Government surveillance: Does your leader have five eyes?

Government surveillance is one of the biggest themes in my first novel. In the story, it’s treated as a very negative thing, though I understand that in the real world, it is a very nuanced, complex subject, with decent arguments made from many different viewpoints.

There’s no news here: Government surveillance has been going on for a long time.

CISA (Cybersecurity Act of 2015). It passed in mid-December, to little fanfare (unless you specifically keep an eye on these matters). Like many things, it was slipped into the giant budget bill that OMG we have to pass now otherwise the government will shut down. (Anyone getting tired of this scenario?) Even Congress wasn’t able to read the text of the bill until 48 hours or so before they passed it, though I doubt that they’d have read it if there had been more time. (Sometimes I wonder if the only person who actually does comb legislation in Washington is veteran reporter Jamie Dupree.)

Because of the last-minute timing, members of Congress “are not even going to know what they’re passing,” White said. “We don’t have time to get an informed vote, they’re pulling a fast one on the Senate.”

(from The Intercept)

Convenient. When something happens that makes this issue blow up, these legislators can hold up their hands, claim innocence and play the blame game. “We didn’t know–they didn’t give us enough time to read. And we had to pass it–I mean, the government was going to shut down.”

Anyway, this sneaky little thing called CISA slipped into the budget bill and now is law. Basically, it expands the government’s ability to watch. Because privacy. And because security. And–because.

Then there’s The Five Eyes Alliance, a clique of countries committed to helping each other spy on their own citizens.

Say you’re the NSA. By law, there are certain sorts of spying you’re not lawfully allowed to do on Americans. (And agency rules constraining you too.) But wait. Allied countries have different laws and surveillance rules. If there are times when America’s spy agency has an easier time spying on Brits, and times when Britain’s spying agency has an easier time spying on Americans, it’s easy to see where the incentives lead. Put bluntly, intelligence agencies have an incentive to make themselves complicit in foreign governments spying on their own citizens.

(from The Atlantic)

So, there are “rules” and “limits” to surveilling your own people. Rules that are so handy to recite during PR storms, to offer a little pat of comfort on the people’s heads. (“No, calm down everyone. Our practices are incredibly limited in scope. See? Here are the rules that limit us.”). But they’re rules that can be circumvented.

Like a poorly knit sweater, there are plenty of loopholes.

As of this writing, my stance is this: If you can trust your leaders… you fill in the blank. It comes down to your view of human nature, I suppose. There’s a reason why we say that power corrupts.

The leaders in my novel cannot be trusted with this power.

Can yours?

I have an editor!

Connections: The treasure in getting off-track