Dear NSA, It’s Not Just About the Spying
This not only applies to the NSA, but to Congress and President Obama: You betrayed our trust. That’s why we are angry.
It’s not about spying and it’s not about having anything to hide. The fact is, my life is very boring and it’s kind of sad knowing how many terabytes of data might be stored of me complaining to the phone company about my phone bill or calling my wife to pick up an energy drink while she’s out. I can’t even imagine how many SMS messages are stored of my kids texting their friends 24 hours a day. Then there’s that endless flow of useless junk in my inbox.
And it’s not just me, it’s my boring life times 300 million other American lives. Just South of me there’s a million square feet ready to start storing all of that data. We’re not talking about petabytes, exabytes, or even zetabytes here, but yottabytes of data, a number so large there’s just no metaphor to help you comprehend it. I imagine this data center slowly filling up like a massive reservoir behind a newly built dam. A massive reservoir of 300 million lives, 75 million of those being under 18 years old. A million square feet, billions of dollars, eventually up to 200 megawatts of power, 60,000 tons of cooling equipment, and a carbon footprint greater than some entire countries.
Keep in mind that this is just their new data center. There are those existing data centers scattered across the country that are apparently running low on free disk space. Even that isn’t enough, the NSA has new equally massive facilities coming online in Maryland and Texas as well.
So what has all these yottabytes of storage and exaflops of computing power bought us? Apparently we stopped literally dozens of terrorist attacks (I bet not letting fingernail clippers on airplanes also prevented dozens of attacks!). “Dozens of attacks” it turns out means around fifty–ten of which were domestic plots. But some members of Congress have even questioned that number.
When Congress introduced the Patriot Act, there were a number of privacy concerns, but we put our trust in the government to do what was right. We were hurt and angry after 9/11 and there was a national cry to stop these terrorists. We knew when the Patriot Act became law that we would be giving up some of our privacy but it was for the greater good. The government assured us that there were checks and balances to prevent abuse of these new powers.
The government, it turns out, lied to us. NSA officials such as James Clapper, came right out and falsely told Congress that the NSA was not collecting data on Americans. Backed up by secret courts, secret interpretations of law, and the ability to accompany data requests with gag orders empowered the NSA to collect any data it wanted–all with the blessing of Congress. Sure, we already figured that the NSA spied on us, but we kept getting all those assurances that they weren’t.
When we elect government officials we try to not only find those people who represent our political views, but we also look for people with a certain amount of integrity. We want congressmen and presidents who we can trust. Much of President Obama’s original platform was based on changing how government worked by adding transparency, targeting government abuses of power, and encouraging whistleblowers who revealed government abuses. It sounded pretty convincing and enough people believed in him to elect him President, but now even some of his most ardent supporters feel he betrayed their trust.
We also trusted Congress with the billions of tax dollars they spent building the largest spying mechanism ever known to man. Billions of dollars spent on millions of hard disks spinning away recording my kids texting their friends about what a loser their Dad is.
Yes it’s creepy knowing the NSA is always listening and we don’t like that the government considers all of us the enemy. Yes, it’s a violation of our constitutional rights that they gather evidence on us before we have even considered committing a crime. But what really bothers us the most is the violation of trust. We gave you power and–albeit predictably–you overreached way beyond that power, crafting laws that prevented us from even questioning your abuses and aggressively pursuing those who do.
You can claim that these practices are legal, strictly monitored, and performed with court approval, but we just don’t believe you anymore. You no longer have any credibility because humans are good at not trusting those who repeatedly lie to us. In fact, we want you to give us back control over what you do and how you spend our money. We don’t need your massive data collection to stop ten domestic terror attacks. In fact, we don’t even believe you that this data collection is about protecting us from terrorists anyway, you can only use that excuse so much before we start seeing through it. Ultimately, it comes down to the same old power, greed, and corruption that we learned about in History class.
You betrayed our trust so now you don’t get our trust. We don’t want new data centers; we want to cut back on your data collection free-for-all and even start shutting down existing data centers. We want to take away your massive and seemingly unlimited budgets. We want you to stop pre-collecting data so you later take “the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.” We want to be able to limit what you can do in the name of national security and we want Congress to roll back some of the overly permissive provisions of the Patriot Act. We want Congress to actually punish those who lie under oath and not just let it slide just because they are the Director of National Intelligence. We want you to provide some form of protection for those whistleblowers who expose clear and possibly illegal abuses of power.
We don’t trust you anymore and we don’t know how far you are willing to go in the name of national security. You are laying a framework of abuse so vast that we fear it could someday become oppressive. We certainly don’t think you have our best interests in mind and we are seriously questioning the power (and petabytes of storage) the people have given you.
It’s time for us to speak now: we want our data back.