Glenn Greenwald, the journalist at the head of the campaign to vilify the National Security Agency and venerate leaker Edward Snowden, gave a typical reaction to this morning’s announcement of a worldwide travel alert because of terror threats.
“Oh, well then maybe we do need mass NSA spying,” he tweeted sarcastically.
Greenwald and his fans seem to think that terrorism and the entire apparatus of national security is a joke. What they don’t acknowledge is that new technology has made the world more vulnerable than ever to psychopaths.
In the modern era, we need a government that uses sophisticated surveillance technology to protect the country.
Remember how upset people were that government surveillance wasn’t able to stop the Tsarnaev brothers from attacking Boston? People were upset because they want and expect the government to be able to stop these crimes.
Government surveillance should be regulated — indeed, Snowden has shown us how much more regulation is needed — but still it is necessary.
It’s clear what a potentially dangerous world we live in when you consider how easy it is to do bad things on the Internet.
With a quick search, anyone can learn how to make pressure cooker bomb and other explosives. It’s easy to access weapons, drugs, and whatever else you’re looking for if you know where to look. Potential sociopaths can find communities of other potential sociopaths to egg them on, while militant extremists can coordinate with other militant extremists around the world. Hackers can attack everything from energy infrastructure to pacemakers.
While the Internet has improved the world in countless ways, it has also introduced these new risks.
You know what else is scary? Aeroplanes that can be flown into buildings. Assault rifles that can be purchased by pretty much anyone. Bioweapons. 17,000 nuclear warheads, not counting the ones we’ve lost. Drone terrorism. DNA hacking.
These new technologies all make it easy for psychopaths to harm others.
And between the nearly 2,000 militant extremist who escaped from prisons in Libya, Iraq, and Pakistan in the past week and all of the other militant extremists who have mobilized for various reasons around the world, plus all the lone wolf psychos like James Holmes and Anders Breivik, it’s clear that there are people who would use this new technology to kill and terrorize.
In this new paradigm, I want the government to surveil us. The good guys — and surely most of the people elected or appointed to the U.S. government are good guys — need to step it up or the psychopaths will have too much power. Rather than sacrificing liberty for security, I would argue that we are bolstering security to account for a massive increase in liberty allowed by modern technology.
What we should be asking is whether government spying is being done fairly.
On this point, Greenwald and Snowden have provided valuable perspective, showing that NSA spying is in serious need of transparency and oversight. Indeed, let’s have Congressional hearings to determine exactly what sort of data the government can access and what it can do with that data — only please, stop pretending that all government spying is bad.
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