If you were to privately ask pro-NSA bureaucrats whether or not they are winning in the court of public opinion, I think it would be a resounding yes. The United States Government has promised reform and President Obama acted utterly shocked at the revelations of Edward Snowden - promising to curb the out-of-control government agency. But has anything really changed?
The Intercept just posted a story about "NSA reforms" that were promised over a year ago. Even though a federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, ruled that the NSA surveillance practices were "likely unconstitutional" and "almost Orwellian", the same NSA surveillance practices remain. Again, this practice remains even after the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board has deemed the NSA practices illegal and unproductive. So if a federal judge has deemed the NSA practices unconstitutional and "almost Orwellian," and the governments own Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has made several recommendations to curb such illegal practices, why is nothing being done?
I am convinced that such egregious practices go on without intervention for two simple reasons. Americans do not care enough about their privacy and the government never wanted to end such surveillance techniques in the first place. In fact, I think the government likely wants to increase its ability to spy and monitor citizens as evidenced by recent actions.
The government continues to build massive databases which help it to surveil US citizens. The FBI recently rolled out its "facial recognition software" that is capable of "picking suspects out of crowds." This database already contains over 8 million unique facial prints and the FBI claims it will posses up to 52 million by sometime in 2015. "By 2015, the FBI claims they will be able to will be able to use its in-built Interstate Photo System (IPS) to trace at least 52 million people - including innocent citizens."
Police around the nation are using a technology reminiscent of the NSA phone meta-data dragnets. This technology is called a "stingray" device that "mimics a cell tower and tricks wireless devices on the same network into communicating with it." Not only is the practice largely illegal, it is a serious move in the wrong direction. Instead of scoping back surveillance practices, powerful surveillance devices are being used even by local police. At the time the stingray story broke this past spring, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California weighed in: "Stingrays create serious privacy concerns because they collect information about the devices and whereabouts of innocent third parties, and not just the target of an investigation."
Again, instead of passing legislation to curb almost draconian surveillance measures, it is clear that federal, state, and even local government agencies will push the limits of surveil techniques. What will it take to change this trend? Are you unconvinced of the value of your own privacy? If so, take some time to watch Glenn Greenwald's TED talk below. You won't realize how important privacy is until it is entirely gone. Sadly, our society is not far from that reality. Privacy is almost dead.