Every debate over expanded government surveillance power is invariably framed as one of “security v. privacy and civil liberties” — as though it’s a given that increasing the Government’s surveillance authorities will “make us safer.” But it has long been clear that the opposite is true. As numerous experts (such as Rep. Rush Holt) have attempted, with futility, to explain, expanding the scope of raw intelligence data collected by our national security agencies invariably impedes rather than bolsters efforts to detect terrorist plots. This is true for two reasons: (1) eliminating strict content limits on what can be surveilled (along with enforcement safeguards, such as judicial warrants) means that government agents spend substantial time scrutinizing and sorting through communications and other information that have nothing to do with terrorism; and (2) increasing the quantity of what is collected makes it more difficult to find information relevant to actual terrorism plots. As Rep. Holt put it when arguing against the obliteration of FISA safeguards and massive expansion of warrantless eavesdropping power which a bipartisan Congress effectuated last year:
It has been demonstrated that when officials must establish before a court that they have reason to intercept communications — that is, that they know what they are doing — we get better intelligence than through indiscriminate collection and fishing expeditions.
[Read more at Salon]