Richard Posner is an influential judge in the United States. In a recent conference, he said the NSA should be able to collect whatever information it needed in the name of stopping terrorism.
“Much of what passes for the name of privacy is really just trying to conceal the disreputable parts of your conduct,” Posner added. “Privacy is mainly about trying to improve your social and business opportunities by concealing the sorts of bad activities that would cause other people not to want to deal with you.”
Perhaps Posner would be okay with everyone looking at his private information, following him wherever he travels and knowing what he is up to. Wanting privacy doesn’t mean you are concealing anything unsavory. It means your life is not anyone else’s business to be snooping into just because they can.
Congress should limit the NSA’s use of the data it collects — for example, not giving information about minor crimes to law enforcement agencies — but it shouldn’t limit what information the NSA sweeps up and searches, Posner said. “If the NSA wants to vacuum all the trillions of bits of information that are crawling through the electronic worldwide networks, I think that’s fine,” he said.
Let the vacuuming commence with all of Judge Posner’s activities. He’s made it clear he doesn’t have a problem with this sort of behavior.
In the name of national security, U.S. lawmakers should give the NSA “carte blanche,” Posner added. “Privacy interests should really have very little weight when you’re talking about national security,” he said. “The world is in an extremely turbulent state — very dangerous.”
The world has always been in a turbulent state. It has always been dangerous. I think Posner might have wanted to say, “We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.”
Posner criticized mobile OS companies for enabling end-to-end encryption in their newest software. “I’m shocked at the thought that a company would be permitted to manufacture an electronic product that the government would not be able to search,” he said.
Then let Posner be the one to lead by example and start letting the government search his cell phone at will.
Other speakers at Thursday’s event, including Judge Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, disagreed with Posner, saying legal limits on government surveillance are necessary. With much of U.S. privacy law based on a reasonable expectation of privacy, it’s difficult, however, to define what that means when people are voluntarily sharing all kinds of personal information online, she said.
This is true, but for those who choose not to share personal information online, they shouldn’t be subjected to random vacuuming of information because the NSA wants to go on a fishing expedition. The people who advocate for privacy aren’t the ones dumping their personal information online. When they do, they know it’s public information.
David Cole, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center also disagreed with Posner.
Some recent court cases, including the Supreme Court’s 2014 Riley v. California ruling limiting law enforcement searches of mobile phones, have moved privacy law in the right direction, he said.
Posner questioned why smartphone users need legal protections, saying he doesn’t understand what information on smartphones should be shielded from government searches. “If someone drained my cell phone, they would find a picture of my cat, some phone numbers, some email addresses, some email text,” he said. “What’s the big deal?
“Other people must have really exciting stuff,” Posner added. “Do they narrate their adulteries, or something like that?”
This is the problem with Posner. He doesn’t understand why someone other than himself wouldn’t want their information freely available and automatically believes they must be up to no good. Yet, this judge most likely doesn’t have his home address listed publicly for security reasons. People have reasons why they don’t want their information spread, including safety, security and peace of mind.
Smartphones can contain all kinds of information that people don’t want to share, including medical information, visits to abortion doctors and schedules for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Cole said. “Your original question, ‘what’s the value of privacy unless you’ve got something to hide?’ that’s a very short-sighted way of thinking about the value of privacy,” he said.
They may also contain information about upcoming political protests. If they cannot organize and protest freely, then this is not a free society. If Posner is not willing to step up and allow collection of his personal and private records at any time and for any reason, then he truly is ignorant or is spouting a government line and knows exactly what agenda he is pushing. Considering Posner tried to hide the name of a trust on his 2013 tax return, he likes his privacy just fine.