pages

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mark Steyn on expanding government security powers

Canadian National Review columnist Mark Steyn notes how the United States' security and intelligence infrastructure has grown in size, vague legal authority and power, eliminating limitations on who it can scan while simultaneously weakening itself simply by diminishing effectiveness.
It began by noting the observation of President Bush’s transportation secretary, Norman Mineta, that if “a 70-year-old white woman from Vero Beach, Florida” and “a Muslim young man” were in line to board a flight, he hoped there would be no difference in the scrutiny to which each would be subjected. The TSA was then barely a twinkle in Norm’s eye, and in that long-ago primitive era it would have seemed absurd to people that one day in America it would be entirely routine for wheelchair-bound nonagenarians to remove leg braces before boarding a plane or for kindergartners to stand patiently as three middle-aged latex-gloved officials poke around their genitals. Back then, the idea that everybody is a suspect still seemed slightly crazy. As I wrote in my column, “I’d love to see Norm get his own cop show:
“Captain Mineta, the witness says the serial rapist’s about 5′10″ with a thin mustache and a scar down his right cheek.”
“Okay, Sergeant, I want you to pull everyone in.”
“Pardon me?”
Everyone. Men, women, children. We’ll start in the Bronx and work our way through to Staten Island. What matters here is that we not appear to be looking for people who appear to look like the appearance of the people we’re looking for. There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and I want to hear all of them.”
A decade on, it would be asking too much for the new Norm to be confined to the airport terminal. There are 300 million stories in the Naked Republic, and the NSA hears all of them, 24/7. Even in the wake of a four-figure death toll, with the burial pit still smoking, the formal, visible state could not be honest about the very particular threat it faced, and so in the shadows the unseen state grew remorselessly, the blades of the harvester whirring endlessly but, don’t worry, only for “metadata.” As I wrote in National Review in November 2001, “The bigger you make the government, the more you entrust to it, the more powers you give it to nose around the citizenry’s bank accounts, and phone calls, and e-mails, and favorite Internet porn sites, the more you’ll enfeeble it with the siren song of the soft target. The Mounties will no longer get their man, they’ll get you instead. Frankly, it’s a lot easier.” As the IRS scandal reminds us, you have to have a touchingly na├»ve view of government to believe that the 99.9999 percent of “metadata” entirely irrelevant to terrorism will not be put to some use, sooner or later... We’re told that universal surveillance has prevented all kinds of atrocities we can never hear about — an answer straight out of Orwell. Yet oddly, in the ones we do hear about, the perps are hiding in plain sight (Major Hasan with “Soldier of Allah” on his business card), the intelligence services do nothing (the Pantybomber known to the CIA but still permitted to board the plane), and the digital superstate is useless (the Tsarnaev photo rang no bells with the facial-recognition software, but was identified by friends who saw it on TV).

No comments: