Cato — Pilon and Epstein: NSA surveillance in perspective

13 June second update: video.

13 June update: an essay that’s worth reading.

In an editorial that’s frankly hard to believe, Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein argue that mass collection of called numbers and visited URLs is just fine.

  • It’s aboveboard, although we didn’t know about it, because despite the multiple level secrecy surrounding the data collection:

the program has enjoyed the continued support of all three branches of the federal government [well, of course!]. It has been free of political abuse since its inception [comforting to know, but how do you know, Roger and Richard?]. And as [Obama] rightly added, this nation has real problems if its people, at least here, can’t trust the combined actions of the executive branch and the Congress, backstopped by federal judges [indeed!]

  •  It’s not an invasion of privacy, because the government only knows who you called, not what you said; it knows where you went on the Internet, not what you did when you got there, and of course we have no reason not believe it, because…
  • Reverse lookup of phone numbers to derive names is only legal under a court order. Oh, okay, relax, no..oo..o problem.
  • The program is not subject to widespread or systematic abuse, because no cases have been publicly reported (!!!). Abuse of political views by the IRS occurs in a totally different universe by totally different people with totally different incentives.

Yes, government officials might conceivably misuse some of the trillions of bits of metadata they examine using sophisticated algorithms. But one abuse is no pattern of abuses. And even one abuse is not likely to happen given the safeguards in place. The cumulative weight of the evidence attests to the soundness of the program. The critics would be more credible if they could identify a pattern of government abuses. But after 12 years of continuous practice, they can’t cite even a single case

  • The authors don’t discuss long term storage of the collected data, but we presume there is no problem, because future governments can be trusted to be no more corrupt than the current one.
  • The government dispenses rights and privileges at will: privacy is a matter for the three branches to determine, unrelated in any way to inalienable rights.

Coming from John McCain or the White House itself, this kind of thing would not be a big surprise. But from the Cato Institute? The mind truly boggles.

Guys, what could you possibly have been thinking?

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About 86dave

World traveler, mostly first and second world Outdoors: hiker, cyclist, photographer Libertarian Author, Gigabit-capable Passive Optical Networks, Wiley, 2012
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