So, here’s what I don’t understand. The whole world knows that anything they send on the Internet will be read by America’s spies. Ergo, anyone who has serious secrets to keep will avoid the Internet like the plague.
A careful plan to kill people certainly qualifies as a “serious secret”. Those planners will avoid the Internet and find another way. The hundreds of $B that USA spends annually (!) on surveillance technology will therefore capture traffic only from terroristas of the non-serious variety. Where is the value in that? There has to be more to NSA’s business case than this. Would it be out of character for NSA to harbor an ulterior motive? Now there’s a puzzle.
And part deux: With all that valuable information at their disposal, how long will an administration and its functionaries, any administration of any color, how long could they resist the temptation to put all that info to – ahem – “good use”?
Think of the “good works” that America could accomplish if this info is “re-purposed”! We’re talking candid communications containing personal and intimate secrets that had been uttered with the expectation that they would stay secret for life. Think of how helpful that trove would be to governments for things like: tax collection, persuasion and negotiations, civil and criminal litigation, “social persuasion” aka propaganda, social-science research, vetting party membership lists, soliciting political donations, controlling personal enemies, investigating crime and pre-crime, etc. And my list is not particularly creative. This is the kind of ammunition that gives a hard-on to policy wonks and wannabe autocrats everywhere.
Modern behavior research reinforces the truism that experience taught our ancestors long ago: power corrupts. And NSA’s info collection is like a nuclear bomb: it bestows powers that no one ought to have, and temptations that nobody can be trusted to resist.