A Rikers Island juvenile detention facility officer on July 31. Photo: (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
What could possibly be more invasive, more offensive, than the secret indiscriminate bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency?
Quite a number of things, actually.
Let's put aside, for now, the CIA's complicity in torture, which, to my mind, is the worst scandal of the Bush years. Then, as you read about the following two stories, compare them to the NSA's surveillance, and weigh the potential and actual harm to real people that the practices exposed herein would cause.
1. The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill, relying on classified documents, has exposed for all to see the ungainly expansion of terrorist watch lists after September 11, 2001, and particularly, the intrusive, invasive, and privacy-threatening means the government knowingly uses to secretly enrich its files on what must be thousands of innocents Americans, assuming that the actual bad people among them are very few. As of August 2013, Scahill reports, there were 5,000 Americans on watch lists.
Watchlisting is fine; the uncertainty about the identities of terrorists implies that the list of suspected al Qaeda members will be much larger than the actual list. But providing to the National Counterterrorism Center bulk biometric data from all Americans in a certain number of states? The disproportionate targeting of Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan? The ease with which the government can open a file on you? Not only does the noise drown out the signal, but the actual harm done to people — inconvenience at airports, harassment at border crossings — is tangible.
2. The second scandal is much worse. Basically, corrections officers at Rikers Island in New York City physically abused mentally disturbed and yet-to-be-found-guilty teen inmates on a horrifyingly frequent basis. Read this and try not to weep.
Heightened awareness of what the government does — because it monopolizes the use of force — is a good thing. So is the ability to discriminate among scandals. These two stories offend me as an American much more than anything the NSA has done in recent years.
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