So, last Friday over at Slate, Emily Bazelon posted a nice piece on the problem with the NSA’s PRISM program, revealed last Wednesday in the Guardian and the Washington Post. Bazelon expresses surprise and concern over the fact that many of her colleagues just don’t seem that concerned about the revelation.
Bazelon’s article includes the best Freudian typo I’ve seen in a long time. Near the end of the article, she takes on President Obama’s reassurances that there is really nothing to worry about. In addition to the fact that “it’s nothing to worry about” is a bald-faced lie, she notes that
it is depressing to watch this president become a misleading parser of words in the service of arrogating authority.
I don’t know if that was intentional, but I love it. “Aggrogating” is probably just an innocent typo, but it is a fortuitous one, as it invokes “aggro”, which is slang for aggressive.
It was in common use a while ago — I want to say maybe the 90s? — as in “Dude, I’ll give back your Nirvana CD. No need to get all aggro about it!”
Today, I think it is primarily used in the context of online gaming to describe NPCs (non-player characters) who will attack characters without provocation. And this, of course, is exactly the danger inherent in giving unlimited surveillance abilities to the government.
For the record, I personally find it extremely concerning that the NSA is scooping up all of this data, whether or not it is technically legal. In fact, most concerning is the fact that all is that the decisions about what, exactly, is legal have been, and continue to be secret (see, e.g., this piece by Noah Feldman).
A new poll suggests that most Americans are actually okay with government surveillance and loss of privacy (at least when the polling question includes the word “terrorism”). Now, personally, I disagree with most Americans on this one (because there is too much potential for abuse, because systems put in place to deal with terrorism invariably get applied to other things, and because I think that most people’s cost-benefit analysis goes haywire as soon as you say “terrorism”).
However, let’s say for the moment that most Americans would justifiably allow government surveillance of their online activity for the sake of protection against possible terrorist attack. Well, in that case, why the need to lie to people about it? Why has the legal interpretation of the Patriot Act been done in secret?
“You don’t need privacy if you’re not doing anything wrong” cuts both ways, Mr. President.
And I, for one, am not at all reassured that this sort of surveillance system is not going to lead to the aggrogation of authority.