A “Stop Watching Us” Smorgasbord

If you follow Knowledge Problem on Twitter, you’ve noticed that I’ve been continuing to comment on and re-tweet various of the developments in the federal government’s surveillance of individuals without obtaining warrants, the Star Chamber-like super-secret FISA courts and our inability to oversee and monitor the lawfulness of their rulings, and this week’s House of Representatives vote on the defense appropriations amendment to restrict NSA funding. Rather than recapitulate all of that here (since others have done good jobs elsewhere and the marginal value of my curation in that area is dwindlingly small), I’ll highlight a few items on the subject catching my attention today:

This is Your Brain on Terrorism: Several writers, myself included, have pointed out that the fear-mongering associated with heightened security in the face of terrorism is based on emotional evaluations of poorly-performed relative risk assessments. In this post from Tuesday, Brian McGlinchey provides a thorough analysis of why our reaction to terrorism compared to, say, riskier things like driving to the airport or getting out of the bathtub is so much more emotional, and how that emotional reaction is grounded in some pretty strong cognitive biases. The more aware we are of those biases, the less likely we are to be swayed by them. As I said in the 2011 post where I talked about this: be indomitable. Refuse to be terrorized.

Lawmakers voting for NSA phone spying get lots of campaign donations from defense companies: “Crony corporatism on line 1!” Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex, which has mutated into its bastard stepchild, the security-industrial complex (with the complicity of the tech companies making it a silicon-security-industrial complex). Take your pick of which political economy/public choice theory theme fits here, but this new story from Wired shows that the members of Congress who voted not to rein in the NSA’s blanket phone surveillance receive the disproportionate share of campaign donations from the defense industry: “Lawmakers who voted to continue the NSA dragnet-surveillance program averaged $41,635 from the pot, whereas House members who voted to repeal authority averaged $18,765.” 9 of the top 10 donation recipients from the defense industry voted to maintain the NSA’s phone surveillance without changes to transparency, oversight, or funding.

We can’t tell you with whom we are at war: This ProPublica article shows the Kafkaesque absurdity running rampant in the federal government, particularly with respect to security policy. From the “if I told you I would have to kill you” department: Defense officials have told some (not all, some) members of Congress who the “associated forces” are that they are lumping in with Al Qaeda and the Taliban as our opponents in the “War on Terror”, but our elected so-called representatives can’t tell us because the information is classified. Not to mention that the federal government wages this so-called war under the legally shaky AUMF “authorization of the use of military force” rather than a declaration from Congress. Now that I think of it, I think Kafka understated the self-serving absurdity of centralized, controlling bureaucracy.

[waves to good friends at the NSA! Thanks for reading; have a nice weekend!]