Glenn Greenwald: The Surveillance State
Glenn Greenwald is a brilliant constitutional lawyer, journalist, blogger, and author. He has won numerous awards for his superb work.
The notes contained here represent a small portion of what Greenwald discusses in this presentation. Video of the full address is embedded following this text.
The purpose of the surveillance state: The surveillance state impedes, deters, and chills any attempt to challenge state or corporate power. That is its purpose. It does that by design. Therefore, understanding what the surveillance state is and how it operates is essential. Figuring out how to challenge it and undermine it is a prerequisite to any kind of activism that challenges state or corporate power.
The enormous and growing interception of domestic American communication: Every single administration has systematically abused eavesdropping powers. The agency at the heart of that abuse has been the National Security Agency. Every day, collection systems at the NSA intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, telephone calls, and other forms of telephonic communications. Former high-level NSA employee William Binney has stated that an estimated 20 trillion transactions of US citizens with other US citizens have been recorded and stored. That consists of only emails and telephone conversations; that number does not include financial transactions, for example.
Corporate involvement in the surveillance process: The US surveillance state is a full-scale merger of government and corporate America. All of the telecom giants are compliant.
The Obama administration's involvement with the surveillance state: In mid-2011, the governments of Saudi Arabia and UAE threatened to ban use of cellphones because RIM was unable or unwilling to allow them to intercept and surveil all communication. They banned Blackberries. There was enormous international condemnation. The Obama administration issued a stinging denuciation of both governments saying they were engaged in the kinds of oppression that we could not tolerate. Every major American newspaper editorialized about how both governments are the enemies of freedom. But 6 weeks later, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was preparing legislation that would require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype - be designed to enable government surveillance. The principal is that there can be no human communication that is beyond the reach of the US government.
While individual privacy is being eroded, government is erecting a wall of secrecy for itself: At the same time that the government is enacting legislation to deprive every citizen of privacy, the government has been erecting an enormous wall of secrecy to protect government from prying eyes. The US government reflexively labels everything that it does "classified" and "secret". This is a radical reversal of how things are supposed to work: There is supposed to be transparency for government; individuals are supposed to live in a sphere of privacy. This basic tenet of democracy has been reversed.
The result of increasing government privacy combined with individual loss of privacy: Recall Sir Francis Bacon's aphorism, "Knowledge is Power". The surveillance state, combined with the wall of secrecy, gives enormous power over people - to control, to manipulate, to blackmail...
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