New intelligence director has odd idea of privacy

By Freedom New Mexico

The whole point of gathering intelligence is to learn what others don’t want you to know.

Using satellites, computers and real-time analysis, it’s never been easier to track down the bad guys — along with U.S. citizens who presumably count themselves among the good guys.

Presume no more, citizen. Your privacy rights are under siege, thanks to a Bush administration that never met a wiretap it didn’t like.

If the disclosure of a domestic spying program weren’t enough to feed your most paranoid fantasies, we now have a top intelligence official who wants to change the very definition of privacy.

Donald Kerr was just confirmed as the principal deputy director of national intelligence after directing the National Reconnaissance Office and stints with the CIA and FBI. He spoke last month before the GEOINT Symposium, an annual gathering of defense and intelligence experts who deal in “geospatial intelligence.”

“Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity, and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture,” Kerr said in his keynote address. “But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity — or the appearance of anonymity — is quickly becoming a thing of the past.”

In blunt terms, he added, “Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won.”

Kerr is right in one respect, as anyone who uses the Internet knows. It’s incredibly easy to “Google” someone’s name looking for personal information, and millions of Americans put themselves on display on MySpace, YouTube and other social networking Web sites.

One could argue, as Kerr does, that these weapons of mass disclosure make the idea of privacy (a.k.a. anonymity) obsolete. Ditto for reading your credit card number to some drone at a telephone call center.

Americans squawk about privacy rights, but most do a lousy job of protecting them.

That’s hardly an excuse for the government to pile on. It’s one thing for people to disclose their personal data to private businesses and fellow Web surfers, all of which is purely voluntary. What intelligence analysts crave, however, is information that has not been made public — lots and lots of information. Like your personal phone calls and e-mails, for example, and whatever other goodies the Bush administration has gathered under its domestic spying program.

This old-fashioned concept of privacy has led to about 40 wiretapping suits being filed against telecommunications companies. One witness in a California lawsuit claims the government vacuumed up billions of e-mails and phone calls through an AT&T facility in San Francisco. For data miners, that’s like hitting the Mother Lode, but now the telecoms are sweating bullets over the prospect of paying big-time damages.

Unfortunately, that has shifted the debate in Congress from curtailing warrantless domestic surveillance to giving the telecoms legal immunity for playing footsie with the feds.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is among those leading the charge, saying the companies should not be “held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities.”

She glosses over the not-so-fine point that those invasive and likely illegal “activities” took place on a massive, unprecedented scale. The telecoms chose to collaborate with the government, leaving their customers with no choice and no clue that Big Brother was listening in.

There’s an Orwellian theme to be found here, a new mindset that sacrifices personal privacy at the altar of homeland security. Kerr offers the term “essential privacy” as a substitute for the archaic version, along with a “system of laws, rules and customs with an infrastructure of inspectors general, oversight committees and privacy boards” to keep watch over the data mine.

We far prefer the old-fashioned privacy, including the ban on warrantless searches that President Bush, Feinstein and Kerr all seem to have forgotten.