People around the world are thrilled by the ease and convenience of their smartphones and Internet services, but they aren’t willing to trade their privacy to get more of it.
That is the top-line finding of a new study of 15,000 consumers in 15 countries…The study, conducted by Edelman Berland, a market research firm, and sponsored by EMC, the data storage giant, has some other intriguing results with implications for business. Consumers worldwide seem to strongly agree with the notion that there should be laws “to prohibit businesses from buying an selling data without my opt-in consent” — 87 percent.
When asked to name the leading threats to online privacy in the future, 51 percent of the global panel of consumers picked “businesses using, trading or selling my personal data for financial gain without my knowledge or benefit.” That was well ahead of the 35 percent who selected “lone/crazy hackers, hacker groups or anarchist types.” The prying eyes of government — “my government spying on me” — was cited as a serious privacy threat by only 21 percent, even in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks that showed the sweeping surveillance programs of American and British intelligence agencies.
It is worth noting that among countries surveyed, those with a higher standard of living where generally less willing to trade privacy for “convenience”. In countries where people are less well off, they are more willing to trade some of their privacy for conveniences (saving time / money)–lending credence to the idea that privacy is, to a certain extent, a luxury.
In the aftermath of the Snowden leaks, it is a bit surprising to see people around the globe so much more concerned with businesses selling their data (51%) than government “spying” (21%). I have maintained that I do not believe government “spying” is a serious threat to personal privacy, (so long as the government in question is an accountable, transparent, and democratic government) and it seems that most people around the world generally agree that private businesses trading our information is a greater threat to privacy than government surveillance.
There is also a qualitative difference between private data collection and government surveillance. Private companies trade data for money, while the government collects information for security reasons. The government is directly accountable to people and is supposed to have societies best interests at heart, as opposed private businesses, which are accountable to markets and are motivated by profit maximization.
Despite outrage drummed up by civil rights and privacy activists, people seem to understand the different functions of these two forms of data collection. According to respondents, people were most willing to trade privacy for “being protected from terrorist and/or criminal activity” (54%) than any other reason offered (the next highest answer, for comparison, was a tie between better access to information / knowledge and easier access to healthcare information, at 45%).
There are notable limitations to determining global preferences from a 15,000 person sample that covers only 15 countries. However, the surveys results do suggest that globally people are not as concerned with government spying as one may expect.
Perhaps as governments such as the U.S. have become more willing to engage in public discourse about surveillance and offer reforms, people have had their fears assuaged. Or perhaps people, not seeing government surveillance negatively affecting their lives, are willing to trust their government in the name of security and crime prevention (especially governments that have earned that trust through a history of good governance).
I get annoying telemarketers, spam emails, and advertisement text messages from companies that have bought my personal information on a daily basis. Private companies are much more willing to use (and therefore likely to abuse) personal data. Furthermore, the conveniences this information supplies are extremely trivial when compared with security / crime protection.
At its winter meeting in Washington, the RNC approved by voice vote a resolution in favor of abolishing the 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), set to take effect in July, marking the party’s first explicit attack on the law.
FATCA will require most foreign banks and investment funds to report to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service information about U.S. customers’ accounts worth $50,000 or more. The law was enacted after a scandal involving Americans hiding assets in Swiss bank accounts to dodge U.S. taxes.
Critics have blasted the law as an unfair government overreach and invasion of financial privacy.
“The Republican National Committee … urges the U.S. Congress to repeal FATCA,” said the measure, staking out a campaign position ahead of 2014’s mid-term elections.
Tax watchdog groups that support FATCA slammed the Republican vote. “It is mind-boggling that a major political party would even consider endorsing a resolution to facilitate tax evasion,” said Heather Lowe, director of government affairs at anti-graft watchdog group Global Financial Integrity.
“Repealing the law would cripple the U.S. and global efforts to fight offshore tax evasion,” she said in a statement.
The Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a group that advocates for lower taxes and financial privacy, praised the RNC vote. “The GOP’s adoption of FATCA repeal to its platform is a major victory for taxpayer privacy rights,” said the center’s Director of Government Affairs Brian Garst.
Repeal is unlikely and the issue was not expected to resonate with average U.S. voters, said lobbyists on both ends of the political spectrum. But they said Republican opposition to the law could help the party raise campaign funds.
It is certainly mind-boggling that a major political party would endorse such a view. And even if a repeal is unlikely, this issue should “resonate with the average U.S. voter”. In an era of constant budget-battling and debt-ceiling standoffs (the next one is right around the corner), where stimulus spending is unthinkable and welfare programs are constantly coming under attack (even though both are extremely important during an economic recovery), it is important for Americans to understand the main drivers of U.S. government debt. Once you understand these main drivers, it is obvious why this G.O.P. position on FATCA is unconscionable.
A quick simplified lesson: There are two sides to government debt, receipts (tax revenue) and outlays (spending). While there are certain drivers of long-term spending which must be reformed (social security, and medicaid, and defense spending specifically), these long term issues have little to do with economic recovery fiscal policies (government stimulus spending and “automatic stabilizers“).
RECEIPTS, OUTLAYS, SURPLUS/DEFICIT(–)% GDP | PERCENTAGE COMPOSITION——————————————————————| OF RECEIPTS BY SOURCE
GDP (in billions of dollars)
Individual Income Taxes
Corporation Income Taxes
Surplus or Deficit (-)
Government expenditures will go down when we experience full economic recovery (and not just a recovery for the top 1%)–that’s why welfare programs are known as “automatic stabilizers”. What will not automatically change are tax receipts, which are at their lowest levels since 1950. The American public has been paying a fairly constant portion of total federal taxes over the past 6 decades through income taxes–between 40-50%. Corporate taxes have fluctuated wildly; between 1940 and 1967 they made up 20-30% of federal tax revenue, since 1980 they have hovered around 10%.
The American public continues to pay its fair share, while corporations get a pass (and actually get huge bailouts and subsidies). America, in reality, has a regressive tax system. This low effective corporate tax rate stems largely from tax loopholes; a difficult problem to address rooted in corporate lobbying (money buys influence buys loopholes). Overcoming this problem will take an overhaul of the government tax code and a change in the current lobbying system, neither of which is an easy task.
Much less contentious should be targeting offshore cash holdings. While loopholes at least (allegedly) contribute to job creation, offshore tax evasion is a crime which robs the U.S. of vital tax revenues with no benefit to society. But even this “slam-dunk” reform is being challenged by the G.O.P.
I thought it was interesting that the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative think-tank, used the privacy narrative to justify the G.O.P. stance on FACTA. This reminded me how Matt Taibbi, in his book “Griftopia”, explains how the wealthy sell financial sector deregulation to the lay-man.
According to Taibbi, financial regulation is equated to local / state level government regulation–the average person, who experiences government overreach in their day-to-day lives, feels for the “poor banker trying to earn a buck”. Of course this equation is false; however, many people do not know enough about our political system to understand this fallacy, especially when their favorite news outlets are driving this false narrative home.
It seems that something similar is being attempted with this privacy narrative. One of the main issues of the day is NSA “spying”. Perhaps conservatives are trying to latch onto this privacy narrative to drum up popular support for repealing FACTA. I think this is a tougher sell, although financial deregulation sounded like an impossible sell until pundits begin selling it. It is therefore important to expose this fallacy to the general public before the narrative hits the newsroom.
Next time you hear an argument about “fiscal responsibility”, remember the G.O.P is the party of offshore tax evasion. Social spending programs and the tax code need to be overhauled; these issues will take time to remedy and must be addressed with care, they cannot be attached to short term issues like economic recovery or the debt ceiling.
Enabling offshore tax evasion by repealing FACTA benefits nobody except those who engage in offshore tax evasion–this should not be a contentious issue. Those who engage in such activities do not deserve our understanding or support, regardless of your stance on NSA surveillance.
Ever since Edward Snowden leaked information on NSA data collection, there has been public uproar about the Federal government spying on the everyday communications of American citizens. There has been the undeniably positive aspect of creating open public discourse about the programs and some improvements/reforms/safeguards in the transparency/operations of the FISA court, for which we oddly enough owe Mr. Snowden, a wanted fugitive, some thanks. I have argued in previous posts that while Mr. Snowden’s actions were clearly illegal, it does highlight the need for an effective ombudsman office in America, something that is inexplicably lacking lacking in our otherwise modern democracy.
I have, however, also been of the same mind as intelligence officials when it comes to the importance of these data collection programs. South Park did a funny parody about data collection, highlight the narcissism and irrational egomaniac-ism (personified in one Eric Cartman) needed to actually believe the NSA is concerned with your day-to-day activities. Every week it seems a new “revelation” is leaked about data collection. Most recently, it was that the NSA creates “profiles” of persons of interest to better understand their movements:
Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
“Metadata can be very revealing,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “Knowing things like the number someone just dialed or the location of the person’s cellphone is going to allow them to assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It’s the digital equivalent of tailing a suspect.”
Well no shit people, do we really think the most sophisticated intelligence and security organizations in the world are relying solely on phone numbers to track people it believes are a threat to national security? Personally, such an incomplete analysis would worry me and call into question the NSAs efficacy. If the NSA believes a person is a threat, of course they will use any intelligence available to create a “picture” of what that person is doing, this is common sense. New rule of thumb; going forward anything you do online (phone calls, emails, credit card transactions, status updates, check-ins, etc.) is no longer 100% private. Don’t like it? move out into the woods and live like the Amish.
There are real concerns related to data collection. One is that private corporations are trading peoples information like some sort of digital currency. The other is that there has been relatively no fiscal debate about the C-B analysis of data collection:
Privacy advocates fear that consumers do not realize just how much of their private information is on their phones and how much is made vulnerable simply by downloading and using apps, searching the mobile Web or even just going about daily life with a phone in your pocket. And this new focus on tracking users through their devices and online habits comes against the backdrop of a spirited public debate on privacy and government surveillance.
For advertisers, intimate knowledge of users has long been the promise of mobile phones. But only now are numerous mobile advertising services that most people have never heard of — like Drawbridge, Flurry, Velti and SessionM — exploiting that knowledge, largely based on monitoring the apps we use and the places we go. This makes it ever harder for mobile users to escape the gaze of private companies, whether insurance firms or shoemakers.
Ultimately, the tech giants, whose principal business is selling advertising, stand to gain. Advertisers using the new mobile tracking methods include Ford Motor, American Express, Fidelity, Expedia, Quiznos and Groupon.
If anything, we should be focused on the legality of private data collection–which is always used–for profit, instead of public data collection–which is rarely used–for national security purposes. The extent that the government allows this to happen so it has it’s own sources of intelligence (ex: the NSA getting phone records from private cell phone companies) should also be explored / debated.
In a time of budget disagreements leading to government shutdown, it would be prudent to call into question the costs (or opportunity costs) of data collection programs (not in terms of hypothetical invasions of privacy, but in terms of dollar costs). The benefits are fairly obvious, whether you agree with the program or not. Less obvious are the costs, and what government programs we cannot afford (opportunity cost) because we have such programs:
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has leaked documents that map out a $52.6 billion budget for the NSA, CIA, and other security agencies in unprecedented detail. The Washington Post, which reviewed the documents, describes a detailed list of objectives, failures, technologies, recruiting, and other information; the apparently 178-page summary itself has not been published. An interactive chart of some of the data, however, accompanies the piece.
The Post reveals that CIA and NSA budgets have increased by over 50 percent each since 2004, with the CIA reaching $14.7 billion in 2013. Though budgets fell from 2012 levels, total funding is still almost twice what it was in 2001. The overall number is revealed each year, but these breakdowns are not included for security reasons. Among other things, the budget lays out “gaps” in counterterrorism efforts regarding Hezbollah, China’s fighter planes, and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Though it’s said to have made progress in 38 of the top 50 gaps, one chart apparently shows dismal results in addressing biological and chemical weapons gaps: intelligence agencies hoped to make progress on at least five “gaps” a year, but they managed to work on only two in 2011 and none in 2010.
$52 billion dollars is no small amount, however it constitutes only 1.47% of the Federal Governments $3.538 trillion of total expenditure for 2012. We should have a debate, not about whether these programs are needed–they are–but whether they are worth the price tag. The fact that this budget–like information on data collection itself–had to be “leaked” highlights the mistrust that is behind most of this public outrage. I think this is a modest amount considering how much we spend on defense per year (around $600 billion) close to 20% of all federal expenditure. However, this is America, we should be able to have open debates about these things, both how much these things cost and what other programs (schooling, infrastructure, healthcare, welfare etc) we cannot afford because of them. Secret budget documents seem like something the Egyptian Army would take part in, not a branch of the U.S. Federal government.
As a nation, we are focused on the wrong issues. Hypothetical invasions of privacy are a scapegoat and distract from real issues. The real issues are: a) why private companies are allowed to trade our information like a commodity, b) the lack of an ombudsman office in the U.S. government, and c) an open dialogue on C-B analysis, including the opportunity costs, of intelligence gathering programs.
The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials.
The N.S.A. is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged. It is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.
While it has long been known that the agency conducts extensive computer searches of data it vacuums up overseas, that it is systematically searching — without warrants — through the contents of Americans’ communications that cross the border reveals more about the scale of its secret operations.
It also adds another element to the unfolding debate, provoked by the disclosures of Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, about whether the agency has infringed on Americans’ privacy as it scoops up e-mails and phone data in its quest to ferret out foreign intelligence.
Government officials say the cross-border surveillance was authorized by a 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, in which Congress approved eavesdropping on domestic soil without warrants as long as the “target” was a noncitizen abroad. Voice communications are not included in that surveillance, the senior official said.
Hints of the surveillance appeared in a set of rules, leaked by Mr. Snowden, for how the N.S.A. may carry out the 2008 FISA law. One paragraph mentions that the agency “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.” The pages were posted online by the newspaper The Guardian on June 20, but the telltale paragraph, the only rule marked “Top Secret” amid 18 pages of restrictions, went largely overlooked amid other disclosures.
To conduct the surveillance, the N.S.A. is temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border. The senior intelligence official, who, like other former and current government officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the N.S.A. makes a “clone of selected communication links” to gather the communications, but declined to specify details, like the volume of the data that passes through them.
The official said that a computer searches the data for the identifying keywords or other “selectors” and stores those that match so that human analysts could later examine them. The remaining communications, the official said, are deleted; the entire process takes “a small number of seconds,” and the system has no ability to perform “retrospective searching.”
The official said the keyword and other terms were “very precise” to minimize the number of innocent American communications that were flagged by the program. At the same time, the official acknowledged that there had been times when changes by telecommunications providers or in the technology had led to inadvertent overcollection. The N.S.A. monitors for these problems, fixes them and reports such incidents to its overseers in the government, the official said.
The disclosure sheds additional light on statements intelligence officials have made recently, reassuring the public that they do not “target” Americans for surveillance without warrants.
Timothy Edgar, a former intelligence official in the Bush and Obama administrations, said that the rule concerning collection “about” a person targeted for surveillance rather than directed at that person had provoked significant internal discussion.
“There is an ambiguity in the law about what it means to ‘target’ someone,” Mr. Edgar, now a visiting professor at Brown, said. “You can never intentionally target someone inside the United States. Those are the words we were looking at. We were most concerned about making sure the procedures only target communications that have one party outside the United States.
The rule they ended up writing, which was secretly approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, says that the N.S.A. must ensure that one of the participants in any conversation that is acquired when it is searching for conversations about a targeted foreigner must be outside the United States, so that the surveillance is technically directed at the foreign end.
Americans’ communications singled out for further analysis are handled in accordance with “minimization” rules to protect privacy approved by the surveillance court. If private information is not relevant to understanding foreign intelligence, it is deleted; if it is relevant, the agency can retain it and disseminate it to other agencies, the rules show.
While the paragraph hinting at the surveillance has attracted little attention, the American Civil Liberties Union did take note of the “about the target” language in a June 21 post analyzing the larger set of rules, arguing that the language could be interpreted as allowing “bulk” collection of international communications, including of those of Americans.
The senior intelligence official argued, however, that it would be inaccurate to portray the N.S.A. as engaging in “bulk collection” of the contents of communications. “ ‘Bulk collection’ is when we collect and retain for some period of time that lets us do retrospective analysis,” the official said. “In this case, we do not do that, so we do not consider this ‘bulk collection.’ ”
The senior intelligence official said that the “about the target” surveillance had been valuable, but said it was difficult to point to any particular terrorist plot that would have been carried out if the surveillance had not taken place. He said it was one tool among many used to assemble a “mosaic” of information in such investigations. He also pointed out that the surveillance was used for other types of foreign-intelligence collection, not just terrorism, the official said.
I have to admit, I was shaking my head when I saw this headline. All the times I defended the U.S. governments intelligence gathering programs, only to find out that they are pursuing “bulk collection” and reading Americans emails and text messages. Then I actually read the article…
This sounds like another well designed program, aimed at collecting the maximum amount of intelligence while minimizing any invasion of privacy inherent in intelligence collection. These programs are, at their core, utilitarian–they are aimed at maximizing security for America and our allies–while taking a pragmatic stance on what Steven G. Bradbury (head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the United States Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration) calls “at worst, a minimal burden upon legitimate privacy rights.”
The NSA program, on the other hand, sifts through metadata coming in or out of the U.S. (not between two U.S. citizens or 2 parties on U.S. soil, there are other more direct means of gathering intelligence on those relationships), flags relevant intelligence, and deletes the vast majority of irrelevant data. The entire process takes “a small number of seconds,” and the system has no ability to perform “retrospective searching.” Americans’ communications singled out for further analysis are handled in accordance with “minimization” rules to protect privacy approved by the surveillance court. If private information is not relevant to understanding foreign intelligence, it is deleted; if it is relevant, the agency can retain it and disseminate it to other agencies, the rules show.
It seems that all possible safeguards and oversights are in place. On complex issues such as balancing rights and national security we should defer to the experts, that is what representative democracy is all about.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., says he recently voted to keep a controversial National Security Agency data collection program in part because he trusts lawmakers who know it best.
“I’m going to go with the people that actually know the program and looked at it,” he said.
His position had bipartisan support, he explained on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
“Every member in both parties who served on the Intelligence Committee voted in favor of this.”
Politifact rated this claim “mostly true”; 1 of the 21 House Intelligence Committee voted in favor of Amash Ammendment to end NSA intelligence gathering. Those who understand the complex cost-benefit analysis of intelligence gathering programs overwhelmingly support their continued existence.
If anything good came from the Snowden leaks, it is that we are now having open dialogue about intelligence gathering. Furthermore, intelligence officials have become more transparent, to the point of disclosing less-sensitive information about intelligence gathering as opposed to having it exposed.
Snowden should have come home to have his day in a civilian court, to be judged by a jury of his peers (who tend to be sympathetic of his actions). Instead he rebuffed American offers, is living in dictatorial Russia, and is now truly “an enemy of the state”.
I guess you perception of Snowden may boil down to whether you think the resulting transparency of / dialogue on intelligence-gather would have taken place had Snowden or another whistle-blower handed sensitive information over to official ombudsman channels (the lack of official ombudsman channels in the U.S. is also glaring problem that should receive more attention in this wider debate).
This brings me to a larger, more philosophical point about the “social contract” and accountability in an effective democracy such as the U.S.A. At what point did the trust between the government and the people erode so drastically?
Don’t get me wrong, I am strongly outspoken about the costs to society of partisan gridlock in Washington and the importance of good governance worldwide for global policy coherence, particularly in the context of a globalized world and the Great Recession. But there is a difference between being frustrated with partisan politics (which by the way is not new, although it is currently very bad), and being mistrusting of the governments actions and intentions.Sure NSA intelligence gathering could be used for nefarious purposes, since when is this the yard-stick by which we measure our governments policies? The U.S. could blow up the world 10x over with its nuclear arsenal, but this is not the purpose of our nuclear weapons, so we do not constantly question the existence of nuclear weapons (although denuclearization is a long term normative goal). Judge the program based on what it does (nuclear weapons deter nuclear warfare in less accountable nations), not based on how it could be used in the worst case scenario.
In a democracy, there is a strong element of personal accountability for how things in the country end up. If you do not trust our elected officials get your ass up and vote for people who have a record of transparency, accountability, and open-mindedness, get involved in local politics; there are people around the world who would (and currently are) risking their lives for the political rights we take for granted.