If You Have Nothing To Hide

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that certain information collected by the National Security Agency is shared with the Drug Enforcement Agency, allowing the DEA to arrest people on drug charges. Furthermore, in order to keep the source of the NSA information secret, the DEA commonly invents a “parallel construction”, i.e. an alternative history that can be presented as evidence in court. DEA agents claim that they discovered the subject criminal activity using ordinary methods, not information from the NSA.

That’s commonly called “lying” or “perjury”. 

From the Reuters article:

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred. 

There hasn’t been much reaction to this story so far. But it does raise some interesting questions. For example, is the NSA sharing information with other government agencies? Are other agencies, not just the DEA, using the NSA to keep an eye on people they have an interest in, like supposed tax evaders, members of organized crime, political activists and troublesome journalists? 

More generally, how much government surveillance should be permitted in a democracy, especially one as flawed as ours?

(Not that there’s anything wrong with secret, widespread government surveillance. Whatever the government is doing is perfectly fine with me. Keep up the good work, guys! I’ve got nothing to hide, so no complaints here. You can trust me. Really! But you should check out those odd people across the street.)