NSA “Fatigue”?

Washington Post: One of the many ways the NSA is tracking you

Last month I saw a New York Times account of the latest interview with Edward Snowden headlined, “Racy Photos Were Often Shared at N.S.A., Snowden Says“—yet not widely picked up elsewhere—and I wondered, “Oh dear, if sex isn’t selling continued interest in NSA spying revelations, we’re in trouble.”

Now, in an in-depth interview in Wired magazine, conducted by James Bamford (for whom we hosted an event in 2003 upon the release of his book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency), Mr. Snowden himself expresses the same fear:

Another concern for Snowden is what he calls NSA fatigue—the public becoming numb to disclosures of mass surveillance, just as it becomes inured to news of battle deaths during a war. “One death is a tragedy, and a million is a statistic,” he says, mordantly quoting Stalin. “Just as the violation of Angela Merkel’s rights is a massive scandal and the violation of 80 million Germans is a nonstory.”

There’s certainly no reason for such fatigue, as continuing revelations should be building continuing horror in anyone still paying attention.

In the in-depth interview from which the Times story drew, for example, Mr. Snowden provided further details of the programs that drove him to blow the whistle:

the officials who authorised these programs knew it was a problem, they knew they didn’t have any statutory authorisation for these programs. But instead the government assumed upon itself, in secret, new executive powers without any public awareness or any public consent and used them against the citizenry of its own country to increase its own power, to increase its own awareness.

And a recent Washington Post story culminated from a four month investigation of more than 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts, mostly held by non-targeted American citizens—all retained by the NSA and released by Edward Snowden to disprove NSA’s claims—frequently repeated by President Obama—that it only retains “meta-data:”

They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

If the knowledge that the NSA collects and stores indefinitely all of your email, cell, online transactions—as well as tracking your whereabouts at any given moment—does the thought of 18 year-old voyeuristic NSA employees leering at pictures of your daughter, and finding their amusement in shared intimacies meant only for the eyes of friends cause you outrage?

Even if not a quote of Thomas Jefferson, the sentiment remains more valid than ever:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Having now failed to pay for our liberty with vigilance, each must now decide to pay by being informed, informing others, and protesting loud and long until the NSA and its fellows are dismantled and disgraced forever.

The alternative—fatigue—means the death of liberty. The only question is how soon?

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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