Highlighted Selections from:

The Snowden Disconnect: When the Ends Justify the Means


DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2427412

Robinson, J. “The Snowden Disconnect: When the Ends Justify the Means.” Working Paper Series SSRN (2014): 1–22. Print.

p.1: People react to Edward Snowden and his national security disclosures in radically different ways. Security hawks want his head and call him a traitor; privacy advocates think him a whistleblower and a national hero. This essay examines those positions and finds that there is a fundamental disconnect between them, which influences and prohibits an important national conversation concerning the scope of the NSA’s work, the laws under which it operates, and privacy rights of United States citizens. This essay concludes that the privacy advocates have the stronger interests, and that it is wildly inconsistent for the government to simultaneously seek Snowden’s prosecution at the same time it engages in substantive national-security legal reforms. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.2: The Snowden disclosures, with their results and consequences, are fascinating and important regardless of whether his actions were heroic or treacherous. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.2-3: In fact, the arc of governmental response seems to indicate that he is both a traitor and a hero—the government persecutes and denounces his actions on the one hand, while making substantive change to surveillance law on the other. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.4: All together, the non-Defense Department Intelligence Community employs almost 110,000 people in both civilian and military roles. Of those, almost 22,000 are full-time contractors that support core functions of the intelligence Edward Snowden was among these non-government employees. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.6: In its criminal complaint, the U.S. makes three charges against Snowden: (1) Theft of Government Property; (2) Unauthorized Communication of Defense Information; and (3) Willful Communication of Classified Information. However, charges 2 and 3 arise out of the Espionage Act, which is so broadly worded as to raise First Amendment issues. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.6: Senator Frank Church’s warning, issued while he and the Church Committee investigated U.S. intelligence agencies in the wake of Watergate turned out to be very prescient: “The NSA's capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left.” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.8: Therefore, the argument goes, the government must collect everything so that they can find what they are looking for after the fact. According to the NSA, collecting Americans’ metadata in this way is legal because there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that such collection is relevant to international terrorism investigations. To find the needle, you must collect the haystack around it. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.9: These NSA activities were the first of the Snowden revelations to detail just how far the agency’s mission had transformed from its original focus on foreign intelligence gathering. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.11: If the content-oriented and non-targeted nature of PRISM are interesting, then so are NSA’s reasons for implementing it in the first place. According to the NSA, it built PRISM to overcome shortcomings in the normal FISA procedure of obtaining warrants for each intercept request. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.12: According to NSA, “FISA was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them.” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.15: There are three major prongs to the proposed new data collection program. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.15: First, the NSA will stop its bulk collection of American’s calling habits and metadata. Second, the phone companies themselves will retain the bulk metadata records and make them readily available to the NSA on a perorder basis (rather than en masse, as happens now). Third, the changes would also implement judicial oversight of queries to the database itself through the FISC process. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.17: However, the current Snowden-based dialogue generally sees little “conversation” taking place—both positions are talking past each other, not to each other. This gives ride to an interesting, if not altogether unique, situation. And until there is some remedy to it, there can be little progress toward reconciling the interests of the two groups. Without a meaningful dialogue, both sides will continue to dig in their heels and take positional, rather than interest-based, postures. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.17: Positional thinking is black and white—Snowden is a bad guy or a good guy—but fails to understand the connection between the position and the interests that underlie it. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.17: Through the red lens, Snowden’s revelations have done damage to the U.S. security apparatus. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.18: Through the blue lens, Snowden’s revelations simply exposed a vast and unknown security apparatus. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.18: This major and fundamental difference trickles down into other aspects of the Snowden affair and the media’s portrayal thereof. The position that a person takes on the Snowden revelations depends on which version of the Snowden account, illustrated above, that she accepts. For example, people infer Snowden’s intentions based on the color of their own personal lens. Those seeing red portray Snowden as an egotistic, self-interested attention seeker who cares little for the safety of the United States. The blue-lens people, though, portray him as a moral and principled patriot who risked it all because of his convictions. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.19: President Obama’s proposed reforms to the NSA’s bulk data collection policy do not even acknowledge the Snowden files as the precursor (or even a precursor) to the proposal. It is disingenuous for the government to disclaim or ignore such an obvious connection; one must infer that President Obama had some purpose for avoiding it. One obvious purpose for avoiding a direct discussion of the Snowden-to-reform connection is to maintain the ideological disconnect between the two. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.19: This is a sort of political doublethink. If the Snowden files are not the impetus for these proposed changes, then the executive can take credit for acting on its own to improve Americans’ privacy protections -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014