The NSA is not the same as GOOGLE: Five Words Spell it OutPosted: June 26, 2013
The recent disclosures about the NSA’s universal surveillance of domestic telephone and internet activity has generated considerable controversy, drawing supporters and opponents from both liberal and conservative members of the public, the media, and politicians. Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for the surveillance programs in the name of national security. Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed criticism of these programs in the name of the Fourth Amendment and other constitutional protections of privacy.
I’m inclined to avoid the distractions associated with the personalities involved: the leaker Edward Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald, the various legislators and government officials who have expressed judgments about Snowden’s actions, and opinions of the President’s trustworthiness compared to his predecessor and possible successors.
I prefer to focus on the meme that has been adopted by many complacent citizens, namely, that the NSA is not different from “Google,” which in this case is a metaphor for all of the corporations that have obtained private information about us and use it – if they choose – to keep track of our whereabouts and target us for advertising.
I have heard this meme recited frequently by liberal/progressive media personalities (the ones I mostly listen to). Unwilling to risk all of their credibility on their faith in the current president, they resort to the false equivalence between the NSA’s potential knowledge of the content of our communications and “Google’s” access to our private communications and personal data.
The above is not the example of carelessly misplaced trust that characterizes the facile acceptance of the evolving surveillance state on the part of some Obama apologists. It is a case of our tendency to overlook the small print only to later take umbrage at the results of the policy’s implementation. We can choose not to “sign” the agreement; we can forego the benefit that we seek from the business relationship. We can even attempt (although almost certainly with success) to negotiate terms and conditions that we consider more favorable to us. Furthermore, should we believe ourselves to be wronged, we have legal recourse in the form of arbitration or a lawsuit.
This is not at all the case with government surveillance. The only terms and conditions to which we can refer are classified and known only to certain members of the government and certain security contractors. In fact, we don’t know how these “terms and conditions” actually affect us. Their legal enforcement is under the supervision of a secret court where the government presents its case without the troublesome presence of opposing counsel. Barred from the corridors of power, separated from decision makers by a wall of silence, and shut out by massive doors of secrecy, citizens are asked to place their trust in wisdom and goodness of our leaders.
The only real commonality between the NSA and “Google” is the basis of their relationships to those affected by them: the US Constitution. The Constitution provides the framework for all laws governing commerce and it establishes the limits of the government’s power over citizens. The Constitution determines the scope of “Google’s” power over us as well as the NSA’s. Under the present circumstances, we can know – if we choose – the parameters of our relationship with “Google.” What we can know about our relationship to the NSA is cannot be revealed under the rules of those who have decided what the Constitution says about our freedoms.