Recent episodes of governmental surveillance have come to the forefront: PRISM, Google NSL court battle, Verizon NSA access, drones, and various other instances of Government overreach.
What are we to make of all this?
The chain of events will probably play out like this:
1) Press, citizens and civil rights groups will have utter consternation over recent revelations
2) Government will claim its activities were done in the interest of national security
3) Sides will form; The privacy camp vs. The national security camp, thus leading to a false dichotomy: Either we have privacy and suffer terror attacks, or we have no terror attacks and no privacy
4) If the issue is “hot-button” enough, hasty congressional action will likely follow the national debate.
Any sort of discussion that happens around the issue of surveillance needs to happen in an emotionless vacuum. The conversation should be devoid of subjectivity, and irrationality. Too often, hasty legislation is passed or at least promoted after significant national events; 9/11, Newtown (to name a couple). And too often, legislation grants undue, concentrated power to a person/entity/branch of government that almost always overreaches. When the layer of emotional fog has been lifted after an event, the post-event legislation that was passed appears to be a pendulum that has swung too far in the opposite direction.
My personal prescription here: Respect frameworks, guidelines and process. Employ them at all costs. Times change, and people come and go, so without checks and balances, we are at the whim of subjectivity, both from the concentrated power of men, and visceral national sentiment. Checks and balances are the only backstops against hasty, irrational, and emotional actions. My common sense is not your common sense is not his common sense. Set frameworks and processes.
Government is a tricky animal. At its most basic level, government is a monopoly on force in a given geographic area. Because it is monopolistic, government is most prone to abuses of power. Thus it is most vital in the arena of government to have a framework that checks power at every turn. Legislation that grants a unique and unilateral power to a government agency is likely not a good thing.
I don’t want people to die in terror attacks, nor do I want to be spied on. These issues are navigable, provided the debate occurs without emotion injected into it. At all costs, respect frameworks, and set guidelines. People can make and miss field goals from different lengths and angles, but the goal posts should never move. Set a firm, and binding process.