The Verizon NSA Affair

In the Guardian newspaper two reporters, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, have reported that telcom giant Verizon is being forced by the US government to disclose all telephone records of its customers as well as other data transmissions; and that many other communications giants have also been forced to surrender this data as well.

From the article:

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.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

So what is wrong, from a libertarian perspective, with the government spying on us in this way? No one, and certainly not the state, as any right at all in forcing people to divulge the contents of their thoughts. Murray Rothbard has outlined the libertarian case against compulsory speech here and he wrote in conclusion:

For libertarians hold that it is ever and always illegitimate to use force against a non-aggressor, against someone who has not himself used force against someone else. That means that no one, no innocent person, regardless of his occupation: whether he be newspaperman, lawyer, physician, accountant, or just plain citizen, should ever be forced to testify or turn over notes to anyone, whether as witness against himself, or for or against anyone else. In contrast to Bill of Rights absolutism, libertarian absolutism sheds a pure and non-contradictory light on the issue. The Sixth Amendment must be altered to drop the compulsory process clause. The remainder of the Sixth Amendment provides guarantees for defendants against the government; only this clause provides defendants with compulsory powers against innocent people. It must be repealed.

Our thoughts, fantasies, lusts, imaginings, plans, and ideas are our own private property. I may imagine killing the horrible man that cut me off in traffic today, but those thoughts are mine and none of anyone’s else’s business unless I choose to share them with others. Everyone has strange, hateful, spiteful, malevolent thoughts flash through their mind. I sometimes say to myself, “where did that come from?”.  It is illegitimate to use force against any non-aggressor and so it is illegitimate to force us to reveal our thoughts. Our thoughts are not actions remember. Your right to private thoughts and freedom of speech extends to related activities. You also have a right to commit your thoughts to paper or any electronic equivalent form and to keep those recorded thoughts private. You have a right to communicate with others and not have the state listen in on the private conversation. Society itself depends on people being able to share ideas with each other outside the scrutiny of the state.


This newest revelation of spying by the NSA shows that they are using force, coercion, and fraud to gain access to the private thoughts of the population. I use Verizon and it would be real easy to get upset with them in this affair, but Verizon is only an intermediary here. The US government is forcing them to send that data to the NSA. In effect, the government is making you and me send them a record of our calls, web site visits, shared photos, and so forth. This is a major invasion of everyone’s privacy.

If we allow the government to force people’s thoughts, private conversations, and web sites visited to become government property then we are going to be much closer to the dystopian nightmare that we have been heading towards all my life.  People will be forced to reveal thoughts, intentions, motivations and so on that they don’t want revealed. These thoughts might be damaging to the person or other people if revealed. The government is aiming at thought control here and never doubt that these electronic communications will be used to punish citizens. Like handing booze and car keys to a teenage boy; this is a recipe for disaster.

We can argue all day that these actions go against the Bill of Rights, but the US Empire has never been constrained by the Constitution. The government itself interprets the document and that means they will always rule in favor of an ever more expansive view of government power. These acts of spying by the government are acts of a totalitarian regime and immoral on their face. We must fight these actions in every way possible.

Remember the ancient Chinese curse, “May you come to the attention of those in authority”. The government is trying to make it impossible not to come to the attention of some petty government functionary or the other.


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