Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times today:
Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11.
I worry about that even more, not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 — or worse, an attack involving nuclear material — it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it. If there were another 9/11, I fear that 99 percent of Americans would tell their members of Congress: “Do whatever you need to do to, privacy be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.” That is what I fear most.
That is why I’ll reluctantly, very reluctantly, trade off the government using data mining to look for suspicious patterns in phone numbers called and e-mail addresses — and then have to go to a judge to get a warrant to actually look at the content under guidelines set by Congress — to prevent a day where, out of fear, we give government a license to look at anyone, any e-mail, any phone call, anywhere, anytime.
First, Edward Snowden says that he was basically given just that license. Yes, it was only for the technical reason that his job required that he have full access to the system, but it was in seeing just how powerful this system is and how easy it is to query volumes of data on ANY individual that made him willing to risk everything to let the public know — because we DIDN”T and still DON’T know how extensively our government has mined and stored data on all our e-mails, phone calls, internet usage, ad infinitum.
But worse, as powerful as this system is, it is less capable of finding the needles in the massive data haystack (that enable it to prevent attacks), than it is clearly capable of looking into any given person’s life that it wants to target. In other words, the governments ability to target and control is much greater than its ability to discover and prevent attacks. Thus, the drive for ever greater ability to discover terrorist threats only exponentially amplifies the system’s ability to invade our lives and control us.
And since no system can ever prevent all attacks, the very thing Thomas Friedman worries most about is not only inevitable, but assured, given that a major attack is inevitable (the only question is when) and such an attack will irresistibly lead to fully using the power of a system that has already been put in place.
Thus Thomas Friedman is saying that he will willingly create the very tool he fears the most in the vain attempt to prevent all attacks, just one (major one) of which will likely lead to its full use. This is folly.
What do you think?