Wired (and practically everyone else tech-related on the internet) posted a story yesterday reminding us of the degree to which the feds leaned on companies to cooperate with the PRISM program. You remember PRISM, don’t you? That’s the tool the NSA uses to gather all e-mail metadata from every major provider in the U.S. It’s a mother of a dragnet. It’s precisely the sort of thing I was talking about in yesterday’s post (Allergies). All three branches of the federal government determined that this kind of warrantless, secret data collection was perfectly legal because, you know, terrorism! The executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the supposed checks and balances, agreed that this data collection should be kept secret and even attempts to fight against it were to remain hidden.
If that’s not an immune system overreacting in an inappropriate and self-destructive fashion…well, I don’t have to come up with a conditional because that’s exactly what it is. My favorite bit from the Wired article comes at the end:
As for Yahoo’s concern that the request was too broad and opened the possibility for potential abuse, the judges wrote that the company had “presented no evidence of any actual harm, any egregious risk of error, or any broad potential for abuse in the circumstances of the instant case” and called Yahoo’s concerns “little more than a lament about the risk that government officials will not operate in good faith.”
To support their ruling, the judges wrote that the government “assures us that it does not maintain a database of incidentally collected information from non-targeted United States persons, and there is no evidence to the contrary.”
Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I’ll wait.
The good news is that President Obama seems to have recognized the fact that threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were a bit overblown:
To me the most notable thing looking back on 9/11 13 years later is how crystal clear it is now that it was an anomalous event and not, contrary to all the rhetoric of the time, the dawn of a new era of domestic terrorism. The fact that basically nothing analogous – meaning a domestic terror attack planned and executed by foreigners or local cells funded by Al Queda or like groups — has happened in the 13 years since is pretty incredible and unexpected. Perhaps more surprising still is that the only viable explanation for the dearth of attacks is that terrorists motivated to carry out attacks inside the United States do not exist.
(emphasis very much mine)
I could criticize the fact that he seems so surprised by this, but all in all, Obama seems to have a very reasonable, level-headed view of what 9/11 really meant.* I can only assume that this means he’ll call off all the secret surveillance, the mass e-mail gathering, the ridiculous arming of local police with military hardware, the torturing. I mean, doing otherwise would suggest that the whole point of racing towards a police state since 9/11 has been for reasons other than what we were told…and that’s just crazy, am I right?
* Rick Perry, on the other hand, seems to be struggling with the core concept, even with the benefit of hindsight.