Serious Concern Versus Paranoia

Over the last few days Glenn Greenwald has posted so much information on NSA surveillance abilities that I almost expect the next revelation to be that the machine on Person of Interest is real. There are certainly many things to be concerned about in the recent news related to privacy rights and civil liberties. The problem is exacerbated by the extreme secrecy surrounding this intelligence gathering making it impossible to have the type of informed debate which is necessary in a free society.

On the other hand, there has also been a considerable degree of paranoia and unwarranted hyperbole this week. With the NPR stations limited to Prarie Home Companion on my drive home this evening, I turned to a left talk radio station I have rarely listened to before on XM which was making a fallacious argument that the United States has become like China. Earlier today I discussed this topic on Facebook, posting a link I received via email to an article entitled Beyond Orwellian’: Outrage Follows Revelations of Vast Domestic Spying Program.

This is just ridiculous hyperbole. It’s not that I disagree with the specific criticism, but “Beyond Orwellian” is as absurd as the conservative sites trying to compare the IRS scandal to Watergate. Even if wrong, what we are seeing now is not at all close to either Watergate or 1984. (I won’t even get into Rush Limbaugh’s attempt to compare imagined crimes by Obama to the Holocaust).

When you combine the urge for provocative titles to get people to read with the unfortunate fact that some on the left are every bit as nuts as those on the right, reading through blog post titles in email or RSS feeds can make both look paranoid and crazy. Again, in the case of this specific linked article it wouldn’t be bad if they hadn’t used such hyperbole in the title. It is also possible that an editor and not the author added the title to attract attention.

There are problems being exposed but so far there is no evidence that the information has been misused. The people on the talk radio show I mentioned above speculated that people might disappear because they read the Koran. There is zero evidence that the information being obtained has been used for such a purpose.  However, it is conceivable that there are abuses which are unknown due to the high degree of secrecy surrounding these programs. The risk of abuses is also much higher when people are acting in secret. We know that power does corrupt. We should change the law due to the potential dangers to privacy rights and liberty, and far more meaningful Congressional and judicial oversight appears needed, but that does not mean we are suffering from Orwellian tyranny.

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