Eric Posner Debates Secrecy and Freedom in NYTimes

Secrecy and Freedom

Posner: I don’t see the need for systemic reform, nor do I see an offense to the Constitution. Indeed, I don’t even understand the nature of the objection to the National Security Agency programs. Exactly what harm did they cause? Two possibilities emerge from the current public discussion.

1. A general sense of creepiness that government officials know when we make phone calls, and for how long, or may even be reading our e-mail messages. Government should not look over our shoulders as we conduct our lives.

2. A fear that the government uses this information to undermine democracy — to blackmail, harass or embarrass critics, for example.

The first objection strikes me as weak. We already give the government an enormous amount of information about our lives, and seem to have gotten used to the idea that an Internal Revenue Service knows our finances, or that an employee of a government hospital knows our medical history, or that social workers (if we are on welfare) know our relationships with family members, or that public school teachers know about our children’s abilities and personalities. The information vacuumed up by the N.S.A. was already available to faceless bureaucrats in phone and Internet companies — not government employees, but strangers just the same. Many people write as though we make some great sacrifice by disclosing private information to others, but it is in fact simply the way that we obtain services we want — whether the market services of doctors, insurance companies, Internet service providers, employers, therapists and the rest, or the nonmarket services of the government like welfare and security.

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