The PoliBlog

The Collective
Sunday, November 11, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Definition changing for people’s privacy

A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

That paragraph alone is enough to cause one to pause, as one of the last types of persons in government whom I would want dictating the definition of privacy would be an intelligence official.

The piece continues:

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

I was unaware that the clamor was over anonymity, per se, as given the internet and the ability to Google people, as well as the simple fact that a lot of persons willingly provide information about themselves over the web, the notion of anonymity isn’t what the debate about domestic intelligence gathering is all about (at least in my mind).

What the debate is about is the amount of information that that government can gather, under what conditions, and then what they can do with it. Beyond that, there is the very real concern that information once gathered can be abused.

It would seem that the government of the US believes that it is entitled pretty much to whatever information it wants, whenever it wants it (as the current debate over telecom immunity illustrates).

I cannot find another news story (apart from version of the linked AP story) that addresses the testimony in question, so I don’t have the direct quote. One can find similar statements about privacy not being anonymity in a speech he gave on October 23, 2007 (text here [PDF]). In that speech he speaks of the need to protect privacy and the only aspect of that protection that I find in the speech is as follows:

Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured. And it is that framework that
we need to grow and nourish and adjust as our cultures change.

I can see the point about Google in terms of a broader point about what privacy means in the modern age. Of course, the fact of the matter is most, if not all, of the information one can find out about me on Google is stuff that I, directly or indirectly, placed on the internet myself. That’s all well and good, but when one speaks, as he did to the Senate, about redefining privacy in the context of FISA reform and domestic intelligence gathering, I find that to be a chilling concept. The notion that the problem can be fixed by additional bureaucratic structures is hardly comforting.

The current administration clearly believes it needs increased access to a broad array of information and that it should be able to do what it wants with said information because it thinks that that is what is needed to “keep us safe.” I find the premise flawed and therefore am not willing to redefine privacy so as to meet their policy goals.

If the issue was simply whether or not law enforcement could use Google to gather information on suspects, I don’t think that there is any opposition to such activities. However, FISA doesn’t regulate the gathering of information that is already in the public domain, it regulates activities that includes clandestine monitoring of the communication of American citizens. That is a rather substantial difference.

Update: Not surprisingly, John Cole ain’t impressed either.

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Filed under: US Politics, War on Terror | |


  1. […] What’s left of your rights once you’re secure? Perhaps it’s an inverse proportion. Let’s all look forward to the day we are totally secure, without any rights. Some things just have to be done. In this Serious New World TM, your individuality cannot remain yours alone. Those In Charge must have access.  Your very freedom depends on this subservience.  Thank you. […]

    Pingback by The Heretik : Anonymous Update — Sunday, November 11, 2007 @ 5:39 pm

  2. […] Steven Taylor points out that this particular official, David Kerr, and been saying such thing for some time now, as in this from last month - […]

    Pingback by Call Someplace Paradise - Kiss It Goodbye « Just Above Sunset — Monday, November 12, 2007 @ 1:47 am

  3. Kerr is clearly retarded or blandly evil, or both. If he doesn’t understand there’s a difference between someone willingly posting their thoughts, interests, etc. on the Internet, and what that same person considers a private conversation with someone about ANYTHING they don’t want others to hear unless they so choose, then Kerr is clearly retarded or evil. It’s the old simple analysis: either he’s too stupid to hold the job he’s got, or he’s too evil to. Either way, he should go, preferably somewhere he can flip hamburgers, and make notes about what condiments his customers prefer.

    And he’s wrong about privacy vs. anonymity: if a person prefers to define privacy as anonymity, that’s the person’s choice, not Kerr’s. If any law enforcement agency needs to investigate whether someone has committed a crime, or is planning to, then they need to go through proper channels (they’re plenty loose enough as it is) to monitor someone–they DON’T get carte blanche to record every person’s every activity, communication, etc., on the theory that it gives agencies an easier time to investigate someone, by being able to go through old data to see if it contains any clues, if some reason arises in the future for monitoring someone. That’s just the breaks: when they need to investigate someone, that’s when the data-gathering begins–not 24 hours a day, from birth, as is literally the goal of the intelligence agencies.

    Stupid little snoop.

    Comment by John Sawyer — Monday, November 12, 2007 @ 3:18 am

  4. Well, if Bush and his gang can redefine “torture” to exclude acts of torture, why not redefine “privacy”?

    Comment by Ratoe — Monday, November 12, 2007 @ 11:52 am

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