Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, November 11, 2007

  Personal privacy means an efficient Big Brother

Last month I commented, regarding a disturbing (and overlooked) White House initiative, the "National Strategy for Information Sharing," that the Bush administration was redefining the very meaning of personal privacy. To judge by the "National Strategy", the only legitimate privacy concern that citizens may have any longer is that personal information shouldn't be divulged unnecessarily to other parties once the government has collected it.

I have to conclude that for Bush, “protecting” privacy means “controlling” it in the government’s hands.

Today we learn that a top intelligence official, Donald M. Kerr, has said essentially that at a government-sponsored Geospatial Intelligence conference.

His comments probably should be understood in the context of Congressional debate over a bill to revise the FISA statute. It looks increasingly likely that the new bill will grant telecoms retroactive immunity for illegally handing over records for millions of Americans to the Bush administration when no warrants had been granted by the FISA court. Kerr once was in charge of electronic surveillance for the FBI, and he remains dismissive of the public's concerns that their emails are being intercepted. It's a concern he describes as "groupthink".

Pamela Hess of the Associated Press has a report on Kerr's comments.

As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information...

Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are "perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data."

As if that argument weren't sufficiently strained, Kerr also asserted in his speech last month that on-line commerce as well as the Facebook phenomenon—the willingness of some people to make public some curious facts about their private lives—mean that Americans have surrendered anonymity and given up control of what was once closely guarded information.

Kerr's sententiousness is transparent:

"Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it's not for us to inflict one size fits all," said Kerr, 68. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that."

"Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety," Kerr said. "I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn't empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere."

Kerr is pathetically obsessed with terrorist bombings, and he wants Americans to be fearful as well. Notice how bombings are a recurrent feature of his October speech; he even concludes the speech with a gratuitous reference to the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon in 1983.

For Kerr (until recently a top CIA official), the only logical response to terrorist bombings is to learn to "balance" safety and privacy—by handing your privacy over to the government for safe-keeping. But there's no grounds for worry, none at all. The government won't use that power to clean out your bank account.

[Kerr] noted that government employees face up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines if convicted of misusing private information.

Kerr seems incapable of imagining that people might believe the act of collecting personal information is itself an abuse of power.

But, then, this is the man who ten years ago stiff-armed Sen. Charles Grassley's investigation into the reliability of polygraph exams, when the Senate had been presented with evidence that polygraphs are not scientific (I can add, from personal experience, that a polygraph test is slightly less reliable than a ouija board). The fact that Donald Kerr continued to justify the use of polygraphs while ignoring clear proof of their unreliability gives you some measure of the depth of his thinking.

Grassley in any case was so exasperated with Kerr's appointment to head the FBI's Crime Lab that he denounced Kerr as "a government/industry insider, whose instincts are to cooperate with management".

Ten years later, Donald Kerr expects the American public to cooperate with invasions of their privacy, as if we too were government insiders. And I suppose that if we permit the federal government to sweep up vast amounts of personal information, insiders is what we will become by default—like tunny caught up in a net.

crossposted from

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