The Collectivist Government Surveillance Paradigm

At CNN, a Mr. Glenn Sulmasy has posted an article entitled "Why we need government surveillance."

This article uses Sulmasy's views as a springboard, but what I have to say applies just as well to what any other government surveillance statist says. 

I am going to show you, very briefly, why the government surveillance paradigm as articulated by those who think like Sulmasy is collectivist.

The demonstration proceeds by first presenting Sulmasy's reasoning, alongside which a few observations are offered. 

Then, a hypothetical is discussed that exposes the collectivist nature of the government surveillance position.

Here is Sulmasy:

The current threat by al Qaeda and jihadists is one that requires aggressive intelligence collection and efforts. One has to look no further than the disruption of the New York City subway bombers (the one being touted by DNI Clapper) or the Boston Marathon bombers to know that the war on al Qaeda is coming home to us, to our citizens, to our students, to our streets and our subways.

So Clapper says the New York City subway bombers were disrupted? 

Prove it.

"We can't."

"Why not?"

"It's national security."

"Oh, ok.  I'll shut up now."

After advancing the Clapper assertion, Sulmasy immediately moves to a mention of the "Boston Marathon bombers."

We could spend plenty of time discussing the idea that surveillance seems to have failed there, so perhaps the balance has not been struck correctly, but mustn't tarry because there is a more important point to make here.

Notice the "heads I win, tails you lose" aspect of this?  If he's justifying the need for more surveillance by referencing one example where surveillance worked and one where it didn't, he's saying it's justified no matter what.

If terrorism really is prevented, that shows additional surveillance is needed in order to stop the next event.

And note that "additional" is necessarily, in the future, going to include "more intrusive", since terrorists will be said to be in a technological arms race with law abiding subjects and their gracious, protective, ObamaCare providing, tax discriminating Rulers.

But oops...sometimes a terror attack slips through the cracks.  What does that entail?

More, and more intrusive, surveillance of course. 

Isn't it great how that works?

Sure it's great, especially if you run the government, are a certain kind of spook, are a defense contractor, or you're a law professor who happens to be a Homeland and National Security fellow.

Sulmasy continues:

This 21st century war is different and requires new ways and methods of gathering information. As technology has increased, so has our ability to gather valuable, often actionable, intelligence. However, the move toward "home-grown" terror will necessarily require, by accident or purposefully, collections of U.S. citizens' conversations with potential overseas persons of interest.

He goes on to say:

But what might have been reasonable 10 years ago is not the same any longer. The constant armed struggle against the jihadists has adjusted our beliefs on what we think our government can, and must, do in order to protect its citizens.

Once again we mustn't tarry.

But, have you noticed how for all the talk about increased danger and changing patterns, empirical evidence in support of those claims is never offered?

That's because there isn't any. 

I can certify as a criminologist that there is nothing approaching statistically conclusive evidence, at least in publically available data sets, that domestic terrorism is on the rise.

Of course, I'm sure they have their own data which says otherwise -- too bad we can't see it.

But, you know what?  Why should we care?  Those who subscribe to the government surveillance paradigm don't.

Suppose mass murder were on the rise (and there's no conclusive evidence that that is either).

Mass murder is terrible, so why aren't any government surveillance types talking about using their spy tools to prevent mass murder?  Maybe it's just a matter of time?  Maybe they already are, but for some reason they seem to fail at that too?

What are the differences between mass murder and terrorism anyway?

Here is a big difference: mass murder is still a state issue unless the federal government decides it's terrorism.

At the end of the day, here is what Sulmasy and the rest of the government surveillance paradigm people are arguing: there are terrible people out there planning on doing terrible things.  We are here to stop them, and a great deal of spying is necessary if we are to do so.

So why aren't they more worried about rights when it comes to the individual?

When you're more worried about group rights than you are about individual rights, you know what you are?

A collectivist.

Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at crimprof2010@hotmail.com.

At CNN, a Mr. Glenn Sulmasy has posted an article entitled "Why we need government surveillance."

This article uses Sulmasy's views as a springboard, but what I have to say applies just as well to what any other government surveillance statist says. 

I am going to show you, very briefly, why the government surveillance paradigm as articulated by those who think like Sulmasy is collectivist.

The demonstration proceeds by first presenting Sulmasy's reasoning, alongside which a few observations are offered. 

Then, a hypothetical is discussed that exposes the collectivist nature of the government surveillance position.

Here is Sulmasy:

The current threat by al Qaeda and jihadists is one that requires aggressive intelligence collection and efforts. One has to look no further than the disruption of the New York City subway bombers (the one being touted by DNI Clapper) or the Boston Marathon bombers to know that the war on al Qaeda is coming home to us, to our citizens, to our students, to our streets and our subways.

So Clapper says the New York City subway bombers were disrupted? 

Prove it.

"We can't."

"Why not?"

"It's national security."

"Oh, ok.  I'll shut up now."

After advancing the Clapper assertion, Sulmasy immediately moves to a mention of the "Boston Marathon bombers."

We could spend plenty of time discussing the idea that surveillance seems to have failed there, so perhaps the balance has not been struck correctly, but mustn't tarry because there is a more important point to make here.

Notice the "heads I win, tails you lose" aspect of this?  If he's justifying the need for more surveillance by referencing one example where surveillance worked and one where it didn't, he's saying it's justified no matter what.

If terrorism really is prevented, that shows additional surveillance is needed in order to stop the next event.

And note that "additional" is necessarily, in the future, going to include "more intrusive", since terrorists will be said to be in a technological arms race with law abiding subjects and their gracious, protective, ObamaCare providing, tax discriminating Rulers.

But oops...sometimes a terror attack slips through the cracks.  What does that entail?

More, and more intrusive, surveillance of course. 

Isn't it great how that works?

Sure it's great, especially if you run the government, are a certain kind of spook, are a defense contractor, or you're a law professor who happens to be a Homeland and National Security fellow.

Sulmasy continues:

This 21st century war is different and requires new ways and methods of gathering information. As technology has increased, so has our ability to gather valuable, often actionable, intelligence. However, the move toward "home-grown" terror will necessarily require, by accident or purposefully, collections of U.S. citizens' conversations with potential overseas persons of interest.

He goes on to say:

But what might have been reasonable 10 years ago is not the same any longer. The constant armed struggle against the jihadists has adjusted our beliefs on what we think our government can, and must, do in order to protect its citizens.

Once again we mustn't tarry.

But, have you noticed how for all the talk about increased danger and changing patterns, empirical evidence in support of those claims is never offered?

That's because there isn't any. 

I can certify as a criminologist that there is nothing approaching statistically conclusive evidence, at least in publically available data sets, that domestic terrorism is on the rise.

Of course, I'm sure they have their own data which says otherwise -- too bad we can't see it.

But, you know what?  Why should we care?  Those who subscribe to the government surveillance paradigm don't.

Suppose mass murder were on the rise (and there's no conclusive evidence that that is either).

Mass murder is terrible, so why aren't any government surveillance types talking about using their spy tools to prevent mass murder?  Maybe it's just a matter of time?  Maybe they already are, but for some reason they seem to fail at that too?

What are the differences between mass murder and terrorism anyway?

Here is a big difference: mass murder is still a state issue unless the federal government decides it's terrorism.

At the end of the day, here is what Sulmasy and the rest of the government surveillance paradigm people are arguing: there are terrible people out there planning on doing terrible things.  We are here to stop them, and a great deal of spying is necessary if we are to do so.

So why aren't they more worried about rights when it comes to the individual?

When you're more worried about group rights than you are about individual rights, you know what you are?

A collectivist.

Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at crimprof2010@hotmail.com.