The hypocrisy of leaders

Glenn Greenwald says that the reaction of German chancellor Angela Merkel to the revelation of NSA spying gives us a revealing insight into the hypocrisy of government leaders.

When the original news reports emerged of how the NSA was spying on German citizens, her reaction was muted, more pro forma in its denunciations, that gave people the impression that this was actually business as usual. But not that it has been revealed that the NSA has been spying on even the personal cell phone of leaders including hers, hers and the others’ anger seem more genuine.

It is always thus. Our political leaders don’t much care about violating the rights of ordinary people but take umbrage when they are the victims, because they think that they are a privileged class, above the normal rules.

It reminds me of Jane Harman, Democratic congresswoman from California. She was one of the most vocal supporters of George W. Bush-era illegal domestic eavesdropping programs, repeatedly pooh-poohing the concerns of civil liberties groups. But when it emerged that her own phone had been tapped, she was absolutely outraged at this invasion of her privacy even thought that particular wiretapping had been done with a legal warrant as part of a criminal investigation. Practically overnight she went from a supporter to an opponent of this kind of eavesdropping.

These people have no principles, just self–interest.

Greenwald points out other hypocrisies, such as the new expressions from European leaders about how glad that these stories of spying are being revealed, as if they are now champions of openness. If so, why are they still pursuing a US-backed vendetta against Edward Snowden, the person whose work they are praising, instead of offering him asylum?


  1. mnb0 says

    Ah, golden rule: you won’t find more hypocrital politicians than in democratic Europe. I’m not sure if that’s such a bad thing though.

    ” Our political leaders don’t much care about violating the rights of ordinary people.”
    That’s correct but also incomplete. They do very much care about getting reelected and about their public image. So if there is public unrest because of the NSA spying on the electorate we can expect turnovers.
    Don’t you hope many American politicians will make a similar turnover as soon as support for creationism declines? Or do you rather hope that they will stick to their “principles”?
    Of course this hypocrisy is why politicians need to be replacable every few years.

  2. khms says

    I’d say Obama’s “everyone does it” is still in the running. Because everyone spies on their allies, and has built an organization like the NSA to do it. Oh, wait …

  3. lorn says

    The simple fact is that, as I understand it, the NSA surveillance methodologies are across the board monitoring and recording systems which capture the metadata of all or almost all electronic connection within the systems. Some, potentially any, possibly all, connections may be further be recorded and mined and/or analyzed at any later date.

    In such a system it is far easier to monitor and record the metadata, possibly record the communications themselves, than not collect this data of any one user within, or subset of users within, the whole. The beauty of the system is that the system is almost world wide and it has a very high probability of capturing any use of the systems by any party you wish to follow. By trapping almost all communication across multiple systems you aren’t likely to miss much.

    The weakness is that there is a huge amount of data collected. Because there is no selectivity, you catch it all, just the metadata has to be oceanic in volume. The selectivity is entirely a matter of which data sets you analyze after the fact. It is likely better at tracking the perpetrator of an act after the fact than predicting or preventing any particular action.

    This means it is far more likely to be useful when tracking known actors than new ones. As long as a person has no contact with known actors you are unlikely to be detected and examined closely. It also means the difference between the examined source and the unexamined source is simply a matter of limited resources and the trivial task of highlighting your name/number and putting it on the list of material to be examined more closely.

    None of this implies I like any of this. Such a system has its beauties. It is breathtaking in its scope and very smart in its use of ever cheaper data storage and both communication and social network analysis. I don’t much like the idea of being recorded, even if the data isn’t examined.

    On the other hand, if government doesn’t do it multinational corporations will. They already record virtually everything we do. I’m less outraged by the government collecting metadata of every communication because I know that the telephone company does exactly the same thing. Your cell company and ISP record everything you do. Every credit or debit card purchase is recorded with time and location. Any and all of it is offered up to anyone with money. Sure, they sometimes remove “identifiers” but anyone with half a mind knows this is just a marketing fig leaf to let people think they can’t be fingered. Nonsense. Once you cross reference a very few sources it is clear exactly who you are. Given a few thousand reference points even a population of seven billion is not large enough a group to maintain anonymity.

    At least within a governmental system of monitoring I some nominal rights. Against a private multinational corporation you have no rights. As Lincoln observed, I paraphrase, ‘corporations have no soul to damn nor ass to kick’. If they can make an extra nickel selling your deepest secrets they will sell them, and there is not a thing you can do about it. Only government, working in concert with other nations, can reign in a multinational.

  4. khms says

    At least within a governmental system of monitoring I some nominal rights. Against a private multinational corporation you have no rights.

    At least with a corporation, I have rights and a government to enforce them for me[*]. If it’s the government, it is much more likely we’d have a case of who’s watching the watchers? (And if it’s a different government, all bets are off.)

    [*] I understand that at least in the US, people have significant less rights in that situation.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Private corporations do not have access to the vast network of information the government has. They also do not have the power to detain, arrest, torture, and otherwise persecute people using the full weight of the law. As khms points out, one has some chance of obtaining the assistance of the government to battle private corporations.

    Neither is a good situation, of course.

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