Defending US stand against Snowden

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 4:18am

Much of what has been said by commentators in these columns about the Edward Snowden affair seems to have been driven by the kind of knee-jerk anti-US sentiment that has become bon ton in certain circles (and which the US has done much to deserve), bandying about buzzwords like "hacking", "snooping", "freedom", "hypocrisy", "transparency" and "human rights" in support of foregone conclusions.

One hopes that with the departure of the self-styled whistle-blower from Hong Kong, a more calm and reasoned discussion can take place.

Critics of the National Security Agency programmes should first take the time to understand them better. What the NSA and other similar agencies do is the electronic equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack. Inevitably, you must sift through the haystack to find the needle, and with global terrorism networks using a variety of communication channels, the haystack is scattered all over. Looking at the largest possible pool of metadata is therefore the essence of such programmes; calling it "overreach" misses the point.

Some don't believe that the NSA only looks at metadata, expressing concerns about "abuses", such as targeting domestic political enemies (as China does). Without a single known case of such abuse, they resort to the history of police states and warn that "it could happen here too". Well, yes, it could. The US army could also send tanks through Houston tomorrow; hasn't Bashar al-Assad just done that in Qusair? While technically possible, it is beyond anything anyone but the most paranoid US right-wingers (and apparently left-wingers too) finds plausible.

Snowden supporters have to be intellectually honest and tell us what their alternative is.

Do they think they have a better system for collecting effective intelligence which will zero in on the bad guys without looking at anyone else? Do they expect the NSA to have a Facebook page and tweet its activities? Or do they think we should dismantle the NSA and just accept terrorism as collateral damage to absolute "freedom"?

It is telling that even committed liberals like Barack Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein, when sitting in a position of knowledge and responsibility, accepted the imperfect current situation as the best option.

Let's hope intelligence agencies continue collecting and sharing vital information to keep the world a safer place.

This should be done within the bounds of local laws, and under the discreet judicial and parliamentary oversight of well-informed and responsible officials.

Oren Tatcher, Sheung Wan



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