I'm attracted to spy stuff. So are you. We like James Bond 007 because he has a license to kill. He is intelligent, sophisticated, sexy, resourceful and dangerous. He lives outside of the law, and therefore is not protected by it. Everybody knows that when spies get caught, they get no trial. Spies are summarily executed, period. Still, it's cool right?
Like most Americans, I have spent a lot of time thinking about my privacy and security in the post 9/11 "connect the dots' era. And like most, I've been following stories about Edward Snowden with a bit of ambivalence. Is his an act of civil disobedience or treason? It's both, isn't it? I take the position, now, that without Snowden we would have been singularly unable to discover how much our government has been spying on us. Once upon a time, Congress warned us about the anti-democratic consequences of classified laws classifying what's classified. We yawned. The NSA did not, nor did Homeland Security, FEMA and the TSA. Now only conspiracy theorists talk about this stuff and only Snowden has proof. Maybe, just maybe we can elect a new Senator with the ball of Frank Church - after all, what can Snowden do that Congress can't? Hmm. A lot more than anybody should be comfortable with. So maybe Snowden's revelations were the only thing that captures our imagination: spycraft, double-agent stuff, secret loyalty, but most importantly, he got the goods.
Getting the goods on somebody, catching them red-handed, producing the smoking gun, cracking the code all of these are things we excpect a good spy to accomplish. It's the leading edge of Justice. You just shiver with anticipation that the bad guys are going to get their just desserts when they get busted. Americans really dig this, I know I do. And there is a sadness and righteous indignation when the bad guys were somebody we were supposed to be able to trust. In those cases, the anxiety is amped up because the consequences are so dire. Wait, you say, our spies are spying on us? The gloves come off, shit gets real, and it's on.
Of course these are human emotions more at work than human intelligence, and we are likely to make errors of judgment under such circumstances. We have laws and procedures and the presense of justice when calmer heads prevail, and after all, the 4th Amendment isn't a joke. But maybe it is, or maybe at this point in time when our faith in democratic institutional competence and integrity is at a low point, we are bound to make a joke of it. That's a profound error and it can have disasterous consequences.
I think of this because of the awesome power of the internet. It aggregates eyeballs. What one person sees, 10 million people can see the next day, practically the next instant. And what is it that we want to see?
We want to see justice, but justice cannot be crowdsourced.
These days, there is rioting going on in a town called Ferguson, MO. And the hackers at Anonymous have managed to get their hands on police audio dispatches, which have now been disclosed to the public. Our eyes and hungers have been satisfied for the moment. And while I have my beefs with Anonymous, their actions are the actions of spies. Well, that's part of the problem. The public cannot be anonymous because when you speak on behalf of the people, you need to be responsible, and you need to be inside the law.
That essentially means that if you expect the government to always respect the 4th Amendment, you should probably set a good example yourself.
What we know, for example, is that police are responsible for somewhere north of 400 killings every year. If you took an internet plebscite today, Americans would unquestionably require police to have cameras worn on their persons and in their squad cars and film every encounter with the public. Imagine a system in which every shooting were monitored. We could tell the good ones from the bad ones and bring the bad guys to justice. You realize this is exactly the reason behind the NSAs dragnets. I've got news for you, there are something like 3.4 million arrests every year. Oh sure, crowdsource it you say. We have the technology, we can make America safer, stronger, faster. Ahem, but who is going to edit the video and create the mashup, and how exactly is that going to be different than Cops? (And when is the last time you watched Cops?)
Think about it for a while. Is more surveillance really what you want? Because we already have reality TV and what a blessing that has been. More reality? The humanities are dying in America. We are becoming a people who actually believe we can negotiate our relationships and produce justice through electronic surveillance and spy tactics.