It's been a month of new terms for a lot of Americans. Last month if you asked most of us what metadata was the most popular guess would have been stats about Lakers forward Metta World Peace?
And even today if you show the PRISM logo to most people they're more likely to guess Pink Floyd album.
Yesterday General Keith Alexander went up to Congress and testified that over 50 terrorist threats have been foiled using the metadata collection and PRISM program.
So that's all good right? Well not so fast my all trusting friend. As Wired Magazine reports;
The better understood the patterns of a particular group’s behavior, the more useful it is. This makes using metadata to identify lone-wolf Al Qaeda sympathizers (a tiny minority about whose social behavior relatively little is known) a lot harder than, say, rooting out Tea Partiers or Wall Street Occupiers.
But this info stopped 50 terrorist attacks! It may have helped stop 50 terrorist attacks, and there's already a huge debate about how much of a role it played and what actually can be called a terrorist attack. For example the 2009 arrest of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi. That case has been pretty much proven to have been all traditional police surveillance. Another plot they credit PRISM with thwarting was one where a Kansas City man was going to blow up the NYSE. No one was ever arrested for that. The KC fella was arrested for providing financial support to a known extremist in Yemen and money laundering. Do we know that dippy doo in Yemen was going to use that money to come to America and blow up the NYSE? Of course not! These terrorists are like anyone looking for venture capital. They say what they need to say to get funded.
But lets accept the claim that 50 or even 500 terrorist threats have been thwarted based solely on the metadata and PRISM programs. I would still be against them. And yes I was living in DC on 9/11 and lived in NYC before and after, so I know people who died that day and saw families destroyed by it. However I would urge all of us to restrain the power of our government to spy on us in the name of protecting us. Government is nothing more than people. And while most people may be honest some are not. And those who are not can only hurt us to the extent we allow them to. The 4th Amendment was written by the founding fathers to protect us from this! The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. You can't come into my home till you have probable cause that I'm breaking the law and can prove that to a judge. But you're now allowing the government to come into your home and read your e-mail and look through your personal phone book to see who your friends are without a warrant! But it's to protect us from terrorists you cry! Need I remind you whom the Director of Homeland Security already considers likely terrorists? People who go to church every week or own a gun or served in the military.
You may say "So what if the government wants to read my e-mails and see who my friends are, I'm not doing anything wrong"! Yet. We live in times when laws can change quickly. Next year you will be fined if you don't buy health care insurance approved by the government. If you didn't see that coming, what else don't you see? Could there be a time when the government watches what kind of car you buy or vacation you take, compares it to your salary and decides you either have lied on your taxes or you aren't spending enough on your kids education. So they'll have an audit and take the kids for a quiet interview. I have no idea what is next on the slippery slope, but I do know the slippery slope rarely slides into something good.
As a young man John Adams watched in 1761 as a Boston attorney named John Otis argued against the British "writs of assistance".
"A man's house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege." The British said it was to protect their citizens from groups of rebels who would organize a revolution against the people's will. This revolution would lead to many innocent people dying. "Your honor whilst a man is quiet he haseth nothing to fear from his government or army which is only upon his residence in order to protect his castle with him". The Judge ruled against the British government and John Adams noted in his journal; then and there the child independence was born. Let's not kill that child now that it's all grown up.