Administration And NSA Continue To Avoid The Privacy Vs. Security ‘Discussion’

By Tim Cushing

This “discussion” about the whole “security vs. privacy” thing the administration claims it has “welcomed” since the Snowden leaks began? Yeah. Still not happening. As Cal Borchers at BetaBoston reports, government reps at an MIT event focused on “big data and privacy” couldn’t have appeared less interested in discussing any of the implications of widespread domestic surveillance.


The kicker came during an afternoon panel discussion, when John DeLong, the National Security Agency’s director of compliance, should have been awarded an honorary degree in tongue biting. DeLong sat right next to Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, yet refused to engage when she made pointed comments, like this one: “Everything’s being done in secret. But for Edward Snowden, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

DeLong would look down and away (perhaps there was an interesting piece of metatada on the floor of Wong Auditorium), waiting silently for another panelist to move the discussion away from his agency.

This is nothing new for DeLong. Back in August of last year, he gave the Washington Post permission to quote him “by name and title” after holding a 90-minute interview with the paper, after the White House routed all press queries to him directly. When the paper refused to edit quotes after the government’s “internal review” of the interview draft, the administration and the NSA then informed the Washington Post that nothing DeLong said could be used. All of his input was replaced with a bland, prepared statement.

Now, DeLong could have been interested in participating in this discussion, but this previous administration intervention seems to indicate that the NSA and the White House would prefer DeLong keeps his head down and his mouth shut — at least in cases where it can’t push through its own edit of the “discussion.”

DeLong wasn’t the only government rep uninterested in discussing government surveillance.

Before DeLong’s group took the floor, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker made a brief speech in which she barely touched on the subject of privacy, then exited quickly without fielding questions.

Someone seated near me, in one of those fake whispers that’s really meant to be heard by a lot of people, summed things up nicely: “No questions? Why have a real discussion, right?”

Snickers rippled a few rows in every direction.

As Borchers points out, there was plenty of discussion about private companies and privacy, but when it came to the biggest “company” of all, the US government, no one had much to say. White House counselor John Podesta somehow even managed to “phone in” his phoned-in statement (Borchers describes Podesta’s contribution as “bland remarks”) to open the event.

This is the US government’s idea of “discussion.” Canned statements and floor-gazing. The NSA made this bed and now refuses to lie in it. (Although officials will often lie outside of it — ho, ho! *coughJamesClapper*) The administration plays along, making small gestures but refusing to consider making any substantial statements or changes. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence continues to pass out redacted documents with implied transparency, glossing over the fact that every document release so far has been compelled by an FOIA lawsuit.

This isn’t a discussion. This is low murmurs and unintelligible mumbling being passed off as a “discussion” in hopes this new era of faux-openness will soon blow over and allow everyone involved to return to the opacity and darkness they’ve become accustomed to operating in.

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