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The rational perspective - what did the NSA do right or wrong?

Snowden nsaAfter seeing too many otherwise smart friends sharing extremist propaganda, here's a rational breakdown of the Snowden Scandal.

Let's make this simple:

1. We place a lot of trust in our democratically elected government.

We trust their standards and supervision in our food and water, we trust their standards and protections for our drugs and healthcare, we trust them with our security and we trust the police with protecting our homes and families. Hell, we trust them with almost half our paychecks!

Most of us have little reason not to trust our government (partisan extremists aside).

2. There is an ever-present, natural and healthy tension between the governed and the governing body.

While a healthy democratic republic limits the scope of the government, a healthy government will also seek growth in governance. This natural tension between the governed and the governing enables adaptability to social progress. This tension is nothing new and has always been there.

3. The public accepts that liberty without boundaries is anarchy - and that there are times when privacy must be compromised.

We accept that there are times when our privacy must be compromised - such as when a search warrant is issued. In order to get a warrant, the police must demonstrate reasonable cause for the warrant to a judge.

Society generally trusts our judges to decide when the police can override our right to privacy. 

4. The public expects that the same protections afforded to analog communications will extend to digital.

There are certain protections afforded to every US citizen. These protections should extend into the digital domain in the same manner as they manifest in the real world. The same protections given to the post office must be given to email and the same protections given to phone calls must be given to chat.

4. You don't have a right to privacy in public. Metadata is the big unknown. 

You only have a right to privacy in an area where privacy is part of the normal social contract. For example - you have a right to privacy in a public bathroom, but not in a public park. The government has the right to record your every move, as long as you are in public. Metadata around communications are not as private as the content of the communications themselves, but it can present privacy challenges - such as when a person is contacting a specialist physician. 

6. The big flaw in Snowden-gate was the element of surprise. 

We accept that terrorists should be watched and monitored. They give up their right to privacy when they compromise the basic rights of others, or support those who do so.

The public was shocked to learn of potential secret courts and had not considered whether metadata should be private. Most of the public has little idea what metadata is. An informed public is rarely shocked. A shocked public loses trust in the law, creating a tailspin of unintended consequences.

7. Optimal security requires compromises to our privacy. 

The most secure state is a police state. Without a clear and present threat however, nobody wants martial law. In a post 9-11 world, the government - elected officials and the courts - must walk a very fine line. If or when an attack happens, those same officials and courts who protected our right to privacy will be called to task for not protecting our lives.

Conclusion: Do you trust your government less than Google or Facebook?

We trust Google's algorithms when they read our email. We trust Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter when they analyze our social network engagements and recommend connections. We trust machines while they read our communications on a daily basis.

I doubt we would trust any of these companies with our police force, public education or military. Then again, we don't fork over a third of our salaries to any of these companies, nor are we beholden to their laws. That said, if we trust them with our data, we should trust our government with the same metadata.

The biggest failure of our government was a failure to educate us, their public. I don't expect them to tell us everything, but I expect to know something, and I expect our elected officials to know the details.

All in all, I'm pretty ok with the government's computers tracking my metadata. Automated tracking of data around our communications strikes a brilliant balance between liberty and privacy.