Monday, 20 February 2017

Douglas Wilson's Letter From Moscow

The Hot Politics of the Moment

Douglas Wilson

So now would be a good time for all of us to listen to Rand Paul on big data security concerns. And here is why.

Michael Flynn has just stepped down as the president’s National Security Advisor. My concern is not whether he was wise or foolish in his interaction with the Russians, or whether he completely misrepresented himself to the vice-president or not, or whether the president was right to seek his resignation or not. My concern is not with the decisions that have been made, but how it came about that a decision had to be made.

Before he was part of the government, before he was sworn in, his phone conversations with foreigners were recorded. Those conversations were then subsequently leaked and the controversy ensued.

What this means is that someone in the intelligence community, with access to the surveillance data that is routinely collected, released some of that data in the interests of a political agenda. It does not matter for my purposes if that political agenda is wise or foolish. It is simply that this information was released for political purposes, and the person who released it is not in jail. This is all we really need to know.

When we have had our debates about big data collection, and some of us have worried about the illicit weaponization of such information, the reassurances come back. That doesn’t happen. There are protections. We have firewalls. Yeah, right. Where are they in this instance?

So when the “protections” are violated, as they manifestly have been in this situation, the hot politics of the moment overwhelm any and all process concerns. The person who leaked from the big data reservoir is an honorable “whistle-blower.” The politics of taking down Trump a few notches overshadow the glaringly obvious fact that the government is in control of information that it will never be able to handle responsibly.

We have an example of a case of abuse, sitting right in front of us, kind of on fire, and it is the kind of abuse some of us predicted just a few months ago, and fans of the surveillance state said no, no, no, it doesn’t work that way, and now here we are. What are you going to do? What are you going to say?

Not only do the advocates of the deep state shrug, but so also the general population shrugs. But there is only one way to keep this reservoir of data from leaking in this way, and that is to make sure that the only data in the reservoir is there because someone obtained a warrant after showing probable cause.

If you protest that national security requires megadata collection, I ask if megadata collection itself presents any threat to national security. If you tell me that our intelligence agencies are honorable and would never do anything like this, then I will wonder (out loud) why they just did do something like this. And I will wonder further why there has not been an arrest. You have data on Michael Flynn but have no data on the person or persons unknown who took him out at the knees? Maybe you guys are watching the wrong people.

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