Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 20 – challenges to credibility while seeking increased power and authority 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on February 6, 2014

This is my twenty first posting on what is becoming a series of leaks and unauthorized disclosures of classified US government documents that relate to its War on Terror (see John Peter Zenger, Henry L. Stimson, Edward J. Snowden and the challenge of free speech and the first nineteen postings to this series, available at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.) I have been writing succeeding postings to this series so as to go live at a rate of one new related entry every five days. But I decided to sit back and wait a month before adding this next installment and for a simple reason. I wanted to see how the Obama administration and its surveillance gathering agency participants, and judiciary courts (as opposed to the largely extra-judicial FISA court), and the US Congress would respond to developing public pushback in response to the Snowden leaks, and I add to United States governmental response to them too.

So my goal for this posting is complex. I still want to discuss how the US National Security Agency (NSA), the FISA Court and others have sought to increase their power and authority through the carrying out of the War on Terror and through surveillance programs such as PRISM and XKeyscore. But I want to address those issues from the perspective of public reaction and judiciary and legislative response to all of this too. I will only be able to begin this phase of that overall discussion in any one blog posting, but I see this as the right time to begin that so I do here, actually writing this on January 4, 2014 to go live on February 6.

The people who lead this overall, multifaceted surveillance program with all of its open-ended grandiosity are true believers. They genuinely believe that everything that they do in this effort is for the greater good of the American public, and I add for the world as a whole. And they genuinely believe in the de facto doctrine of absolute security through collection, organization and use of absolutely all possible data and information on absolutely everyone. This system of belief comes from and is ardently supported from the top and from President Obama himself, and it flows down from there to the leadership of the NSA and I expect the leadership of essentially every other hands-on implementing federal agency, bureau or department that directly makes these surveillance programs a reality.

I am not going to try arguing a case that either President Obama or any of his Cabinet officers, or any of the senior managers and leaders of specific functional units, agencies or bureaus who report to them, are simply in this for personal power or aggrandizement. They are I am sure all trying to do the right thing, according to the best of their own understandings. True, government bureaus and agencies and their leadership are always pushing for more resources and for more reach and authority in being able to achieve their goals and serve the fulfilling of their missions. And with of-necessity always limited budgets, that can and does translate into competitive struggle for a larger slice of the overall budget available. But the system of agencies and bureaus and departments that collectively and coordinately manage and run these surveillance programs, do not do so from a desire for meet personal agendas.

• That makes this a lot more challenging a problem, as it means that when we see these surveillance programs becoming a matter of public discourse and acrimony
• With ardent defense of them on the one side when challenged by condemnation from the other,
• We see a collision between opposing people of good will who all see their particular approach and perspective as representing a moral imperative that they cannot back down from.

That is why in the face of growing public concern and disagreement with him, President Obama is not willing to step back in any way from supporting these surveillance programs.

I disagree wholeheartedly with President Obama and his administration on these open-ended surveillance programs but I also know that he is trying to do the right thing according to the fullest of his understanding. This, written larger and across the full span of public and governmental debate, means that what we face here is more of a train wreck in the unfolding than a glancing blow disagreement.

And with this I turn back to Part 19 of this series where I began discussing reaction to the Snowden revelations and to open and public awareness of the existence and range of these surveillance programs.

The United States judicial system and its courts are, like all courts of law, reactive. And we have already begun to see mixed messages coming from them with court decisions that would both support and uphold, and challenge and limit the use of programs such as PRISM and XKeyscore. The FISA court that authorized them has even publically and openly released information of how they have both agreed with and sustained requests to carry out requested surveillance activities and denied them too. The US Congress is starting to get involved in this now too, and I expect to see bills going into committee at the very least that would legally define the acceptable parameters of governmental surveillance and probably return more direct oversight of surveillance programs and activity to more standard courts of law and to the Judiciary as the determining branch of government for this.

And I finish this posting at a point where I initially began this now extended discussion with the people whose public revelations made this controversy erupt: Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning for his flood of classified document leaks and Edward J. Snowden. I expect that Manning is going to remain in prison for a very long time. I have also come to firmly believe that Snowden will at the very least be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and that he is likely to be awarded it. There is most definitely precedent for a recipient of this award to be offered it while under sanction by the government of their own country and even while being considered a criminal there, and for the very activities that have led to their being awarded this prize. Aung San Suu Kyi comes immediately to mind in that regard and so does Andrei Sakharov. Many people, globally and I add within the United States Snowden’s his stepping forward to reveal these publically surveillance programs and their open-ended reach as a good thing and even as a heroic thing. I expect that sentiment to grow.

• There is no such thing as absolute security and there cannot be. And any attempt to impose that illusory standard in practice can only be made as a direct challenge to democratic principles and personal liberty – and ultimately to the very qualities of life that this security is supposed to uphold and protect.

I may very well write more on this still unfolding news story, and particularly from the larger perspective of how our information technology capability has reached a point where it can have all but open-ended impact, and for either good or for ill. This is, after all both a news story and a historical event and a historical turning point. I finish this discussion, and certainly for now, mulling those issues over in my mind, but I am going to conclude this series here, at least for now. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and in my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page. I am also listing this under my In the News posting category.


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