Government officials are wasting no time in attempting to exploit the tragedy in Paris to pass invasive anti-privacy laws and acquire extraordinary new powers that they have wanted for years. In the process, they are making incredibly dishonest arguments and are receiving virtually no pushback from the media.
Absent any actual information or evidence so far about intelligence failures leading up to the deplorable terrorist attack in Paris, pundits spent the weekend speculating that Edward Snowden and surveillance reform were to blame for the fact that the attack went undetected. Then on Monday, in an epic episode of blame shifting, the CIA director, John Brennan, reportedly said privacy advocateshave undermined the ability of spies to monitor terrorists. He explained:
Because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that are taken that make our ability collectively, internationally to find these terrorists much more challenging”, adding that there is a “misrepresentation of what the intelligence security services are doing”.
Read Brennan’s comments carefully because they are very revealing. When he says “legal actions”, he’s referring to the fact that multiple federal courts have ruled that the government’s secret mass surveillance on millions of Americans is illegal. So it sounds like the CIA director is saying it’s a shame that intelligence agencies can’t operate completely above the law any more, and is scapegoating any failings on his agency’s part on accountability that is the hallmark of any democracy. (Though he still can apparently operate above the law.)
More importantly, Brennan’s comments are incredibly dishonest. The post-Snowden USA Freedom Act passed by Congress reformed exactly one of the countless mass spying programs the US runs. It was the one that sucked up the phone calls of Americans only, and here’s the thing: it has been active this whole time and isn’t scheduled to shut down until the end of the month.
Anytime an official laments surveillance reform or attempts to blame Snowden they should be confronted with these facts. Unfortunately, so far they’ve just been met with head nods and no follow-up questions about their own conduct.
Brennan is not the only opportunist seizing on the tragedy to gain more power. The New York police commissioner, Bill Bratton, called it a “game changer” and, insinuated new legislation that would outlaw encryption was necessary by adding: “[Encryption] is something that is going to need to be debated very quickly because we cannot continue operating where we are blind.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, politicians in the United Kingdom, which already has the most expansive surveillance laws in the western world, are using the tragedy to attempt to rush through their even more invasive, new mass-spying bill that aims at allowing police to see the websites every citizen visits and to force companies like Apple to backdoor their encrypted tools.
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