Would you like to know Edward Snowden’s main beef against the NSA’s bulk collection of (everyone’s) data? Here it is–in two points–as delivered during his live Q&A last Thursday. And, I must say, I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s the original question followed by Snowden’s response.
What’s the worst and most realistic harm from bulk collection of data?
The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.
The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.
I would add that–in order to understand this second point–it’s essential to have a grasp of human nature throughout recorded history. See the Bible (The heart is deceitful above all things (Yes, your heart.), and desperately wicked: who can know it? – Jeremiah 17:9) and films by Alfred Hitchcock (Good people are quite capable of doing bad things.). If you still don’t get it–listen up Rep. Peter King–It’s not a question of if NSA metadata will be abused, it’s simply a question of when.
UPDATE: Think “retroactive investigation” sounds far fetched? It was already revealed last summer by Reuters that the Drug Enforcement Administration is covering up its relationship with the NSA by training federal agents to retroactively recreate investigative trails (A fancy way of saying “lying.”) in order to conceal leads they get from the NSA.