and “Upstream”—is set to expire at the end of 2017.
“PRISM” lets the NSA access emails, video chats, instant messages, and other content sent via Facebook, Google, Apple and others. “Upstream” lets the NSA worm its way into the internet backbone—the cables and switches owned by private corporations like AT&T that make the internet into a global network—and scan traffic for the communications of tens of thousands of individuals labeled “targets.”
Section 702 has been used as an end-run around the Constitution to allow the government to collect the actual content of Americans’ emails, phone calls, text messages and other electronic communication without a warrant.
Under Section 702, the government collects and analyzes over 250 million internet communications every year. There are estimates that at least half of these contain information about U.S. residents, many of whom have done nothing wrong. [As if doing something “wrong” is a reason, without being tried and convicted, to steal away our God-given rights.] This information is then shared with law enforcement and “routinely used for purposes unrelated to national security.”
Mind you, Section 702 gives the government access to the very content of your conversations (phone calls, text messages, video chats), your photographs, your emails.[Do we have ANY privacy left? The answer is clearly NO! As the writer concludes:]
So beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing. Privacy, as we have known it, is dead.
What can we do? John in essence suggests two things (as does Laissez Faire and others who reposted his commentary).
The problem is, John just punts – he doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t been tried and failed, time and time again:
1. We can write our member of Congress and our senators: chances of that making a difference? I’ll be generous and say 1% chance of success.
2. We can continue to fight the privacy fight (or run the privacy face, if you prefer) by finding or developing and using more and more forms of encryption and try to keep ahead of the threat from government. Chance of THAT making a difference? Perhaps 10% – provided we are diligent and never lose focus. (But sooner or later, merely USING those methods will be outlawed, just as radar detectors have been in so many places.)
So let me propose something else: We can take away the power of government to enforce anything that they pass or try to pass – in essence making them irrelevant to our daily lives. How can we do this? First, immediately, we can:
a. practice civil disobedience, including refusal by those (police, bureaucrats, etc.) who are supposed to provide and use this information. Remember that those low-level operatives are just as subject to the Surveillance State as the rest of us, but without them doing the work, it can not function properly. I am not saying that they should quit – or even that they sabotage the system. Just “refuse” or “forget” or “misunderstand” a few actions, a few items, a few regs. It worked on the government of Canada regarding the enhanced gun registration they tried a few years ago. It worked in a dozen countries in Eastern Europe and even Asia as the Soviets (and often, their successors) crumbled. It can happen here. But even private citizens can practice civil disobedience in this matter, by refusing to participate actively in such surveillance, telling businesses and other organizations that you don’t want them playing the game (and when possible, refusing to do business with such collaborators), and refusing to use such techniques even when it means that we have to endure some inconvenience or even loss.
b. take active measures, including sabotage of surveillance systems, just as has been done with traffic camera (speed and signal light) systems in Arizona and elsewhere. But it must be much more than that. It means denying the raw data essential to be observed, monitored, and analyzed by the surveillance establishment. Another portion of that is hacking, to both erase and to corrupt the data. Sometimes it could be as simple as scrambling the photo of the license plate on a traffic camera, or changing the biometric data from surveillance cameras elsewhere. Sometimes it could involve wiping out the data itself, in wholesale lots. There are many ways of denying clear views of visual and electronic information: not all require destroying things.
c. making people aware of what is happening to them and their families and friends, and encouraging them to do something about it: refusing to cooperate, telling others, complaining to politicians, civil disobedience, and active measures. This may require both setting an example for them, and being willing to take the risk of approaching and “proselytizing” people – even (or especially) people in key locations: government, ISPs, utilities, and other service providers. Again, very recently we have seen that such things ARE possible: even six months ago, people were willing to let the powers-that-be in Hollywood, sports, and politics get away with sexual predation. But now, whatever the reason, more and more are being called to account and even forced out of power or denied power.
The attack on our privacy IS an attack on our liberty. It is government and other institutions (schools and major corporations, to name two) watching and controlling – directly or indirectly – what we can do and what we are prevented from doing.
In the long term, we must take away the power of government – even when that power is supposedly used to protect us and give us what we need. It is more than just shining the light on the scurrying rodents and insects that the police and surveillance state smell so strongly of. It is more than just keeping them from accomplishing their goals. It is more than just refusing to cooperate. It requires taking action not just to defend ourselves against those who would be (and all too often ARE) our masters. It requires taking action against them, responding to their violence and threats and actions in kind.
That response, even in kind, may take many forms: our reaction to attack must be proportional to the violence and means used against us, and we must keep in mind that it is hearts and minds, not bodies and weapons, that must be seized. We can (and often, if not usually, should) respond to violence without violence, or with a lesser level. We can respond to theft not just by stealing back, but by denying them the enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains.
But it is important to realize what does NOT work – or works so seldom and incompletely that it is a waste of time and other valuable resources. Protests, demonstrations, doomed political campaigns (either for people or for issues), together with petitions (letters and calls), and simply trying to take passive protective measures (more locks, stronger doors, bars on windows, encryption, etc.) can delay but not defeat powerful enemies. Nor does it accomplish much to just blunt their spearhead, or even break the staff. We must make it unbearable for their minions to even hold the spear. Ultimately, as even Mao admitted, it is a matter of winning hearts and minds.
We’ve failed to do that so far, and I expect that we will fail to do that before the end of the year and the permanent FISA 702 reauthorization that John Whitehead warns us about. But that, though a lost battle, is JUST one battle. The war continues. We can win.