New York – Eddie Snowden has unleashed into the sunlight a core shadowy principle of statecraft, which Ronald Reagan, in the midst of his warm engagement with Mikhail Gorbachev seeking to end the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, used a Russian proverb translated as: Trust, but verify. Short of soldiers and bullets, is there a better way to protect sovereignty and public safety than “looking,” aka spying? The answer to the former is an easy “no,” but to the latter is split – threats from foreigners are “easier,” but homegrown threats have Constitutional bars, and hence, are “tougher.”
Upon learning the name PRISM, Europe has reacted with Casablanca-like feigned shock and protested, to help those in their own public squares feel good, and in so doing kept the distance between statecraft and internal democracy intact. Only India has acted with reasoned sanity in accepting cyber-security, knowing that social media is forcibly shortening the necessary distance between statecraft and democracy, thereby forcing every government and its leaders to speak more truth, more often, to their own better-informed and better-connected citizenry.
To those confused by the Arab Spring and effects of social media, it is quite simple: the citizenry is better informed and better connected, and will no longer buy “the moon is made of blue cheese,” or worse, calculated and instigated hate at neighbors or neighboring countries as a distraction, with the notable exception of Syria’s Assad, who has successfully unleashed sectarian violence to drown out the discontent-based Arab Spring. Instead, citizenry will use its better understanding and connectivity to make governments perish that don’t honor Lincoln’s promise during his 1863 Gettysburg Address of “government …for the people…”. Just ask Egypt’s Morsi when Tahrir Square was refilled with proud Egyptians holding their government to account well before the election cycle, and welcomed the military’s overthrow of Morsi and installation of Chief Justice Adli Mansour as Interim President (no relation to Palestine’s UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour). The better informed citizenry is harder to please with platitudes, and harder to govern when the floor of basic human existence is breached with tanking economies – again, ask Morsi.
To make matters worse for governance, social media, in addition to television and movies, has created a higher expectation in every human being of his/her basic rights and needs. In another 25 years or so, it will reach a near-universally accepted standard, such that what one is paid in New York for a particular task will be similarly paid in Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, Mumbai, Jerusalem, Moscow, Cairo, Berlin, Palermo, Madrid, Rio, Toronto, Sidney, Cape Town and Casablanca. It would be as if the AFL-CIO had negotiated a global salary for all labor. Just “imagine,” as John Lennon warned, what that would do to all governments who are forced to do more good more efficiently to more people – it would be as if the rules of capitalism and corporate governance were applied to sovereign governments. Accountability, per GAAP. Just imagine.
Now, turning to PRISM and listening to embassies of friends and foe alike, anyone not watching embassies of other nations ought to be fired by their citizens, for the first order of business for any government, at any time in history, is to protect public safety from enemies foreign and domestic. That requires keeping your eyes open, at all times. So, looking and listening of embassies is good and needed. PRISM, on the other hand, is a very mild act of looking at a sender’s and a recipient’s email address, that’s it. No different than looking at a sealed envelope sent through the postal service (unlike a post card, which has open contents – but, which converting envelope to postcard-power is available to Google, Microsoft and all other ISPs, including, Rediff mail in India, as they can and do read email contents). What makes PRISM hot and heavy isn’t the email addresses, but the ability to remember them all, forever, and calculate nearly infinite permutations from them that generates an alert of danger-possibilities. It is akin to a really perfect card counter, like Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rain Man,” playing blackjack at a casino and winning each time, as he could remember what had come and what was left in the card shoe. Pretty cool; and, pretty normal and legal, even as casinos hate it.
The United States, as a friend to many, armed with PRISM knowledge, alerts other nations of possible danger from terror; friends looking out for friends. Indeed, other nations have warned the United States of possible danger to us, from their intelligence activities – again, friends looking out for friends. Indeed, this kind of help can convert an enemy into a friend! In any event, the right response to such help is a “Thank you,” not friend-bashing.
Left for last, is the right of privacy. This is a confusing topic, if one isn’t careful. The right of privacy – large, medium and small – is an individual’s right against one’s government, corporate defalcation and foreign government. Rules of contract govern the dispute between a citizen and a corporation. It is what it is, unless the public policy says otherwise. As to one’s own government, in the United States we have the Fourth Amendment against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is well developed and privacy is at its “strongest.” Lastly, an individual’s rights against a foreign government run smack into the sovereign immunity of the intruding government, leaving the individual to ask their own government to complain to the intruder-government, as permitted in the comity of nations.
A parting thought on privacy. Most citizens, natural and corporate, have ripped any privacy from any public space by installing security cameras, microphones, etc., and broadcasting it on the web. People, voluntarily, driven to be celebrity-like, have made Facebook and Twitter billions while giving up privacy over private acts and private thoughts. Perhaps what is left somewhat private is an unspoken thought or an idea yet-not-born. But PRISM like programs can already predict which fork in the road down yonder you will likely take, or if a shopper in a store is a mere “looker” or a real “buyer.”
As to Snowden, he lost all principle, credibility and civic martyrdom when he left America to bash it. To drive home that point is none other than the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, telling Snowden that he ought to stop anti-American activities and deeming his asylum application withdrawn. Not since the city-state of Athens, has society endured chaotic democracy (mob rule) in its pure direct citizen-vote manner. Society has chosen republics as a better model. Over time, statecraft relied upon different tactics. Rome used “Bread and Circus” and Maximilien de Robespierre used Reign of Terror during the French Revolution; each, a friendly reminder of resident evil at any spot of the governance spectrum. With the representative form of republican government, statecraft is vital and necessary, and needs the governmental privacy that Snowden breached – deliberation privilege, along with the executive, legislative and judicial privileges, to function.
The ultimate danger is that social media has the ability, in citizen-hands, to do to governments what a government can do with PRISM to citizens or foreigners. Lurking, in the shadows is chaos emanating from converting representative governments into direct citizenship-democracy of the city-state of Athens. The ultimate answer may well reside in the hard line of freedom drawn across history by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, subscribed by the brave, for it led to the hallowed Constitution and its goal “…to form a more perfect union.” The world, given its digital shrinkage, requires us all to “form a more perfect world.”
Happy Birthday America!