Big debate on the surveillance state

Yesterday there was a debate in Toronto on the proposition “Be it resolved state surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedoms”. It was live streamed last night and I apologize for not giving advance notice. For some reason I did not know earlier but heard about it only on my way home and managed to catch only the second half of it live.

But you can watch the entire 90-minute debate online. It begins at the 29:00 minute mark

Taking the affirmative side were Michael Hayden (former director of the CIA and deputy Director of National Intelligence who went through the revolving door and now works for the Chertoff group that makes money off the national security racket) and Alan Dershowitz, well known lawyer and torture apologist.

Opposing them were Glenn Greenwald who needs no introduction and Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit.

Before the debate, Greenwald had made no secret for his loathing of Hayden and Dershowitz.

“I consider [Michael Hayden] and Alan Dershowitz” – the two men Mr. Greenwald, 47, will face at Friday’s Munk Debates – “two of the most pernicious human beings on the planet. I find them morally offensive. There’s an element of hypocrisy to being in the same room with them, treating them as if I have outward respect, because I don’t.”

It was clear that the debate was really between Hayden and Greenwald, with the other two not really needed.

Dershowitz played the role of a cranky old lawyer trying to bamboozle the jury, seizing on mere verbal contradictions as if they were major issues (he spent an inordinate amount of time on the issue of whether Greenwald had used the word ‘pretext”). Dershowitz is one of those people who tries to have it both ways, to burnish his liberal credentials while supporting authoritarianism by arguing that the US government and the NSA are all well-meaning people trying to do the right thing and that we should help them. Ohanian seemed a little irrelevant, included as the ‘tech guy’, when the debate was less about technical issues and more about the policy implications.

Hayden was his usual smarmy self, trying to use cutesy metaphors and acting as if the NSA had a very limited, tightly controlled, carefully monitored system that had all manner of congressional, judicial, and administrative checks and balances to prevent abuse of the system, so that only terrorists would be monitored and that too only if authorized by a handful (he mentioned 22) of top level people. He referred to it as a lockbox with just a few top people having keys and that the idea that the NSA and its Five Eyes partners were on an uncontrolled rampage throughout the world was all a big misunderstanding.

Greenwald completely destroyed that argument by pointing out that Edward Snowden, a fairly low-level contractor and not even an NSA employee, had spent months downloading all manner of confidential documents and that no one at the NSA had any clue as to what was going on during that time. He also pointed out that to this day, the NSA does not even know what documents Snowden took.

The debate moderator threw in a surprise, a short video clip that Edward Snowden had provided for the debate that you can see below.

Hayden challenged Snowden’s claim that he could get access to anyone’s emails by just knowing their email address and said that he was just boasting and that this was not possible. Greenwald pointed out that the XKeyscore program that was revealed gave detailed instructions to employees on how to do just that and did not require them to get any authorization. He also pointed out not a single thing that Snowden had said so far had proved to be false while the NSA had been shown to be lying again and again.

They took a vote before and after from the 2500 people who attended the debate and the results are below.

munk debate result

Note that the before ballot had an ‘undecided’ option (which 21% chose) but the after ballot did not. Assuming that only the views of the undecided had shifted, 13% went against the proposition while 8% went for.

One thing that struck me was the optics of age the debate. Dershowitz and Hayden physically looked like the tired old guard while Greenwald and Ohanian were the youthful representatives of the next generation, with the desire for preserving the privacy of the internet. I think that this issue does represent a generational divide.

Here are some post-debate reactions from Justin Raimondo, Associated Press, RT, and Mashable.



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