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Yes. This times 100. Prior to (I think) '68, there was no federal prohibition on wiretaps of any sort. Think about that before you say that the USG has never respected the 4th Amendment less than it does today.


Before 1967, the Fourth Amendment didn't require police to get a warrant to tap conversations occurring over phone company lines. But that year, in two key decisions (including the Katz case), the Supreme Court made clear that eavesdropping — bugging private conversations or wiretapping phone lines — counted as a search that required a warrant.

Well I've thought about it. And I think it's fair to say the USG has never respected the 4th amendment less than it does today.

How hard have you thought about it? What's the line of thought that makes the current government less respectful of the 4th amendment than, say, a government that, with the knowledge and approval of the president, sends a bunch of goons to commit burglary and dig up dirt on its political opponents?

Nixon's goon squads were reprehensible, but they involved a small number of actors and a small number of actions. It's not strictly incorrect to refer to those actors as "the government," but it's a little misleading. Nixon didn't brief congress on his burglary program. It wasn't a matter of official policy. When these activities were brought to light, the citizens were the first to know. The bulk of "the government" was just as shocked as we were. No one seriously tried to defend the actions as somehow legal because of a state of national emergency.

The current official policy, which has spanned at least two and possibly three presidential administrations, is to use a huge network of government employees and private sector labor working together to spy on virtually every single person in the country, continuously, for years. And this time, it's been sort of an open secret, endorsed and defended as legal from the highest levels, and known to Senators and rank-and-file FBI agents alike. We, the ordinary citizens, were the last to know.

I think it's much more accurate to describe the current surveillance as an activity of "the government," and I think the scale, the audacity, the hubris involved makes it clear that an awful lot of "the government" views the fourth amendment as an outdated relic that must be stamped out or revised away into meaninglessness.

I think the difference between the two examples is extreme and obvious. They are actually more different than they are alike.

Who cares how long it’s been going on, you need to take severe umbrage that at multiple points in our nation’s history the Government has taken the 4th amendment out back and beat it with a lead pipe. The difference is now, a court is allowing them to get away with it. That’s a scary proposition, because before you know it, it’ll be you going outside for some love taps from the FBI. And after that, it’ll be your kids. You don’t trade Constitutionality for antiquity. It’s wrong now, just as much as it was wrong then because if you found out about it then, you'd have been just as mad about it as you are now.

The problem is the "slippery slope," "it always gets worse," "the government is hopelessly broken," ranting that has become pervasive on HN lately. In the middle of the last century, the Supreme Court allowed the federal government to put tens of thousands of japanese americans in internment camps, including U.S. citizens. In the early 2000's, the same court said that even non-citizens caught in Afghanistan fighting against the U.S. had certain due process and habeas rights as long as they were on U.S. soil.

It seems like punctuated equilibrium with a slight downward slippery slope -- it generally gets worse (due to investigators pushing the limits little by little) until legal decisions or technological changes push back and make big changes one way or another (not always for the better).

"It seems like punctuated equilibrium with a slight downward slippery slope -- it generally gets worse."

Istanbul has been in the grips of a military crackdown of a peaceful protest about a park. In Syria, something like 90,000 people have died fighting an authoritarian regime, with no end in sight. In Iran, people won't even vote in the election (where voting is compulsory) because they know that the elections are rigged. On the other side of the coin, in the UK, you're subject to government surveillance in every public space. It's a trade-off, and the choices aren't as clear as you might believe if you limited your knowledge to what you read on Reddit and HN.

My point is that you have to be pretty cynical to suggest that the USA -- where we let the Occupy protesters linger in front of federal buildings until they were nothing but de facto homeless encampments -- has been on an endlessly downward slippery slope. We live in one of the most free and privileged countries on earth, and it's important to keep a sense of perspective on these things.

I don't necessarily like that the NSA is tracking phone calls, but I'm also keenly aware of the fact that they aren't dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night, and that we don't have cars exploding daily in New York City. All things considered, we have it pretty damned well.

My point was that things get worse steadily at a pretty slow rate, day over day, and then occasionally there are big shifts for the better (or for the worse), generally in the form of legal decisions or major tech changes. The overall trend might even be net positive (especially for women/minorities in the US over the past 100 years, if not white males).

There's not a monotonically nondecreasing level of freedom, though.

It's like 100 98 98 97 96 130 (ITAR limited) 125 120 120 119 90 (Patriot) 89 88 140 (default to HTTPS) 135 135 133 etc.

"There's not a monotonically nondecreasing level of freedom, though."

Well, if we do nothing but maintain the current level of freedom, we're doing pretty well, historically speaking.

That said, I don't think we're on a downward slope at all -- that's just techno-nerd catastrophic thinking. The problem is that technology races forward and allows new forms of communication, our sense of entitlement increases, as does the power of anyone (governmental or private) to be intrusive. It's a constant battle against change itself, not necessarily against the surveillance state.

For example, the supreme court said that phone call metadata was collectable without a warrant in the 70s. The fact that Reddit just became aware of this fact is not a fundamental change in reality, or an example of things getting worse -- it's just an indication of how technology has changed this generation's expectations of what "privacy" means.

You can't deny that CALEA, PATRIOT, FAA, the NDAA, CIA's black site and gitmo programs, drone warfare, drone warfare against US citizens overseas, etc. weren't steps back.

While ssh replacing rsh, SSL-by-default, no crypto export restrictions for (almost all) commercial software, certain legal decisions (mainly in the 9th), etc. were steps forward. This is all independent of what reddit/hn people generally know about the situation.

"auto-updating" client software and the cloud have advantages and disadvantages at the same time.

"You can't deny that CALEA, PATRIOT, FAA, the NDAA, CIA's black site and gitmo programs, drone warfare, drone warfare against US citizens overseas, etc. weren't steps back."

I can't? Most of those things don't affect US citizens. Drone warfare arguably saves lives (you'd rather that we send soliders to do the same things?). The other things present vague, hypothetical risks (when they present risks at all), and tangible, quantifiable benefits.

Look, I'm not saying that I agree with everything that's in the Patriot Act, or that I think that the US government should have a blank check to bomb citizens via remote-controlled helicopter. But when you look at the actual risks to citizens, you find that they're pretty theoretical. The people who are objecting the loudest usually have the least reason to object (which is, ironically, part of the problem -- organizations like the ACLU have traditionally had a very tough time proving harms to citizens, and as a result, their lawsuits keep getting tossed).

But if you're going to push me to be the devil's advocate, I can quite comfortably go to the argument I made before: we don't have cars blowing up (or people walking into cafes with bombs strapped to their chests) in our cities on a regular basis, and we manage to achieve that level of safety without needing the intrusiveness of the security state of even a "reasonable", western democracy like Israel. Empirically, then, we're doing OK. A lot of the teeth-gnashing going on here is breathless exaggeration from people who have such peaceful lives that they have literally nothing better to worry about.

When did we ever have cars blowing up on a regular basis. I get your point about general life in America being OK, but that is only because many people turn a blind eye to the evils that our government is doing in our name that work against us in the longer view.

There are short-term benefits that you're talking about, but long-term costs that you seem to be ignoring as well.

> where we let the Occupy protesters linger in front of federal buildings until they were nothing but de facto homeless encampments


It is getting worse in my lifetime. I'd like to live in a time when it gets better.

I don't know how old you are, but the fall of the soviet union and the course of the 1990's was a big improvement. Even since the 1990's peoples' reflexive reaction to the word "communist" has gotten dramatically less. "Terrorist" has never carried the same fear factor.

Really? So the slippery slope isn't real? The police is already being trained to treat protesters are terrorists, which is also what's happening in Turkey right now [2]. When are you going to protest about it? After the revolution and others suffer and die to preserve your freedoms?

Wake up and smell the coffee. The slippery slope is real, and there are clear patterns here that you'd be wrong to ignore.

[1] http://www.theverge.com/2012/12/29/3816158/occupy-movement-w...

[2] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/everyone-who-enters-the-tak...

> Really? So the slippery slope isn't real?

It is, in fact, a logical fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope.

And the fact is that there the arc of freedom in this country has been bending towards more freedom. You are more free today, more insulated from arbitrary government action, than you were in say 1970 (Kent State shootings), 1950 (McCarthyism), 1942 (Japanese internment), 1862 (civil war), or 1800 (post-revolution paranoia).

It might be a slippery slope, but it's a slipper slope on a hill we're slowly climbing up.

The court is allowing NSA to get away with something different than what Hoover's FBI got away with.

I didn't think about it that way, I guess it's time to put away the pitchfork then.

Sidebar: It's not.

Very true, and I think is great that Garry here is including a little historical perspective on this. Civil liberties are something that have to be fought for by every generation. It may be a battle that can never be won completely, but if you stop fighting it you always lose your freedoms one by one.

That said, this White House petition makes me nervous since we still don't know the extent of what Snowden leaked.

1964 was two years after the Cuban missile crisis, when Che Guevara was nearly successful in instigating Nuclear War. Perhaps some paranoia was understandable.

But here we are, over 10 years after 9/11, and an enemy who simply does not pose any existential threat to the U.S. And yet no limits have been passed on Patriot act powers.

> "the Cuban missile crisis, when Che Guevara was nearly successful in instigating Nuclear War"

Wait, what? Even if you meant to say Khrushchev, that's extremely one-sided..


After provocative political moves and the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime (Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose), in May 1962 Nikita Khrushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.

and from the section "Responses considered":

The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the missiles would seriously alter the military balance, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed. He was convinced that the missiles would not affect the strategic balance at all. An extra forty, he reasoned, would make little difference to the overall strategic balance. The US already had approximately 5,000 strategic warheads, while the Soviet Union had only 300. He concluded that the Soviets having 340 would not therefore substantially alter the strategic balance. In 1990, he reiterated that "it made no difference ... The military balance wasn't changed. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."

But yes, if you consider that in a way it was a rather benign thing done to defend an ally, and compare that with the panic and hypocritical indignation about it, then the paranoia was understandable indeed; I can understand how and why it was engineered, that is.

"Guevara, who was practically the architect of the Soviet-Cuban relationship,[149] then played a key role in bringing to Cuba the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.[150] A few weeks after the crisis, during an interview with the British communist newspaper the Daily Worker, Guevara was still fuming over the perceived Soviet betrayal and told correspondent Sam Russell that, if the missiles had been under Cuban control, they would have fired them off.[151] While expounding on the incident later, Guevara reiterated that the cause of socialist liberation against global "imperialist aggression" would ultimately have been worth the possibility of "millions of atomic war victims".[152] The missile crisis further convinced Guevara that the world's two superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union) used Cuba as a pawn in their own global strategies. Afterward he denounced the Soviets almost as frequently as he denounced the Americans.[153]"


Perhaps the OP meant Castro, many historians have interpreted some of Castro's communications to the Soviet Union at the time as calls for pre-emptive or first-use nuclear strikes - this is mentioned a couple of times in the wikipedia page you linked.

Had me until he drew an analogy between MLK Jr and Edward Snowden.

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