William Hague, U.K. Foreign Secretary, made a statement to the House of Commons today in response to British concerns about the Prism operation. He made the following remarks which I fear sum up the insidious logical fallacies of our own government as well.
First he claims the government has to operate in secret because the enemies of the country act in secret. He then lavishes compliments on those in the government who are engaged in secret undertakings saying if only the people could know how fine and wonderful they are, the people would feel very confident about the work they do.
After saying the government must be secretive with respect to informing its citizens, in this case about an intelligence gathering capability, he admonishes terrorists, spies and criminals to be aware that the government has capabilities to protect its citizens from evil deeds.
We should never forget that threats are launched at us secretly, new weapons systems and tactics are developed secretly and countries or terrorists groups that plan attacks or operations against us do so in secrecry. So, the methods we use to combat these threats must be secret just as they must always be lawful.
Mr. Speaker, if the citizens of this country could see the time and care taken in making these decisions, the carefully targetted nature of all our interventions and the strict controls in place to ensure the law and our democratic values are upheld. And, if they could witness, as I do, the integrity and professionalsim of the men and women of our intelligence agencies who are among the very finest public servants our nation has, then I believe they would reassured by how we go about this essential work.
The British people can be confident in the way our agencies work to keep them safe, but would-be terrorists, those seeking to spy against this country, or those who are the center of organized crime, should be aware that this country has the capablity and partnership to protect its citizens against the full range of threats in the 21st century and that we will always do so in accordance with our laws and values but with constant resolve and determination.
It does not logically follow that a government must act in secret because criminals act in secret. The same argument could be made for acting illegally.
When the people do not even know what programs and operations are in place it does not help to be told that the government employees implementing those programs are glowing examples of human kind. It is primarily the nature of the programs that are a threat moreso than the personnel hired to implement them although it would be informative to know that as well.
Finally, why is it that terrorists, spies and criminals should be aware that governments are engaged in operations to monitor them but the law-abiding citizens should not be informed they are subject to similar surveillance?
Citizens of a democratic country realize the operational details of their government’s intelligence work are not to be openly shared. It is preposterous to suggest that is what is expected. It is not acceptable to keep citizens unaware of wholesale data collection on every law-abiding citizen just in case the government believes there is a reason to further invade your privacy at some point in the future. Law-abiding citizens as well as criminals expect governments to engage in covert intelligence against criminals. Why would anyone assume law-abiding citizens are subjects of covert government operations as well?
The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
—- Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry was speaking about Congress conducting its business in secret. He also conceded there are exceptions…
…affairs of great consequence, the immediate promulgation of which might defeat the interests of the community, I would not wish to be published, till the end which required their secrecy should have been effected.
The public has a right to know what authority the government claims in gathering data on citizens, what kind of information is obtained, how often it is collected, how long it is stored. The executive branch has given us misleading information or outright lied about the surveillance programs–
SENATOR RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
JAMES R. CLAPPER, RETIRED LIEUTENANT GENERAL: No, sir.
WYDEN: It does not?
CLAPPER: Not willingly.
yet expects us to trust that the programs are benign to law-abiding citizens. The Senate defeated amendments protecting internet and phone privacy, but we are to be assured there is adequate oversight. There is some question whether some FISA court orders go beyond their legal authority.
The acts of terrorists, spies and criminals do not legitimize the acts of governments against law-abiding people. If governments begin to believe they can act like criminals for the presumed good of the people there is no other end than a police state.