If You Don't Care About The NSA Because You 'Haven't Done Anything Wrong,' You're Wrong

from the you-have-done-many-things-wrong dept

Cardinal Richelieu’s famous line is:


If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

It’s easy to twist almost anything to be used against you if someone cares enough. And with a legal code that means people are committing, on average, three felonies a day (at least according to one estimate), it can be even worse.

That’s worth keeping in mind any time someone writes off the NSA as not being an issue for them because they’ve “done nothing wrong.” Driving home that point is an excellent short “Op-Doc” in the NY Times by filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, which has brief interviews with a bunch of great people (many of whom you’ll hopefully recognize) explaining in very clear terms why you should absolutely care about the NSA. There are many reasons discussed, but a simple one, highlighted by David Sirota, goes back to that quote above. You can claim that you’ve done nothing wrong all you want. However, if someone really powerful decides they want to railroad you, you’d be surprised at how much it can be made to look like you’ve “done wrong.” And when the NSA (or the FBI) can readily access all sorts of data about your life, their ability to build such a story increases tremendously.


The video has people answering a few different questions, beyond just why the “I haven’t done anything wrong” mindset is a mistake. It also discusses how corporations tracking individuals is quite different from the government doing so and a variety of other issues. The short film is actually from outtakes that Knappenberger put together from the documentary he’s been working on about Aaron Swartz. It just so happened that he’s obviously interviewing a ton of people who were familiar with both Aaron’s work and the NSA stuff (the Venn diagram of people knowledgeable about both would include quite a lot of overlap), and so he asked some NSA questions, leading to this video. Check it out.

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Comments on “If You Don't Care About The NSA Because You 'Haven't Done Anything Wrong,' You're Wrong”

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53 Comments
Anonymoussays:

The most damning part of all is if you escape their dragnet they can use that to infer you’re doing something wrong. Powerful and connected people can basically do whatever they want, usually. Us little guys get run over. Ever consider that everything the silk road guy did was also done by the clintons? A gentleman named larry nichols claims to have been their hitman. One group goes to jail, the other goes to a taxpayer funded mansion on a regular basis. There is no justice.

Rekrulsays:

There are many reasons discussed, but a simple one, highlighted by David Sirota, goes back to that quote above. You can claim that you’ve done nothing wrong all you want. However, if someone really powerful decides they want to railroad you, you’d be surprised at how much it can be made to look like you’ve “done wrong.” And when the NSA (or the FBI) can readily access all sorts of data about your life, their ability to build such a story increases tremendously.

My friend always takes the attitude that he has nothing to worry about because he’s done nothing wrong and says I shouldn’t worry about it either. When I counter with the argument above, he counters that by saying that we’re not important enough for anyone to bother spying on or looking into our lives.

He uses the same “I’ve done nothing wrong” argument every time I tell him about various police abuses of power. He always asks “Are you going to xxxxxxxx?” As if only troublemakers are on the receiving end of police abuse these days.

silverscarcatsays:

Re: Re:

Take something simple like jaywalking…

If I was a cop, I could go and charge you with reckless endangerment, reckless abandon, attempted homicide, attempted suicide…

Hell, point him to the story earlier today about the police that were arresting the same man 60+ times at the store he worked at.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

Indeed. He asked why so many people equate “against the law” with “wrong”, and that’s the answer. Killing someone is wrong? Make a law against it. Stealing is wrong? Make a law against it. Driving 100 mph in a residential area could easily kill someone? Make a law against it. Shoddy electrical wiring can easily start a fire that kills people? Make a law against it.

Huge chunks of law are in this vein of prohibiting things that are varying degrees of dangerous or harmful to people, or society. So when you break one of these laws, you are committing the wrong it prohibits.

Leaving it very easy for people to fall into the mindset of equating breaking any law with doing wrong. That laws themselves can be wrong, or can wrong people is not something that gets considered often.

JMTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s not a theory, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all realise that it’s not though, and that there are some things that are legal that shouldn’t be and there are some things that are illegal and shouldn’t be. Sometimes this is because societal norms have changed and the laws haven’t been updated to match (e.g. anti-homosexuality laws), and sometimes it’s because big commercial interests have been prioritised over what’s best for society as a whole (e.g. current copyright laws).

FamilyManFirstsays:

Bad and Worse

I am concerned about the massive database that the NSA (and others) are compiling, because despite the fact that “I have never done anything wrong,” I understand perfectly that I am, along with almost everyone else in the US, technically a felon due to the proliferation of laws. I now, or soon, will live at the sufferance of those with access to this database.

I am more concerned because the same database can and will be used to influence and/or control our elected representatives through blackmail. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will – always in the name of patriotism, of course – and I then begin to wonder why there are so few representatives who are up in arms about the deceitfulness of the NSA. I’d think that the reps would be more paranoid, and more worried about what that database might eventually contain on them … unless they already know, and are keeping quiet as a result.

Before Snowden I’d have dismissed this notion as a laughable conspiracy theory. I’m not laughing anymore.

Nicksays:

This is a serious problem in a black and white justice system. The problem with our society is we don’t want EVERY law enforced EVERY time, because we all “bend the rules” from time to time here.

For example, how often do we hit a stop sign in a empty intersection every day, and occasionally roll through it at 5 MPH or so? How many of us have gone even a single MPH above the speed limit? How many crossed a not-busy road not at an intersection? How many have poured a bird-bath filled by the recent rainshower out in the yard?

What we want is a law on the book, so that when someone does something REALLY bad, we have something to charge them with. We can point to the big book of laws and say “you can’t do that” and get someone that is driving recklessly.

Unfortunately, the NSA and various other “enforcement” agencies have taken it upon themselves to enforce every law blindly and entirely. If we REALLY wanted speed limit laws enforced, why are we complaining about speed traps and not equipping every car with a GPS hooked up to the car computer? If we want a car to NEVER run a red light, why are red light cameras being shouted down in cities across the country?

What we all need to agree on and understand, are that laws are for the benefit of making society work, but aren’t ironclad. Unfortunately, I am not able to offer a solution to how we can effectively “selectively enforce” laws to everyone’s agreement, but I thought that is what judges were for. Impartial observers that look at the SPIRIT of the law and determine if a persons activity breaks that. Forget the letter of the law.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

“Unfortunately, the NSA and various other “enforcement” agencies have taken it upon themselves to enforce every law blindly and entirely.”

for example ???

NSA is not an “enforcement” agency either.

and no enforcement agencies do not enforce laws blindly, they are ‘discretion’, and often DO NOT CHARGE people for minor crimes.

Even the police, when they pull you over for minor speeding will ask you “do you have any valid reason for exceeding the speed limit” and if you do they may not charge you, or the police may decide to simply give you a warning and send you on your way, happens all the time.

Its a bit sad you don’t think that is the case, sad or paranoid..

Nicksays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Interesting. My (admittedly) semi-incoherent angry rant I made up on the spot full of now-obvious declarations has at least sparked some debate.

Yeah, I lumped the NSA in with other enforcement agencies, but it was primarily because they have the power to enforce laws they want to (selective assassinations) or pass that information to other agencies. So in my mind, they are just an enforcement agency with the capability to spy on me.

And yes, we DO have what we call “impartial” judges and not machines judging our cases, but all too often to avoid any argument and debate they turn to the letter of the law only for judging a case. How often do you hear of a case getting a bad result, and even the judge them-self upset at it, but feel “restricted” by the law?

lfroensays:

Re: Re:

If only someone could invent such a justice system, where guilt and punishment would be decided by humans, and not by machines. I suggest we call those people “judges”. Wait a minute – we already have such a system.
In short – your ” black and white justice system” is strawman. It doesn’t exists in real life – that’s why you appointing judge (and jury in some countries).

Now, NSA doesn’t enforce anything. They maybe spying on all you do, but in the end of day – it’s police who will arrest you and judge who will convict you.

>> If we REALLY wanted speed limit laws enforced, why are we complaining about speed traps
Because different people ballance convenience and safety differently. Some prefer convenience (speeding) while other safety (speed traps). Whether speeding is actually dangerous or not – is another matter entirely.

>> If we want a car to NEVER run a red light, why are red light cameras being shouted down in cities across the country?
Short explanation – because majority of people are incredibly shortsighted. Actually, you DO want to enforce traffic laws 100% of the time. On some systems (hint: it runs on rails) you have no choice, but enforce it 100% of the time.

In my opinion, all this article is largely bullshit. Yes, it is correct that if some powerful entity wants to harass you – it can. Government spies, police, IRS, even firefighters and local municipality. They all can make your life miserable. It doesn’t happen (too often) because of several things: your government (down to local level) is (at some extend) elected and justice system (in average case) is fair. When those condition violated too hard for too long – people will (and had) revolt. No amount of spying will prevent it.
On the other case – if you want to be political activist – prepare to be spied upon. Rulers spied on their rivals (external as well as domestic) from the dawn of time. Kings spied on their siblings as well as on another kings. Oh, you want to protest some stuff – please tell us who you are. Too afraid – I guess your issue is not important enough.

Pragmaticsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Except that they’ve stopped doing that for some time now. The last time a recall election was held, the incumbent remained in office because of political tribalism on one hand and complacency on the other. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/11/14/after-spate-of-recalls-wisconsin-republicans-hope-to-raise-the-bar/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Wisconsin_protests

We will need to get into desperate straits indeed before the vast majority of the people will do anything. Prediction: when they do, the corporate shills currently running the country will sit back laughing as we fight each other over the ideologies they have been feeding us for decades.

So… where is the angry mob you’re talking about, Ifroen, and how can you guarantee that they’ll be sensible enough to only guillotine the bad guys?

lfroensays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

> So… where is the angry mob you’re talking about
You should grasp concept of proportions. For angry mob to form, very bad things should happen. Bad in scale of Europe-start-of-20-century, not US-recession-21-century. Usually famine+cruel government+unfair justice system speed things up.
Your example doesn’t really count – people still have right for assembly, for speech, for vote etc.

>> how can you guarantee that they’ll be sensible enough to only guillotine the bad guys
You can not. And they will not “guillotine only bad guys”. Again – look at Europe and beginning of 20’s century.

In short – I don’t wish you to be there when such stuff happen. It’s bloody and ugly.

Brazenly Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

>> If we want a car to NEVER run a red light, why are red light cameras being shouted down in cities across the country?
Short explanation – because majority of people are incredibly shortsighted. Actually, you DO want to enforce traffic laws 100% of the time. On some systems (hint: it runs on rails) you have no choice, but enforce it 100% of the time.

False, actually. We don’t want the rules enforced in certain edge cases, such as if the light were to malfunction and freeze in a particular state. Another, far more common edge case is when it is not safe for one to stop due to a tailgater that intends to run the light.

A patch of ice could work similarly, where a driver might realize that attempting to stop for a yellow light that will be red when they reach it would cause them to lose control of their vehicle and that there is lower risk in purposefully running the red light.

In my opinion, all this article is largely bullshit. Yes, it is correct that if some powerful entity wants to harass you – it can. Government spies, police, IRS, even firefighters and local municipality. They all can make your life miserable. It doesn’t happen (too often) because of several things: your government (down to local level) is (at some extend) elected and justice system (in average case) is fair. When those condition violated too hard for too long – people will (and had) revolt. No amount of spying will prevent it.

That is a good argument against the deliberate and conspiratorial implementation of such practices, and we do see that organized coups are somewhat rare. Unfortunately, simpler forms of corruption and idiots abusing their power for some short term fun or profit aren’t dissuaded terribly well by the argument that they are driving the populace towards rebellion.

Corruption can and has become systemic in many societies, which have come to demonstrate the norms you suggest cannot happen. Further, a number of eras in US history have seen groups targeted in this manner. Which groups end up demonized is a lottery at this stage.

That One Guysays:

Re: Re: how often does this happen

You must have missed the article, popped up a while back, talking about how the NSA was passing off data to other agencies, then telling the other agencies to lie about how they got their evidence.

Also, never gets old, having anonymous commenters talking about how violations of privacy, and therefor anonymity, are good things.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

How do you know they aren’t relaying information to law enforcement for prosecution? Are you in the NSA?

Do you still cling to this stupid nonsense you seem to believe that the NSA is charging people when they can’t? Or that they would TELL YOU that they are using your information against you?

You’re naive and blind.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

the fact that they DO spy, and they DONT charge thousands a day for anything, means you are simply WRONG !!!

You seem unclear on the concept. Actually, lots of concepts.

No one said that they file charges against every felony. Just that if they happen to target /you/ and decide they want to destroy your life, they have the tools to do so.

lfroensays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

> they have the tools to do so.
Of cause they do! They are SPY agency for ***’s sake! Of cause police/NSA/CIA/Mossad/GRU/KGB can make your life very miserable (and short). That’s what they do.
The only problem with this ridiculous NSA dragnet is enormous wasting of public’s money on stuff that have nothing to do with safety/security of the state.
Spying on Merkel (or other european politicians) ? No problem, probably she/they should fund her own agency better.
Getting caught IS a problem, and this is indicator of incompetency.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

The reason they haven’t, is mostly the same as why we used Contractors for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars instead of doing what they would have had to do to get that many boots on the ground… a Draft… which would have ended those two wars before they ever began. They will let things slide as long as when they use it, no one makes a fuss about it… because they still could be stopped… so, for now, it will be targeted for political gains and profit. Until someone else comes up with a new scheme for it.

Rising up

A mob rise up would be EXTREMELY difficult nowadays. Remember the department of homeland security bought 450 million rounds of ammo and have tons of armored vehicles? And that ammo… hollow points. Not target rounds… hollow points. Hollow points have ONE purpose… to inflict maximum damage on living tissue – HUMAN tissue.

No, a big uprising today would be put down by the powers that need to keep their power intact.

Now that they’re addicted, no way their giving up that power.

Anonymoussays:

One technique used to find needles in a haystack is the use of a magnet. Oldest trick in the book. For example, someone posts a video (or other content) that would be of interest to those against the NSA. The link gets distributed, and the video is viewed. The NSA then compels the first party to surrender the IP address’s of those who looked at the video.

Brazenly Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Rake in too many needles at once and you’ll get a puncture wound. Given that the needles are coming out of a dirty haystack, that wound will be infected and might just kill you.

When those who would oppose the oppressor fear to do so, then the oppressor has free reign to do as they wish. When opposition is fierce, those in opposition risk some censure for their actions, but hold the oppressive force in check and can work on removing the oppressor through peaceful means.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

~FDR

FM Hiltonsays:

Laws and Judges

“And yes, we DO have what we call “impartial” judges and not machines judging our cases, but all too often to avoid any argument and debate they turn to the letter of the law only for judging a case. How often do you hear of a case getting a bad result, and even the judge them-self upset at it, but feel “restricted” by the law?”

I’ve seen more than my share of judges deciding that they not only will go beyond the letter of the law, but exact the maximum sentence on provisions that were never imagined before. The “3 Strikes” law is one prime example of bad law, and what about all those extra tools in the federal level to make sentencing even more problematic?

The law only applies when the prosecutor decides he/she wants to make a statement about the crime and perpetrator.

So if you’re convicted of any crime, it’s up to the prosecutor and the judge to decide what kind of crime you’re convicted of.

The NSA isn’t an enforcement agency, of course, but they sure do have alot of friends who are, and believe me, they’ll cooperate when the time comes to pay out debts. That’s the most dangerous part of this whole debacle-that the NSA can ruin your life due to their ability to link anything to you for criminal purposes.

And that’s the danger of thinking “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.”

It’s all in someone elses’ view if you’ve done something wrong..not yours. You’re a criminal when and if you break a law you never knew existed.

Because there’s a law against it, somewhere. Just don’t piss someone off enough to prosecute you for it.

Grahamsays:

Ghostery found 19 trackers www.techdirt.com

It’s all just data, a series of symbols arranged in such a way as to trigger functions in machines which then output more data. Any organisation, which maintains a posture of being credible in it’s authority, thereby gives it’s employees and representatives the ability to present any data as genuine and meaningful. Any output data from any machine can be modified by administrators to ‘prove’ whatever they like… And even if you trust the current government, what about when the next generation of bully-boys get in… Maybe they really don’t like what they can actually see you doing, so they change it so you appear to be doing something illegal? Perhaps they have a secret agenda and merely maintain a fa?ade of national interest…. While they are pointing the scope at you, who’s pointing one at them? Politicians should be monitored by publicly accessible video feed 24/7/365. They are your paid servants, and have no authority over you. Nor should they ever be granted the right to present any such data as fact.

Michael Pricesays:

Right != I want everyone to know about it.

Just because you didn’t do anything wrong doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything you don’t want to hide. E.g. you had your sister stay over while she’s leaving her abusive, possibly homicidal partner, you are planning a $100M corporate merger that you don’t really want everyone and his dog front-running, you met with informants giving you details of police corruption and possible murder. All these are things that are not wrong, but you wouldn’t want everyone knowing about them.

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