No secret: The tide is turning against domestic spying

Jesse Brown considers the numbers and sentiment behind headlines

Saul Loeb/Getty

The U.S. Congress has voted to let the NSA continue to spy on Americans, but the headlines don’t tell the whole story.

It’s true that last night in the House of Representatives an amendment was defeated that would have put an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk phone metadata collection, limiting the spying to those suspected of terrorism.

Here are some other truths:

  • Just two months ago, before Edward Snowden blew his whistle, Americans didn’t know the NSA’s domestic surveillance program existed.
  • In the time that has passed, a grassroots pro-privacy movement has sprung up, crossing America’s jagged partisan lines, uniting Tea Partiers with Occupiers.
  • A recent Washington Post poll found that 74 per cent of Americans think the NSA has violated their privacy rights.  In 2006, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 45 per cent of Americans felt government surveillance went too far.
  • Yesterday’s amendment was defeated by a razor-thin margin; 205 members of Congress voted for it, 217 against. Seven votes would have made the difference.
  • The amendment had widespread bipartisan support, with 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting to stop the NSA’s program, despite a forceful push from the White House to whip Democrats into lockstep against the measure.

My takeaway? Americans have had enough — a message their representatives are starting to appreciate.  The next Congressional elections are in 2014. I believe yesterday’s narrow loss will encourage pro-privacy voices, whereas a narrow victory may have placated them.

The PRISM phone metadata program is just one of many NSA domestic spying regimes: there’s Stellar Wind, a bulk email data-snooping scheme, ShellTrumpet, which has harvested more than 1 trillion pieces of Internet metadata, and EvilOlive, which collects bulk web traffic.  Ambitious Congressional candidates with their eyes on younger voters will do well to bang drums against such efforts, all of which were revealed by Edward Snowden, who, as I write, remains confined to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

Follow Jesse on Twitter, @JesseBrown



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