This week’s revelation that the NSA was collecting telephone external data from Verizon, and apparently the other phone carriers as well seems to have freaked both the left and the right. I didn’t exactly find myself shocked and surprised, or at least no more than Captain Renault was shocked to find out there was gambling going on at Rick’s. James Bamford’s The Shadow Factory has been out for years so Glenn Greenwald’s article in The Guardian really shouldn’t have been that surprising. The outrage is another matter.
I’ve no doubt that Greenwald was outraged and incensed, however Greenwald is that rarest of creatures, a consistent and honest leftist. As a frequent participant on political web forums, I got a great deal of entertainment from the more common type of leftist: the partisan hack.
Usually when a media story is broken with the shocking news that President Obama has not only continued President Bush’s national security policies, but has built upon them, the typical reaction of the left is either dead silence or mumbling. This story was unique in that it was too big a story for our media gatekeepers to sit on. However it’s hard not to notice that this story came out of a British newspaper, not an American one. Did the whistleblower try shopping this to an American news outlet only to be met with a lack of interest in anything that might demonstrate the hypocrisy of Obama?
So when the story is too big to be ignored, how does the typical leftist partisan hack react?
Now the program did begin in 2006, well into the Bush administration, but it wasn’t an out of control railroad, that Obama was helpless to stop. The legal basis is the Patriot Act, which has been renewed twice during the Obama administration, in 2009 and 2011, and the actual program is renewed by the FISA Court every 3 months. For those leftists who voted for Obama expecting him to immediately roll back the Patriot Act; well sorry to disappoint. But more than disappointment is the inability to accept that their guy is supporting this program.
For the conservative side, there is a tear (as is often the case in these instances) between the libertarian side and the national security side. But this is exacerbated by the timing. The revelation of this NSA program is on the heels of three administration scandals in a row, Benghazi, the bugging of AP and Fox reporters, and worst of all, the IRS scandal. I say worse because the IRS scandal feeds directly into people’s fears of the legitimate arms of government being usurped for illegitimate ends. In the same way that the IRS targeted Tea Party groups, their donors, and gave protected information to other adversarial political groups for the purpose of intimidating opponents, it’s easy to see how the phone metadata for every American could be misused if the administration wanted to use that information against their political opponents. I think the reaction on the right would have been much more subdued if there were no IRS scandal currently in the news pot.
For myself, I don’t find myself bothered by this program at all. The information we are talking about is basically everyone’s phone bill, which is information that most Americans invite the garbage man to read every month. Within the political class, there is little taking advantage of the revelation of this program to cull some sort of political advantage. The Senate Intelligence Committee seems united in supporting the program.
For people who are outraged that their privacy is being violated, well come back to me when you have a similar outrage against Google Earth or the Income Tax. We routinely detail much more personal and private information every year and send it to the government than is available in these phone records. I think it’s a far greater invasion of privacy for the government to know where every single penny I earn comes from than if I called Papa Johns to order pizza 4 times in the same week.
Now Prism? That’s another story…