One bizarre aspect of this new debate about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs is that everyone only seems to be concerned about secret spying on Americans.
When the first allegations about NSA privacy abuses came out, the NSA and White House rushed to reassure everyone:
Yes, the surveillance program exists, but it only spies on foreigners.
And for a day or two, that actually appeared to satisfy everyone. Oh, we’re only recording, tracking, and analysing the communications of foreigners? Well, OK then. We just wanted be sure that the privacy abuses and Big Brother stuff wasn’t being used on Americans.
Then, of course, someone revealed that the NSA programs also gather data on Americans and everyone went insane about privacy violations again.
In other words, Americans seem to be fine about any kind of U.S. government spying as long as it’s focused on “foreigners.” They just go crazy when the same tactics are used on Americans.
That’s odd. And a bit disturbing.
Because most people in the world happen to “foreigners.” And most of these foreigners are as non-violent, law-abiding, and deserving of basic privacy rights and due process as most Americans.
Some of these “foreigners,” in fact, are friends, family, colleagues, and customers of Americans. And most of the billions of users of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and other major communications service providers whose communications the NSA is “intercepting” are foreigners.
There about ~7 billion “foreigners” in the world, in fact, and the U.S.’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act apparently gives the U.S. government complete freedom to spy on all them.
If all ~7 billion “foreigners” in the world were likely to be potential terrorists, and the 300 million Americans were not potential terrorists, this logic might make sense.
But as recent events in Boston have shown, Americans can also be potential terrorists.
These “foreigners,” moreover, also constitute the vast majority of the users and customers of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and other American tech companies.
So the idea that these companies would voluntarily and happily allow the U.S. government to spy willy nilly on these “foreigners” is both outrageous and offensive.
What this renewed focus on U.S. government intelligence programs has revealed, in other words, is not just the concern that these surveillance programs may now be going too far. It is that some Americans still don’t appear to appreciate that we now live in a highly globalized world.
In this globalized world, the rules and laws of one country increasingly need to be considered in a broader context. And assurances that massive American spying programs are only focused on “foreigners” won’t come as much comfort to U.S. allies around the world, not to mention the billions of customers who have helped make some of our companies the most powerful and richest on the planet.
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