Monday, April 20, 2009

Even Congress has an 'unreasonable' expectation of privacy

Talking about the brewing Jane Harman/AIPAC wiretapping scandal, Matthew Yglesias writes:
However, the substance of what was recorded really does look damning. Which reminds me of something I was thinking about during the Blago Era, namely how many politicians’ reputations could really stand up to serious surveillance? It seems very likely to me that if you picked a member of congress at random, decided you had probably cause to suspect him of corruption, and thus starting wiretapping all his calls with donors and key political supporters that you would find a ton of dubious quid-pro-quos and backscratching arrangements.
Looking at this scandal, you could come to the perspective that (as Yglesias does) pretty much any politician has dirt that would come out if you wiretapped them.

Or, if you don a tinfoil hat, you can look at it this way: Even members of Congress who serve on key intelligence committees and have direct and detailed knowledge of the NSA's wiretapping capabilities still don't have a realistic idea of how little privacy they have when using telephones and email.

Look -- either Jane Harman expected that the NSA would never tap her own calls, or she simply didn't understand how easy surveillance is. Given that this same Congresswoman with a Harvard Law degree took several years to realize that the NSA's "Terrorist Surveillance Program" was blatantly illegal, perhaps it is safer to assume ignorance rather than over-confidence.

Nevertheless, how can we expect average Americans to make rational decisions about their own privacy (and their risk of being overheard discussing something problematic on the phone) when their elected officials who are supposed to be providing oversight over these sorts of programs clearly can't engage in a basic analysis of the risks of their own use of technology.

Perhaps Harman should have watched a few episodes of the Wire before getting on the phone with that suspected Israeli agent. I'm sure Stringer Bell could have taught her a few lessons about operational security.

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