I call BS

I missed on Sunday, but under the theory of better late than never…

Donald Kerr is the principal deputy director of national intelligence, so presumably he speaks with some authority regarding the government’s view of privacy. In a recent Associated Press article he made several remarks which I find exceedingly scary, misleading or both. First up:

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people’s private communications and financial information.

So if I understand this, privacy, whose definition traditionally includes anonymity and the control over personal information, should now be defined to exclude both. Instead we should trust the government to safeguard the formerly private information. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we have a word for the protection of sensitive information – it’s called confidentiality. What Kerr is saying is that there is no such thing as privacy when it comes to government, all you really can hope for is confidentiality.

I’m not certain it’s possible to express how abhorrent to the constitution the attitude conveyed in that statement really is. Kerr is essentially saying that there is no longer a fourth amendment providing against unreasonable search and seizure.

But wait, there’s more! Now for a limited time, in addition to an anti-constitutional perspective on government, Kerr gives us a bunch of crap to justify it:

Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are “perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data.”

First, let’s get rid of the fear-mongering. Is Kerr suggesting that the U.S. government is giving green-cards to illegal immigrants? That seems exceedingly unlikely. Second, I’m fairly certain that a green-card holder is not going to be able to arrest me in the event that he or she a) monitors my internet traffic, and b) thinks something is a concern. Third, remember that privacy is about the control of personal information. It’s about having the ability to decide who gets to see what information. Having a government monitor all of the information from all ISPs completely strips away privacy. As to the ISP itself, I think that most of us are used to thinking of them as common carriers (like the telephone companies they are descended from). Their status as common carriers suggests that they are not monitoring all traffic. Moreover, there are laws that prevent them from turning over information to the government without having a court order. Of course, these are the same laws that the administration is pushing congress to overturn through retroactive immunity to the telecom companies.

Finally, we have this:

Millions of people in this country — particularly young people — already have surrendered anonymity to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and to Internet commerce. These sites reveal to the public, government and corporations what was once closely guarded information, like personal statistics and credit card numbers.

“Those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it’s not for us to inflict one size fits all,” said Kerr, 68. “Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that.”

Again, another lovely distortion. Kerr is suggesting that the intentional, willing dissemination of information is comparable to the government hoovering all of your communications off of the internet. This is complete and utter crap. Are there things about me on the internet? Of course. There are the public records from Durham and Chatham counties and bunch of emails that I sent to public mailing lists. Oh, and the information that I’ve purposefully posted. With the exception of the public records, all of this is information that I made public. Comparing this to the government monitoring all of my personal communications that I have not chosen to make public is an intentional distortion of the basic concepts of privacy. But then I guess we knew that from the beginning of the article.

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