Wednesday, July 09, 2014

NSA: walk a mile in their shoes

While this is mostly a technical blog, our most popular posts deal with cyber-rights, supporting Snowden, Weev, and Swartz. Yet sometimes I appear to defend the NSA. People ask me why, so I thought I’d write up a response.

Most American schools force students to read the book To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a great book for many reasons. Most people think it’s about racism, but it’s not – it’s about bigotry. Racism is just one of the forms of bigotry found in the book. The full message, repeated several times, is that we should get along with others by trying to understand their point of view.

Our society is improving with regards to racism, but other forms of bigotry are alive and well. Webster’s defines bigotry as: “obstinate and unreasoning attachment of one's own belief and opinions, with narrow-minded intolerance of beliefs opposed to them”. Our society praises such bigotry. Tolerance and understanding of other opinions is condemned.

People like Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum, and others in the ‘activist’ movement are extreme bigots. There is good reason to oppose the NSA and its leaders who have egregiously mislead the public. Yet, this is still not justification for bigotry.

It’s so bad that Snowden himself said in a recent interview:

“People have unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that’s too extreme. These are good people trying to do hard work for good reasons.”

I’ve worked with the NSA in the past. I’m an expert in the technology the NSA uses, as demonstrated in my XKeyScore posts. Thus, I know enough that the bigotry is plain to me. Hence, I write blogposts trying to explain the opposite point of view – something that if we truly believed in the message of To Kill a Mockingbird we’d all embrace. Of course, nobody learned that message, they only learned that “racism is bad m’kay?”.

That I get so much hate, being called an “NSA-lover”, confirms to me that I’m on the right track. People don’t debate the specific claims I make (such as how Jacob Appelbaum faked the “NSA tracking Tor users” story). Instead, they criticize me for standing up and defending the NSA, using language matching almost exactly those who criticized Atticus Finch for defending a black man.

Let me be clear: the government’s spying is unconstitutional, citizens have the duty to oppose it. Like Snowden, I would have leaked that Verizon order gathering all metadata. I’d even agree that incendiary terms like “police-state” are a fair description. James Clapper and Keith Alexander have been caught misleading the public. Despite all this, the NSA is not full of evil people. Demonizing the NSA makes you look like a bigot, making you lose credibility among people who matter. Sure, you’ll whip up your followers to a frenzy, but you’ll have no influence in Washington DC. If you want to change what’s going on in the government, then you’ll have to start understanding things from their perspective, walking a mile in their shoes.

Consider this tweet in response to this post:

The first time in To Kill a Mockingbird that Atticus tells Scout to try to understand somebody else's point of view is in regards to her teacher -- a person of authority.

In pre-WWII Germany, few defended the obvious bigotry against Jews because they had power. That's the point of Mein Kampf, claiming that that it was the Jews who ran the press, international finance, the major political parties, and so forth.

Bigotry against the powerful is still bigotry.

I think many think that racism/bigotry is bad because it harms the target. Thus, they don't care if it harms the NSA. I believe the opposite -- that my bigotry harms me. The problem is being obstinate and unreasonable. I may be wrong about the NSA, maybe some or all of their actions are actually valid -- I'll never find out if I persist in bigotry.

Also, of course, there's Ender's Game, which also taught the importance of understanding your enemy -- in order to destroy them.


Zac said...

Well said.

Tim Brigham said...

Thank you so much. This is one of the best ways that I have seen this statement made.

DarkIye said...

"I believe the opposite -- that my bigotry harms me."

Yes. This is zen.

Katie said...

Yep. Any time someone begins the process of dehumanizing the enemy, I'm no longer with them.

I'm alone a lot.