The 'Privacy' Jihad

The 'Privacy' Jihad is an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal on those pesky privacy advocates, the "privacy community," "privacy vigilantes," "Privacy zealots," "privacy battalions," "privacy onslaught," "the privocrats." Heather Mac Donald says just when the country should be unleashing its technological ingenuity to defend against future attacks, scientists stand irresolute, cowed into inaction. "The "privocrats" will rightly tell you that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Trouble is, they're aiming their vigilance at the wrong target."


They are pushing intelligence agencies back to a pre-9/11 mentality, when the mere potential for a privacy or civil liberties controversy trumped security concerns.

The ACLU staunchly maintains that concerns over physical security can be met without the Bush administation dismantlement of hard won civil liberties. If the Almighty United States is indeed so Almighty as it touts itself to be, then surely it can accomplish this. If it cannot, then should it not stop misrepresenting itself?

Goaded on by New York Times columnist William Safire, the advocates presented the program as the diabolical plan of John Poindexter, the former Reagan national security adviser and director of Pentagon research, to spy on "every public and private act of every American" -- in Mr. Safire's words.

Let us not, in our hysteria over the Bin Laden Bogeyman, forget whereof we speak here. John Poindexter was and is an such arrogant son-of-a-bitch that he considered himself to be above the authority of his Commander in Chief. He was also convicted of four felony counts of lying to Congress.That his conviction was overturned counts for naught in my books given that the reversal was based on a technicality, rather than new evidence which showed a wrongful conviciton.

And if Poindexter's credentials impute some kind of special authority, then why is the Bush administration savaging Clarke -- whose credentials are equally impressive but whose career is exemplary.

But according to the "privacy community," data mining was a dangerous, unconstitutional technology, and the Bush administration had to be stopped from using it for any national-security or law-enforcement purpose.

The Bush adminstration had enough intelligence and forewarning to figure out that September 11th could have happened without data mining. They didn't do enough to stop it.

The FBI and assorted agents simply failed to put the pieces together (a phenonmenon called Linkage Blindness). They would not have been further ahead with more information.

The "privocrats" will rightly tell you that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Trouble is, they're aiming their vigilance at the wrong target.

Why, we but follow the example of your Liege Lord -- the bumbling, bumptious bumpkin with the blunderbuss whose scattershot doth hit all and sundry but those t'were meant for.

Anon. The rest of that simple-minded tomfoolery is more of the standard, "We must have Big Bubba Bush to protect us" claptrap.

(And, of course, I'm sure none of the twitchy-kneed conservatives are going to complain about how wrong-wing that commentary is, while raising wailings and lamentations unto the very heavens about the wrong way leanings in this comment. Have at thee, sirrah; just have the good grace to not hoist yourelf with own petard.)

Although this right-winger could moderate the post by Fang-Face (which would be listed as Insightful), instead I tip my hat to such a wonderful contributor to LISNews. Not that I agree with everything, but that's a post to be proud of (take note anonymous patrons!). Careful thought, engages debate, no personal attacks. Kuddos, Fang-Face.> The Bush adminstration had enough intelligence and forewarning to figure out that September 11th could have happened without data mining. They didn't do enough to stop it.Unfortunately, they didn't have enough information. One thing to remember is that the various intelligence agencies, and other agencies (IRS, INS, etc.), did not have computer systems that could cross-communicate. Data-mining or not, it is nearly impossible for one agency to share information with another. Via paper, it takes exponentially greater numbers of people to be as effective as database sharing. The fact that both Clinton and Bush were told that terrorism could happen in a 9/11 fashion is correct, however it wasn't supported by multiple agencies. We had Big Bubba Clinton to protect us as well, same with all the prior Presidents. Terrorism happened under all their watches, but don't blame Bush Jr. for stepping it up a notch.The debate is useful. How much do we blame Presidents (or world leaders) for things that are out of their control, and more in the hands of lifelong bureaucrats?

There are so many things wrong with this WSJ commentary, that it's hard to know where to start.I think I'll start with her last line:"The "privocrats" will rightly tell you that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Trouble is, they're aiming their vigilance at the wrong target."The object of all of the "homeland security" measures we've seen since 9/11 (and some back to 1996) is the preservation of life and property, not liberty. Now matter how much DOJ and politicians of BOTH parties claim that "Life is the first liberty", it's still a lie. If "life" were the fundamental liberty the administration claims it to be, then any number of repressive countries like Syria, Cuba, and Russia would be counted among the most free. Further, there would have been ZERO point to the American Revolution as Mother England never threatened our physical lives.It's true that you have to have life to enjoy earthly liberty. But mere existence is NOT liberty and we should stop pretending that it is.Having gotten my philosophical shout out of my system, let me quietly note a few problems totally ignored by Heather MacDonald:1) Data Mining will be ineffective due to the high rates of false information in commercial databases and the abundance of Identity Theft.The FTC published a study on ID theft last September that concluded that perhaps as many as 1 in 8 Americans had been victims of ID theft. If this is true, then it's likely to trigger a lot of false positives, diverting precious police resources. Same goes for mistakes in credit bureau files. If you can't find info on credit mistakes and ID theft prevelance, let me know and I'll post some links I don't currently have handy.2) Biometric Cameras are ineffective. By "biometric cameras", I assume she means cameras linked to face-scanning software. Last year there was a study that concluded that London's use of tens of thousands of security cameras specifically set up to catch terrorists had not only not caught a single terrorist, but had not caught any regular criminals either. Recent uses of face-scanning software at football games and other such places hasn't nabbed anyone that I'm aware of. Finally, there's a fair bit of literature showing that it's very easy to defeat most biometric systems. Again, if you can't find anything on this topic for yourself, let me know. I'm being a little lazy tonight because we're all info professionals here.I guess the saddest thing is seeing Ms. MacDonald decry "national-security carnage" resulting from rejection of data mining and mass surveillance technologies while ignoring many common sense and noncontroversial things that should have been done prior to 9/11 and still are not:- Creating a unified "terror watch list" now split between 14 federal agencies, according to GAO.- Placing impenerable bulkheads on aircraft between the passenger and pilot areas.- Inspecting more than 2 percent of cargo containers entering this country and brainstorming faster ways of checking containers.- Enforcing existing visa laws, which even Perle & Frum assert would have blocked out several of the 9/11 terrorists. (Hopefully this *is* being done.)- Mandate better security for chemical plants, currently left to the chemical industry to implement whatever seems to be economically feasible.- Hiring enough translators to have real-time translations of foreign language intelligence.- Promote federal information sharing and eliminate agency infighting. McBride has a point here about different fed agencies having different files. EXCEPT this was unaddressed by USAPA, I believe. I know for certain that FBI & CIA were excused from the forced information sharing in the Dept of Homeland Security. They STILL get to CHOOSE what they share. And that is a BIG part of 9/11.There are probably other effective, non-privacy invading things we could be doing that are listed in the various commission reports on terrorism issued over the years. The Hart-Rudman Commission comes to mind.I think we should try some of these first before we ask people to give up more freedom.

Ditto my previous comments applied Fang-Face for Daniel. Look at how more more fruitful registered members are than anons.> 1) Data Mining will be ineffective due to the high rates of false information in commercial databases and the abundance of Identity Theft.I'd disagree here. A) They're not using commercial databases. And, from what I hear through people I know, they are taking a very progressive approach to the data mining problem. If insurance companies can create actuarial table that work effectively (and yet analyze thousands of data points), then so can homeland security. B) Identity Theft can be part of the mining procedure. Wouldn't it be great if a side benefit of homeland security was technologies to remove this threat? Don't think it can't happen. Same argument was used against the space program, that no new technolgies would be created. Well, history has shown countless examples that the space program has developed new technologies. See "It Came from Outer Space : Everyday Products and Ideas from the Space Program" (ISBN: 0313322228), or "Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program" (ISBN: 0801877490).AH, I love this website. (No NBA trademark infringement intended)

Subscribe to Comments for "The 'Privacy' Jihad"