Privacy SOS

Who’s watching the watchers? According to Clapper, no one

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake published more from his one on one interview with Office of the Director of National Intelligence chief and infamous perjurer James Clapper. Among other tepidly interesting minutiae about the top spy's life, Lake’s report informs us that Clapper has a wood relief depiction of the US Constitution hanging on the wall outside his office. No word as to whether or not it bears the scars of charring or darts. Glenn Greenwald offered some thoughts on the piece that are well worth reading.

Lake's report frames Clapper in the most positive of possible lights. Describing the fall out from Clapper’s infamous lie to Senator Ron Wyden, about whether or not the US government collects any information about millions of Americans, he wrote:

[Snowden’s disclosures] also led some members of Congress to conclude that Clapper had lied to them.

That’s an interesting way of putting it.

It’s not such a surprise to find that journalists granted repeated access to top officials for one on one interviews produce reports that paint those officials in a positive light. The only thing about the piece that surprised me was the following sentence:

Clapper in the interview said that he was pressing for a new information sharing system for the entire intelligence community that would audit every single data transaction.

Apparently, no such audit system exists today. The US government wants us to trust that its millions of intelligence analysts, private contractors, spies, law enforcement officials, and soldiers won’t abuse their access to vast troves of information about hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and yet they don’t have a basic auditing system that makes a record every time someone accesses said data?

The problem is most certainly not a dearth of technological prowess. If the NSA can tap into underwater fiber optic cables, hack into air gapped computers, and track the mobile phone locations of hundreds of millions of people all over the planet, among various other feats, surely it can devise an auditing system to ensure that its many databases are only queried for the right reasons, and by the right people. If there’s a will there’s a way. Until now, it appears as if no such will has existed. Unfortunately, if this kind of auditing system is introduced in the future, the oversight procedures will likely revolve around identifying and stomping out whistleblowers, not concern for the privacy interests of we the spied upon.

It’s remarkable that, amidst his wistful ruminations about how terribly sad these leaks have made him, James Clapper doesn’t worry about admitting to the entire country that the intelligence bureaucracy doesn’t do squat to meaningfully keep track of its own employees, to whom it grants what a top NSA official called "the keys to the kingdom."

If only the intelligence establishment cared about protecting privacy as much as it obsesses over protecting its secrets. I'm sure those problems are related.

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