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S. 754 / H.R. 2029

Privacy and Control: CISA

CISA was reintroduced and passed -- secretly buried in a 2000 page budget bill.

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It Matters to You

If you have nothing to hide, should you worry that NSA gathers all electronic communication?


by Danah Boyd, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research & an academic at NYU and Harvard Law, reprinted with permission from Zephoria.org.

Inside nsa cc

"Innocent until proven guilty”...puts the burden on the powerful entity to prove that someone has done something wrong.

Every April, I try to wade through mounds of paperwork to file my taxes. Like most Americans, I’m trying to follow the law and pay all of the taxes that I owe without getting screwed in the process. I try and make sure that every donation I made is backed by proof, every deduction is backed by logic and documentation that I’ll be able to make sense of seven years. Because, like many Americans, I completely and utterly dread the idea of being audited. Not because I’ve done anything wrong, but the exact opposite. I know that I’m filing my taxes to the best of my ability and yet, I also know that if I became a target of interest from the IRS, they’d inevitably find some checkbox I forgot to check or some subtle miscalculation that I didn’t see. And so what makes an audit intimidating and scary is not because I have something to hide but because proving oneself to be innocent takes time, money, effort, and emotional grit.

Sadly, I’m getting to experience this right now as Massachusetts refuses to believe that I moved to New York mid-last-year. It’s mindblowing how hard it is to summon up the paperwork that “proves” to them that I’m telling the truth. When it was discovered that Verizon (and presumably other carriers) was giving metadata to government officials, my first thought was: wouldn’t it be nice if the government would use that metadata to actually confirm that I was in NYC not Massachusetts. But that’s the funny thing about how data is used by our current government. It’s used to create suspicion, not to confirm innocence.

The frameworks of “innocent until proven guilty” and “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” are really really important to civil liberties, even if they mean that some criminals get away. These frameworks put the burden on the powerful entity to prove that someone has done something wrong. Because it’s actually pretty easy to generate suspicion, even when someone is wholly innocent. And still, even with this protection, innocent people are sentenced to jail and even given the death penalty. Because if someone has a vested interest in you being guilty, it’s not impossible to paint that portrait, especially if you have enough data.

It’s disturbing to me how often I watch as someone’s likeness is constructed in ways that contorts the image of who they are. This doesn’t require a high-stakes political issue. This is playground stuff. In the world of bullying, I’m astonished at how often schools misinterpret situations and activities to construct narratives of perpetrators and victims. Teens get really frustrated when they’re positioned as perpetrators, especially when they feel as though they’ve done nothing wrong. Once the stakes get higher, all hell breaks loose. In “Sticks and Stones”, Emily Bazelon details how media and legal involvement in bullying cases means that they often spin out of control, such as they did in South Hadley. I’m still bothered by the conviction of Dharun Ravi in the highly publicized death of Tyler Clementi. What happens when people are tarred and feathered as symbols for being imperfect?

Of course, it’s not just one’s own actions that can be used against one’s likeness. Guilt-through-association is a popular American pastime. Remember how the media used Billy Carter to embarrass Jimmy Carter? Of course, it doesn’t take the media or require an election cycle for these connections to be made. Throughout school, my little brother had to bear the brunt of teachers who despised me because I was a rather rebellious students. So when the Boston marathon bombing occurred, it didn’t surprise me that the media went hogwild looking for any connection to the suspects. Over and over again, I watched as the media took friendships and song lyrics out of context to try to cast the suspects as devils. By all accounts, it looks as though the brothers are guilty of what they are accused of, but that doesn’t make their friends and other siblings evil or justify the media’s decision to portray the whole lot in such a negative light.

So where does this get us? People often feel immune from state surveillance because they’ve done nothing wrong. This rhetoric is perpetuated on American TV. And yet the same media who tells them they have nothing to fear will turn on them if they happen to be in close contact with someone who is of interest to – or if they themselves are the subject of – state interest. And it’s not just about now, but it’s about always.

And here’s where the implications are particularly devastating when we think about how inequality, racism, and religious intolerance play out. As a society, we generate suspicion of others who aren’t like us, particularly when we believe that we’re always under threat from some outside force. And so the more that we live in doubt of other people’s innocence, the more that we will self-segregate. And if we’re likely to believe that people who aren’t like us are inherently suspect, we won’t try to bridge those gaps. This creates societal ruptures and undermines any ability to create a meaningful republic. And it reinforces any desire to spy on the “other” in the hopes of finding something that justifies such an approach. But, like I said, it doesn’t take much to make someone appear suspect.

In many ways, the NSA situation that’s unfolding in front of our eyes is raising a question that is critical to the construction of our society. These issues cannot be washed away by declaring personal innocence. A surveillance state will produce more suspect individuals. What’s at stake has to do with how power is employed, by whom, and in what circumstances. It’s about questioning whether or not we still believe in checks and balances to power. And it’s about questioning whether or not we’re OK with continue to move towards a system that presumes entire classes and networks of people as suspect. Regardless of whether or not you’re in one of those classes or networks, are you OK with that being standard fare? Because what is implied in that question is a much uglier one: Is your perception of your safety worth the marginalization of other people who don’t have your privilege?




Comments






Dave
CO
13 Jun 2013
at 09:46AM

Excellent points. In our complacency, most of us take little notice of NSA snooping. It's not until they have pushed past the current line to create a new standard. Where does it end?

Josh
UT
13 Jun 2013
at 09:50AM

This article led me to other writings of Ms Boyd through the byline links above. Couple more insights she writes: "I’m consistently amazed by how many Americans, who distrust the State’s 'socialist' agenda, are fully supportive of any effort by the State to protect citizens from 'terrorists' and other perceived miscreants. All too often, this is often cloaked in prejudicial language, focused on a narrative of 'them.'" And "When people view the State – or its military – as being a source of good to protect the populace from evil, they’re often willing to accept that actions will be taken to enhance security that may result in surveillance. They don’t necessarily see this as a trade-off between civil liberties and security because they don’t think that they’ll feel any restriction on *their* civil liberties. "

Eric
AZ
13 Jun 2013
at 03:01PM

I think it's human nature to take for granted things that one has always had like the freedoms we've enjoyed in this country...unfortunately once these freedoms are lost I fear they won't be easy to restore.

Alexis
CA
13 Jun 2013
at 05:27PM

Please help STOP the amnesty law NOW!! Aren't you slightly concerned that Boehner & Rubio are embracing the same law that Harry Reid and Obama are pushing SO HARD? Harry Reid is determined to push this law through by July 4th!! WHY?...Hmmm remember Obama Care?? PLEASE get the ball rolling. There is a conference and demonstration backlash next Wednesday headed by King, Gomert & Bachman along with 70 congressional members risking their careers to stop this legislation long enough to give it the fair DEBATE it needs to investigate what is really behind it. We NEED TO SUPPORT THESE PEOPLE!!

Josh
UT
14 Jun 2013
at 08:38AM

Alexis, your addressing the immigration bill here under the surveillance article made me realize how intertwined the PRISM issue is with the fight against the national card and database. Really the national database adds another level of "legality," cohesion, and permanence to what has been going on. So the fight is over we will roll back or entrench these encroachments. You mention the teamwork between Boehner and Reid. Do you think they are sincere but confused, altered by money (what money is behind this?), or see the two sides as not so different anymore? A lot of people had been calling for bi-partisanship, and indeed Immigration is a complex issue in need of solutions, but now it doesn't look so pretty with the early attempts to push through with only days of public readings, and the rewording of the Biometric card changing the PR but not the reality.


We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

- George Orwell




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