Glenn Greenwald's No
Place To Hide chronicles his work with Edward
Snowden to bring the US government's global surveillance network to
light. It's a chilling book for a variety of reasons, including the following:
The secret court that was set up to vet government requests for phone taps
and such has become a mere formality. Virtually all requests are now granted.
Today even the pretense of respect for the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable
search and seizure has been abandoned, leaving the NSA free to access phone,
email and web browsing data for anyone in the world.
Though the original rationale for this indiscriminate spying was the threat
of terrorism, the NSA has expanded its mission to include spying on Brazilian
oil companies to give domestic energy firms a competitive advantage, bugging
the United Nations to help the US negotiate more effectively, and listening
in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone calls in order to...well,
who knows what they gained from that.
In short, we're now spying on everyone everywhere, and using what we find
to gain advantages in trade and diplomacy as well as safety.
On the bright side, the recent bit of Snowden sunshine has led the US Senate
to try to rein the spies in:
July 29, 2014 A powerful Democratic senator introduced a new bill Tuesday that
would end the National Security Agency's bulk surveillance of Americans' phone
records and force the government to be more transparent and accountable with
its spying orders.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy unveiled his hotly anticipated USA
Freedom Act, a measure that has gained considerable traction and buzz over
the past week. It is a strengthened version of a bill of the same name that
passed the House in May, but only after a number of changes foisted onto
it by the administration and defense hawks prompted tech companies and privacy
advocates to drop their support.
Leahy's bill currently boasts support from the White House, tech companies,
and a litany of privacy and civil-liberties groups that see it as fixing
much of what was undone during eleventh-hour backroom negotiations ahead
of the House vote.
"If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government
surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years
ago," Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said from the Senate floor Tuesday. "It's
an historic opportunity, [and] we would be derelict in our duty to this country
if we passed up that opportunity."
Does the Bill Have a Chance?
Most observers see Leahy's Freedom Act as the best chance at NSA reform
in this Congress. The omnibus legislation is unlikely to earn a vote before
the August recess, but it may go straight to the Senate floor when Congress
reconvenes in September. Stakeholders are hopeful the bill could hit the
president's desk sometime this fall.
But it remains unclear if Leahy has the votes in a historically gridlocked
Senate that will have most of its attention diverted to the midterm elections
when lawmakers come back to Washington. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman
Dianne Feinstein has been an influential backer of the NSA's surveillance
programs, and early indications are that she and other defense hawks are
less than receptive to Leahy's new proposal.
A horrible thought
Say you're a sociopath who has spent the past decade with a government agency
that, thanks to a fear of imminent terrorist attack, has been given effectively
unlimited power. You've thoroughly enjoyed the time spent perusing your fellow
citizens' bank accounts, swapping naked pictures gleaned from cell phones and
eavesdropping on late-night calls between secret lovers. The future seems bright,
as technology opens ever more of the world for your inspection.
But then, thanks to that traitorous punk Snowden, the rabble begins shaking
their pitchforks and demanding that you stop watching them. Cowardly politicians
(many of whom spent the past decade happily spying on their constituents and
political opponents) are proposing rule changes that would seriously curtail
What do you do? Well, you could just crawl back into your little Constitutional
box and spend the rest of your career scrounging up evidence of "probable cause" and
begging judges for warrants.
Or...maybe you remind the peasants why they gave you all that power in the
first place by engineering exactly the kind of terrorist attack that you've
been tasked with preventing. This kind of "false flag" event has been a basic
tool of politics and warfare since the beginning of time. It would be easy
for your covert operative colleagues to pull off, could be as big and splashy
as seems necessary -- and would instantly silence the critics. You and your
fellow shadow warriors could then get on with the business of keeping the free
world safe from fanatics, tyrants and anyone else with the audacity to question