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[liberationtech] Spin alerts

Todd Davies davies at stanford.edu
Mon Jun 10 16:03:57 PDT 2013


Two issues that are tending to get conflated in the wider discourse 
about PRISM, Boundless Informant, etc. are:
(1) Are these programs justifieid?
(2) Was it justified to keep the existence of these programs secret?

Snowden has said his primary judgment was about question (2), but 
proponents of surveillance are acting as if all we need to address is (1). 
This is an important distinction because even conservatives like David 
Brooks have said they think the existence of these programs should be 
public knowledge ("The secrecy of the program was a mistake. I agree with 
that." - 
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/jan-june13/politicalwrap_06-07.html#transcript). 
How can this "mistake" be corrected without whistleblowers like Snowden, 
when Congressional oversight is as deferential as it is?

On (1), there is a poll out today that focuses just on phone records, 
which the Washington Post headline summarizes as "Most Americans back NSA 
tracking phone records, prioritize probes over privacy" 
(http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/most-americans-support-nsa-tracking-phone-records-prioritize-investigations-over-privacy/2013/06/10/51e721d6-d204-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html).

But once you read it, you see that these opinions depend heavily on 
whether the respondent's own party is in power:

"In early 2006, 37 percent of Democrats found the agency’s activities
acceptable; now nearly twice that number — 64 percent — say the use of
telephone records is okay. By contrast, Republicans slumped from 75
percent acceptable to 52 percent today."

So rather than looking at overall public support at a given time, a better 
number to look at when assessing public support is the one from people 
whose party does not control the White House, averaged across different 
parties, which puts support well below 50% in this case. People don't get 
to remove the effects of their support for surveillance when presidents 
they don't trust take power.

Todd


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