How dare you use available info to fight terrorism?
by Susan Estrich
Columnist
June 25, 2013 11:47 PM | 791 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I have no problem with the news sites recommending stories to me, or the shopping sites figuring I’m good for another look at those size-41 shoes. I have no problem with someone using my supposedly “private” information to sell me more and target me for whatever they know I’m interested in. But I have to draw the line.

And isn’t the right place to draw the line with the guys who want to use that information to fight terrorism and save our lives?

The NSA. I don’t mind if (fill in the blank) is keeping an eye on me, but turning information over to the government to fight terrorism? How dare they? Betrayal.

And by the way, what was an IT guy doing with access? There’s a conspiracy. I mean, I never call IT and say I need help, do you?

Oh, I understand the argument that a man like Edward Snowden, who risks everything to expose what he and significant numbers of others believe to be an exercise of government overreaching that threatens the very core of the Constitution, should be celebrated as Daniel Ellsberg (“Pentagon Papers”) was and not hunted as a criminal. I hear you.

I just don’t buy it.

For one thing, if this is the core of the Constitution, we have a problem — because it already isn’t private. Truth be told, almost nothing about any of us is private. I tell that to young people applying for jobs all the time. So worry about how it gets used and by whom, and not whether it’s “out” there. It’s everywhere. Think before you post. How many politicians have learned that the hard way? Don’t hit send. Even generals get that wrong.

As for the idea that the government’s looking (“Big Brother”) is worse than anybody else looking, the old-fashioned view that the greatest threat is a government that gets too powerful, I have to say: I think al-Qaida is a much bigger threat to us than anything that would be done under the watch of an Obama or a Bush or a (you fill in the blank) administration. Yes, even Dick Cheney.

Actually, other than this IT guy getting access — and like I said, I never call IT, but lots of other people seem to, and they want things fixed when there are bugs (I’m sure the NSA is already working on that bug) — I was actually impressed by the reports that said he had broader access than an analyst, and that analysts would need a reason to see particular data, and that if they accessed it without such a basis, they’d get fired. How many private companies have that rule?

Ellsberg released information that helped prove the government was not being honest about the Vietnam War, a conflict that was claiming more American lives every day. We say constitutional analysis should be “content neutral,” but check out our checkered history, and you’ll confirm that it isn’t. Ellsberg saved lives. It has always mattered. It also has always mattered how afraid we are, and sometimes it’s mattered too much, which is where that annoying grownup idea of balance comes in.

After the Boston Marathon, there was a lot of hand-wringing about the fact that one of the (alleged) killers had indeed been on an FBI watch list at one point, but we lost track of him because there are only so many people you can follow at once. Exactly.

Hopefully, we are paying attention to the right ones, to the most dangerous ones, to the ones who would plant a bomb among runners and children on a day of high spirits and celebration.

And how do we go about doing that, Mr. Snowden?

Susan Estrich is a law professor in California.

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