I’m usually with Glenn Greenwald on a variety of issues, but this latest post about the failure of the USA Freedom Act to pas makes absolutely no sense to me:
There were some mildly positive provisions in the USA Freedom Act: the placement of “public advocates” at the FISA court to contest the claims of the government; the prohibition on the NSA holding Americans’ phone records, requiring instead that they obtain FISA court approval before seeking specific records from the telecoms (which already hold those records for at least 18 months); and reducing the agency’s “contact chaining” analysis from three hops to two. One could reasonably argue (as the ACLU and EFF did) that, though woefully inadequate, the bill was a net-positive as a first step toward real reform, but one could also reasonably argue, as Marcy Wheeler has with characteristic insight, that the bill is so larded with ambiguities and fundamental inadequacies that it would forestall better options and advocates for real reform should thus root for its defeat.
When pro-privacy members of Congress first unveiled the bill many months ago, it was actually a good bill: real reform. But the White House worked very hard— in partnership with the House GOP—to water that bill down so severely that what the House ended up passing over the summer did more to strengthen the NSA than rein it in, which caused even the ACLU and EFF to withdraw their support. The Senate bill rejected last night was basically a middle ground between that original, good bill and the anti-reform bill passed by the House.
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All of that illustrates what is, to me, the most important point from all of this: the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the U.S. government is . . . the U.S. government. Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power, and that’s particularly true of empires.
Here in the US of A, where you have Senators and Congresscritters bought and owned by various entities, all you are ever going to get is mildly positive. Mildly positive is a win when it comes to Congress, and incrementalism is the only way anything major ever happens in the United States. Mildly positive is the basic premise of the ACA, which I think we all would agree has been a GOOD thing. So no, even though the bill goes nowhere near far enough, I’d rather a couple slices of bread than none because I couldn’t have the whole loaf.
Second, if we don’t turn to government to reform government, we might as well just give up. Glenn lists several options where real reform can happen:
1) Individuals refusing to use internet services that compromise their privacy.
Na ga ha pen. Sure, you might have a few people out there who will be able to go off the grid yet maintain connected to the intertrons, but this is such an unviable option I’m not going to give it any more thought.
2) Other countries taking action against U.S. hegemony over the internet.
We’ll wait and see, although I am of the opinion that many of the repercussions listed (denial of the Boeing contract, etc.) were just opportunism using NSA surveilance as a pretext. Regardless, no matter what happens, surveillance will still occur. Maybe not to the same scale, but it will happen.
U.S. court proceedings.
That is the U.S. government. And when things are overturned, lawmakers (also the government, btw) will create legislation to work around the ruling to do what they wanted to do (and by proxy, what the American people apparently voted them into office to do). Glenn notes he has little faith in SCOTUS, and given their behavior in the drug war, he shouldn’t, so I’m not really sure how this is an option or even worth considering.
Greater individual demand for, and use of, encryption.
Again, this may work for sophisticated users, but the average person is not a sophisticated user. Hell, I know how to use pgp encryption with gmail, but I don’t. Why? Because no one I email knows how to use it or cares to do so.
All in all, this column makes no sense to me. If you want to rein in the surveillance state, you fight for every single scrap you can get, and then you fight for more.