Mark Steyn: Idiot Big Brother (NSA Abuse)
Idiot Big Brother
The prospect of NSA abuse is now a reality.
On Thursday, the Washington Post’s revelation of thousands upon thousands of National Security Agency violations of both the law and supposed privacy protections included this fascinating detail:
A “large number” of Americans had their telephone calls accidentally intercepted by the NSA when a top-secret order to eavesdrop on multiple phone lines for reasons of national security confused the international code for Egypt (20) with the area code for Washington (202).
I enjoy as much as the next chap all those Hollywood conspiracy thrillers about the all-powerful security state — you know the kind of thing, where the guy’s on the lam and he stops at a diner at a windswept one-stoplight hick burg in the middle of nowhere and decides to take the risk of making one 15-second call from the payphone, and as he dials the last digit there’s a click in a basement in Langley, and even as he’s saying hello the black helicopters are already descending on him. It’s heartening to know that, if I ever get taken out at a payphone, it will be because some slapdash timeserving pen-pusher mistyped the code for Malaysia (60) as that of New Hampshire (603)....
A couple of months back, I quoted Tocqueville’s prescient words from almost two centuries ago: Although absolute monarchy theoretically “clothed kings with a power almost without limits,” in practice “the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.” In other words, the king couldn’t do it even if he wanted to. What would happen, Tocqueville wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to bring “the details of social life and of individual existence” within His Majesty’s oversight? That world is now upon us. Today, the king concedes he most certainly can do it, but assures us not to worry, he doesn’t really want to. “If you look at the reports,” said President Obama earlier this month, “even the disclosures that Mr. Snowden’s put forward, all the stories that have been written, what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and, you know, listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s e-mails. What you’re hearing about is the prospect that these could be abused.”
But that was a week ago. And the “prospect” is now a reality: “actual abuse” — including “listening in on people’s phone calls” and “inappropriately reading people’s e-mails” — occurs daily. In early 2012, “actual abuse” was occurring at the rate of ten “incidents” a day — and “incident” is a term of art that can cover hundreds of violations of thousands or even millions of citizens....
It's worth reading the article in its entirety.