We stand for freedom.

Those words were spoken by National Security Agency Director, Keith Alexander at a speech given during the annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, Nevada this week.

A little while later, he also responded to a heckler in the audience who told him to “read the Constitution,” with; “I have, and so should you.”

If that doesn’t qualify as the lie of the century, I don’t know what does.

I guess his version of the 4th amendment says this:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated unless the government feels it’s necessary, and no Warrants shall issue, because the government doesn’t need them.”

In an effort to show complete truthfulness, Alexander claimed that he would “answer every question to the fullest extent possible.” This because he welcomed dialog on this issue, and wanted to “put the facts on the table.”  He then assured another questioner in the audience that he had not lied to congress. Although, whether he was speaking only for himself or the entire NSA, is anyone’s guess.  He reaffirmed his stance that the NSA isn’t really doing any information collecting that we should worry about, because they are only collecting metadata.

Interestingly, the ACLU posted a great article yesterday on the truth regarding the intimacy of metadata. MIT media lab has developed a great tool called Immersion which “analyzes the metadata–From, To, Cc and Timestamp fields– from a volunteer’s Gmail account and visualizes it.” It illustrates what a huge repository of information exists as “metadata,” and why we have great reason to be concerned.

An age old belief system is at work in our government agencies – that they have to “keep us safe,” so that we can be free. This is the excuse given for the collection of data. The most dangerous part of this idea is that many of these people really, truly believe it. They feel morally justified because they are collecting all this information for our own good, and that certainly it can never be misused – or that it’s probably still worth it, even if it is.

But “for your own good” often ends up meaning “so we can control you.”

Collecting a virtually unlimited amount of personal information – that could potentially be used against you in countless ways – because maybe, a handful of times, this information in the hands of untrusted strangers could “keep you safe,” certainly falls under the purview of justified tyranny. Has the NSA taken the place of an overbearing father, going through our drawers and reading our diary to make sure we haven’t been canoodling with the neighbor down the street? At least you have a hope of getting out from under the thumb of an overbearing father. The NSA’s power to know where you are, who you’re talking to, what you are reading – only grows day by day.

So I would like to ask Director Alexander what freedom means to him, exactly.  Is he a parent? If so, will he make his grown children sit in a car seat, and demand to know who their friends are, and where they’re at at all times? Will he sit at home checking their gps – in the name of safety? Does freedom mean that I am free from having any privacy? How about freedom from original thought? It sounds over dramatic, but will it soon be freedom from any of us making our own decisions about anything? Because there are always going to be people out there who intend us harm. And that means, that there is always going to be a “need” for the government to infringe upon our rights, and our privacy.  The more we give in to this, the harder it becomes to (as a young adult would do) assert our individuality once more.

If the NSA claims to stand for freedom, maybe it’s time for a national conversation on what that word actually means.

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