Patterico's Pontifications


Snowden Document Reveals The Government Is Tracking Individuals’ Online Activities for the Explicit Purpose of Embarrassing Them

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:30 am

The latest Edward Snowden document shows the government tracking online activities of people in order to discredit them with charges of hypocrisy for viewing porn and such. But it’s OK, nothing to worry about . . . they’re all Muslims:

The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority.

The NSA document, dated Oct. 3, 2012, repeatedly refers to the power of charges of hypocrisy to undermine such a messenger.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see how a brass knuckles politician might drool over access to information that would embarrass and destroy their critics and political opponents. And it does not take a fanatical student of political smear jobs to imagine information like this being used in a political campaign. See if you buy this argument in response:

Stewart Baker, a one-time general counsel for the NSA and a top Homeland Security official in the Bush administration, said that the idea of using potentially embarrassing information to undermine targets is a sound one. “If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to,” said Baker. “On the whole, it’s fairer and maybe more humane” than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as “dropping the truth on them.”

Any system can be abused, Baker allowed, but he said fears of the policy drifting to domestic political opponents don’t justify rejecting it. “On that ground you could question almost any tactic we use in a war, and at some point you have to say we’re counting on our officials to know the difference,” he said.

Sorry, Stu: no sale. Everything about this story screams, in 20-foot red letters: “POLITICIANS CAN AND WILL ABUSE INFORMATION LIKE THIS!!!!” This is pretty much a vindication of everyone who trumpeted the importance of the information being released by Snowden. This document, in my view, reveals important information that shows a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between the government and an individual. It doesn’t make Snowden a hero, necessarily . . . but I find this story eye-opening about the government’s real purposes in tracking Internet activity. We increasingly live our entire lives online these days. Maybe you don’t look at pornography at all, but don’t worry. Once the government is able to track and store all your internet activity, it can find some other way to intimidate you.

The depressing part is, I doubt any level of outrage is going to change the fact that government will do this. If they can do it, they will.

What, you got a problem with that? OK, I’m happy to hear you out, sir. Before we discuss your concerns, though, could I just ask you a few quick little questions about your browsing history?

Yeah. That’s what I thought. Have a nice day . . . sir.

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