Saturday, June 15, 2013

Legs, Limbs, and Privacy

Martin should be enjoying The Stanley Cup 
There were legs and there were limbs.  And they weren’t attached to where they were supposed to be attached.  The finish line at The Boston Marathon was anything but a scene of joyous celebration.  Instead it was a surreal and sudden war zone where dreams jogged to a violent death.  It was a place where seven year old Jane Richard lost her leg.  It was also where she lost her eight year old brother, Martin Richard.

In the aftermath of the chaos, another set of siblings, related to the Richards by the vilest of  circumstances, were planning the next phase of their adventure.  A spur of the moment trip to New York City – Times Square to be precise. That was where Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tasarnaev planned to set off their remaining explosives.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told the FBI under interrogation that he and his brother were heading to New York to cause more destruction, blow off more legs, and destroy more lives. 

Fortunately, the boys never made it to New York.  For on the day of the Boston Marathon, surveillance cameras at The Lord & Taylor Store across from the Forum Restaurant, where the second bomb exploded, revealed the brothers with backpacks in one shot and without them in another.  The FBI correctly ascribed a linkage between the missing backpacks in the second shot and the brothers’ role in the Marathon bombing.  In doing so, they violated the privacy of so many people who were also photographed that day by the store cameras.  Was it a fair price?  Unfortunately in this case, we can agree that it was.    

Where we cannot agree is when we learn that Verizon Wireless, in addition to AT&T and Sprint provide information on every single call routed through their networks to the NSA, and has been for perhaps seven years.  We cannot agree when we hear that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple all have some sort of arrangements with the NSA.  The only major on-line player who has denied NSA requests thus far is Twitter, which is OK since it is next to impossible to relay bomb-making instructions in 140 characters or less.

What he must be thinking now
We cannot agree because we just don’t know the magnitude of the attacks that have been prevented.  The reason we don’t know, simply put, is because they have been prevented.  They have been prevented with the help of records obtained from phone companies and on-line companies.  They have been prevented because our privacy was violated.  Our privacy was violated and I am very OK with that … for now.  But before George Orwell climbs out of his grave and takes me to the woodshed, allow me to explain.   
I still believe we live in the greatest country on earth.  I still believe in the powerful words of the Gettysburg address that we have a government of the people, by the people, for the people.  I believe this means that the people’s best interests are at the core of how our government acts.  I also believe that there are millions of differing points of view on what constitutes the best interests of the people.  To me (and perhaps selfishly so) my best interests lie in taking a bus every morning through the Lincoln Tunnel and not having it be blown up around me … the same goes for the Wall Street building in which I work.  To me, my best interests lie in the safety of sons who are attending colleges in major metropolitan areas which have already both been targeted by terrorists.   
I am OK with the Government’s ability to go through my phone records or my web browsing history.  Perhaps if I was into bomb making, illegal weapons purchases or child pornography, this would be more of an issue for me.  But for now, I am happy that the Government might be investigating people who choose to dabble in these areas.  As it is, we voluntarily share information on our locations, our purchases, and our interests with anonymous people and businesses around the world.  For now, I am glad to see that our Government is keeping pace.  If I’m OK with Mark Zuckerberg and Sergei Brin being able to track my movements, I am OK with the NSA doing so as well.
“He knows if you’ve been bad or good. You better be good for goodness sake … better be good for goodness sake.”   --The Boss and The Big Man
I was at a concert several years back when Bruce Springsteen and the Boys sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  The crowd exploded when Clarence Clemons echoed his iconic “better be good for goodness sake.”  I imagine that this was before people knew that the technology existed by which being good for goodness sake could actually be tracked.  I appreciate how people’s opinions may have changed since then.  And more important, I appreciate that we live in a society in which these changes of opinions can be expressed freely.

And just because I want to keep my limbs and buildings and bridges intact, I don’t ever want my Government to lose sight of the fact that they are a government for the people.  I love that the press has been filled with viewpoints from around the country on both sides of the surveillance issue.  I love that fearing a public backlash, Facebook and Google are publishing their policies and history regarding NSA requests for user data.    I love that I have friends and colleagues on both sides of the issue and I love that some are adamantly upset and are letting the government know about it.  And I love the fact that the Government is engaged in open dialogue with us.
I love the fact that I have used the phrase “for now” several times in this post.  It means that if the time comes,  I can change my opinion, write another blog and protest with people who feel the same way as I do.  But for now (there I go again) I am thankful that we are feeling safe in what has become a very dangerous world.   For now, I mourn with the Richard family and I celebrate that instances like The Boston Marathon bombing are in fact being prevented on a regular basis.  To me, that's what a government for the people is about.
Stay safe.  Happy Father’s Day, Everyone.


  1. So, A - Great blog, once again!
    B - In 1979, in Smith v. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that while phone calls are constitutionally protected, metadata about phone calls (where, to whom, how long) is not. If the NSA has been keeping track of metadata, only, they have case law, SCOTUS and constitutional allowances.
    C - I am glad that my service to this Country in order to protect the rights of even those I disagree with, has been worth the price and those protections are still in place.