As I noted in yesterday's post, the whole NSA "scandal" came about because Edward Snowden, a high school dropout with Top Secret clearance, leaked thousands of pages of information to Glenn Greenwald, which was easy because he was an IT guy. Oh, by the way, he had next to zero training in computers, and made over $120,000 per year.*
But aside from the fact that he leaked these documents, and from the fact that he apparently thinks Hong Kong will keep him safe from the U.S.**, Edward Snowden's identity should be a mere footnote in a much larger issue. Namely, that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans, and the head of the NSA apparently lied to Congress about it. In fact, to the extent that there is a scandal, its that it took the completely batshit insane act of probable treason by Edward Snowden for any of us to know it was going on.
And ultimately, I don't mind the NSA doing any of this, if, and only if, the following safeguards are put into place - either by executive order, or, and much better, by actual statutory law:
1) Any internet spying is done to either (a) prevent acts of violence against Americans because they are Americans to induce terror, or, (b) to catch those who have perpetrated acts of violence against Americans because they are Americans in an effort to terrorize the populace.
2) Any information gathered that does not have to do with terrorism will be destroyed and cannot be used for any purpose by the government of the United States, or any state government in any criminal or civil proceeding, except for the purpose of trying terrorists in criminal court, or allowing the victims of terrorist attacks to sue terrorists or their organizations.
3) Have a Court that oversees the NSA actually provide some oversight. Currently, the FISA court, which oversees the NSA, has allowed the government to do whatever it wants 99.67% of the time. Of the over 33,000 requests for a warrant, the FISA court turned down the government 11 times. ELEVEN! There has to be better oversight.
Now this is a short set of limitations, and I'm still pondering what else to add, but I think this would be a great place to start. One thing that worries me is that its pretty easy to add more topics to the list of things we use the information for. For instance, I'd be hard-pressed not to include child porn or human trafficking to 1). But I do think that we can find some middle ground in this.
*My favorite part of this post will be that my fiance' will read the point about Edward Snowden twice her salary (she's a teacher), and blowing up. Also, unless you are an IT guy, an engineer or a scientist, you definitely studied the wrong subjects in school. Just sayin'.
**Actually, I think the Hong Kong thing is a ruse to throw the investigators off his track. Snowden has been a spook since 2007, at least, and rose up from security guard to IT guy/spook really fast. I don't think he's dumb enough to think that China won't give him up. If I had to bet, I'd say he's either in Ecuador or in route to Ecuador right now, probably on a container ship. Then again, I may have watched too many spy movies.