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For men to be secure, they must first be free. ~ David Greenfield

How much surveillance can we accept? Jerry Brito argues at reason.com that the way we think about this question isn’t particularly helpful for people who want to protect civil liberties:


Brito’s makes an argument to trust in this article. Trust is like oxygen that sustains both freedom and security. Distrust is like carbon monoxide. Invisible, it silently kills the things we cherish. In an atmosphere of trust, a free person does not feel insecure. In an atmosphere of distrust, a person who is monitored constantly feels insecure, all the time.

The supposed tradeoff between freedom and security is a false one. You frame the question this way only if you want to move toward the pernicious, deadly end of this spectrum. “The threat level today is red. Do you want us to protect you? It’s our job to protect you. If you want us to do our job, to keep you safe, you’ll have to let us take away some of your privacy, and along with that, some of your freedom.” You talk that way only if you want to persuade people they should accept so-called security measures that make citizens feel less secure, and less free.

Brito is right in this respect: “Surveillance advocates must demonstrate that they’re worthy of trust.” Significantly, the only way to do that is to open up everything they do – to stop keeping secrets. They are clearly not willing to do that. Secrecy is integral to their whole program, both its techniques and its goals. They won’t demonstrate trustworthiness because they can’t do it, both psychologically and practically.

That tells you that secrecy and dishonesty are part of the essence of government surveillance programs, not just a mistake government agencies made when they went overboard. The surveillance programs are inherently secret, and cannot serve their purpose if anyone brings them into the open. The government didn’t go after Edward Snowden because he broke some rules. It went after him because he threatened the whole thing.

How do you keep information secret in an open, democratic society? Snowden showed the information masters – our masters – that you can’t keep information secret in a democratic environment. The only way to keep information secret is to close down everything, so nothing is transparent, and no one trusts anyone else. Above all, criminals need secrecy. Secrecy creates fear. We are headed there.