Perhaps because I keep trying to get the government to listen to me, my initial reaction to the National Security Agency’s widespread “data mining” program was: Hey, maybe they are listening to me, and I just don’t know it. I do find the NSA’s activities worrisome. As a first-amendment fundamentalist and a privacy zealot, I believe the Patriot Act should be repealed. And yet my outrage meter over the current revelations is low. Why?
- The over-the-top reactions from right and left about the assault on our civil liberties seem to have little connection to the scope or intent of the program as I understand it.
- I am uncomfortable with a 29-year-old high-school dropout – who joined the Special Forces to free Iraqis “from oppression” and wants to bring transparency to the NSA – deciding on his own what should be declassified.
- Fear. It’s true – I’m more afraid of terrorists than of my government, and I don’t feel I am living in an Orwellian state.
- This is not “Pentagon Papers II”, which exposed a massive cover-up of government wrongdoing that caused countless casualties.
- The irony is not lost on me that the government had to go to Google, Microsoft and Verizon to implement the program – that’s where the real information on our lives is stored.
We need a vigorous and public debate on transparency and security, and insofar as his revelations help spur it, we should thank Edward Snowden. But we should not let our visceral reactions curtail the debate before it happens.