It turns out, the NSA PRISM story isn’t quite the bombshell that everyone said it was. Yes, there continues to be a serious cause for concern when it comes to government spying and overreach with its counter-terrorism efforts. But the reporting from Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post has been shoddy and misleading.
We shouldn’t shrug off our weakened privacy as a merely a side effect of the digital age, either. We ought to fight to preserve as much of our personal information as possible. So if there’s any benefit to the NSA news, it’s to serve as a reminder that, yes, the government is serious about attaining information in its war on terrorism and that we should be aware of what’s going on — checking it when it gets out of control.
But with new contravening information emerging since the original stories were posted by Greenwald and the Washington Post, it’s clear that the reporting by each news outlet was filled with possibly agenda-driven speculation and key inaccuracies.
Greenwald told CNN, “It’s well past time that we have a debate about whether that’s the kind of country and world in which we want to live.”
Canonizing bad reporting as a means of inciting a debate is as bad as no debate at all. Attachment to empirical reality must remain a central trait of the left, otherwise the progressive movement is no better than the non-reality based propagandists on the right who will say and do anything to further the conservative agenda. So perhaps some positive changes on domestic spying are eventually achieved, but at what cost? Greenwald, who doesn’t really care about “left and right,” isn’t concerned with anything other than his personal agenda and clearly he’s willing to do whatever it takes in pursuit of those goals. Specifics presently.
It’s a shame because there’s a way to have this debate without selling out to misinformation. Instead, we appear to be careening way off the empirical rails into hysterical, kneejerk acceptance of half-assed information.
Here’s how this story has played out since late Thursday.
1. Both Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post reported that the NSA had attained “direct access” to servers owned by Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple and other big tech companies in order to attain private user information via a top secret government operation called PRISM. Initially, this appeared to be a major violation of privacy. The implication is that the government enjoyed unchecked, unrestricted access to metadata about users any time it wanted.
2. Then, naturally, heads exploded throughout the blogs and social media. Left and right alike.
3. While everyone was busily losing their shpadoinkle on Twitter and the blogs, Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Yahoo, Microsoft, Paltalk, AOL and Apple all announced in separate statements that not only were they unaware of any PRISM program, but they also confirmed that there’s no way the government had infiltrated the privately-owned servers maintained by these companies. Furthermore, Google wrote, “Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.” Google also described how it will occasionally and voluntarily hand over user data to the government, but only after it’s been vetted and scrutinized by Google’s legal team.
4. The freakout continued.
5. Furthermore, Glenn Greenwald used the phrase “direct access,” as in unobstructed direct server access, four times in his article, most prominently in his lede, “The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.” Unless the tech companies were collectively lying, Greenwald’s use of “direct access” is inaccurate. And if it’s inaccurate, the most alarming aspect of this NSA story is untrue.