Welcome Debate

I just played a pretty cool game on the iPad. What do you think of it?

Silly question, eh? First you have to know what the game was, so that you could go play it yourself. Only then could we have a meaningful conversation about the game in question.

Let’s try a different one:

What’s your opinion of the first draft of my fantasy novel?

I know you’ve never read it, but I’m looking for meaningful critique. I need to know where I’m messing up and where I’ve got things right. So I’m eager to hear your point of view.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? Not if you’re the government.

Since government collection of data is all over the news this week, I’m going to assume your Google Fu is sufficient to find the applicable news stories.

I wish this was a surprise. The disclosure of information – that was a surprise, of course. But the idea that the government might be looking closely at the online activities of its citizens? Sadly, no, that’s no great shock in post 9/11 land. Everyone’s a potential threat, so everyone has to get monitored, because we MUST be secure, at any cost. Or so goes the logic, it would seem.

In response to the leaked information and the explosion of the story in the news media, the current administration’s answer is that they “welcome debate on these challenging issues” or something similar.

Well, that’s great.

But you can’t debate what you don’t know about, so that’s a pretty empty statement. Sure, our elected Congressmen get to discuss it (at least some small number of them do), but again, we’ll never know what gets decided and what points are made or left unsaid.

Given some quotes by Congressmen about seemingly basic subjects (i.e. “Guam might capsize if we put too many Marines on it” and “women can shut down pregnancy from rape” and so on), let’s just say I’m not so sure that a good sensible discussion will take place. But I’ll never know, so now I’m even more unsettled about it.

I get why. If we have a public debate about the means we use to collect intelligence on possible threats to American interests, those people are going to change their tactics. Now we’ll have no information instead of whatever we might have gained, and they’ll still be just as committed to their efforts against us, with little to stand in their way. So we really can’t just call some town hall meetings to figure out what level and methods of intelligence collection John Q Public is going to approve.

And maybe to some extent it’s our fault as a nation. When any terror event happens, there’s an outcry asking why we didn’t see it coming, why we didn’t prevent it.

You can only do that with information, so you have to collect lots of information in the hopes of getting the little pieces of the puzzle that you need. But then you’re treating the average American like a potential terrorist, in the hopes of preventing potential terrorism.

CNN featured a blog that referred to this newest round of scandal. It included a quote about this dilemma from former Director of NSA Michael Hayden:

Hayden went on to chastise what he called the “political elites” who criticize the intelligence community for not doing enough, but as soon as they feel safe, “pontificate that we’re doing too much.”

Reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. “On the other side of that firewall are Chinese hackers looking to damage American interests and terrorists looking to kill American civilians. Someone needs to be watching your chat with your wife on Facebook… someone needs to be looking at every video posted to YouTube… someone needs to read through those e-mails. You want NSA on that firewall. You need NSA on that firewall. You go to sleep under the blanket of freedom they provide and then have the audacity to question the manner in which they provide it?”

Yeah, I guess we do.

I know very few people who trusted the government even a couple years ago. And then there’s all the Patriot Act style concessions, trading small liberties for a hoped-for but hard-to-prove increase in security. Plus there’s incompetence like Fast and Furious, followed by the appearance of political targeting of American citizens in the IRS scandal. Add to that the appropriation of phone records and such by the Department of Justice against reporters. And now this.

Is it government of the people, by the people, for the people? Or is it government of the potential terrorists, against the potential terrorists?

Uncle Sam is quickly becoming the creepy old man that I wouldn’t want anywhere near my kids. Too bad he has keys to all the locks on the house.

2 thoughts on “Welcome Debate”

  1. It’s like infidelity. The adulterous partner, once caught, can say, “Oh, well, I’m happy to tell you whatever you want to know, dear. Let’s talk about this.”

    It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? The trust is already shattered.

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