In the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, many people have been talking about various issues related to free speech and satire. We didn’t have much to add to that discussion so we stayed out of it, but it’s concerning to see that those who wish to suppress other civil liberties are jumping at the chance to use the attack yesterday as a jumping off point. Here are just a few examples. The NY Post ran an article saying that this proves the NYPD shouldn’t have stopped its “Muslim Mapping” program:
…we believe the city should revisit its decision to dismantle the NYPD’s “Muslim Mapping” intelligence program.
The program was designed to provide exactly the kind of intelligence that would have been useful to police in Paris once they identified their three suspects in Wednesday’s terror attack. Namely, where they might go to find shelter or assistance.
If you don’t recall, this effort was recently disbanded after multiple reports noted that it was completely useless, with not a single useful piece of evidence coming out of the entire program. As Julian Sanchez points out, there’s something terrifying to the logic of “all evidence shows this project was totally useless, but we have to keep it going because of all these threats!”
And yet… the same thing is happening in other arenas as well. A year ago, both a court and the specially appointed task force set up to review the intelligence community’s use of bulk metadata collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act noted that there was absolutely no evidence at all that the bulk metadata collection was ever used to stop terrorist attacks.
And yet… former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden went on cable news on Thursday morning to use the Charlie Hebdo attack as an excuse for why the program was so useful. After spending about four minutes talking about how these kinds of random small attacks are likely to be the new way terrorists attack, he then defends metadata collection:
Let me add another thought here too: You know, I was talking to you guys about 12 months ago, about these massive amounts of metadata that NSA held in storage. That metadata doesn’t look all that scary this morning and I wouldn’t be surprised if the French services pick up cell phones associated with the attack and ask the Americans, ‘where have you seen these phones active globally?’.
Actually, no, that metadata does still seem pretty scary, because it also includes a hell of a lot more than just those responsible for the attack. And, it’s not like law enforcement and the intelligence community can’t go back to the operators currently responsible and ask them for that data. There’s still no reason to believe that the NSA needs to just be sitting on this data all the time. And, of course, it doesn’t seem like all that metadata helped prevent any attack, now did it?
Either way, it’s kind of sickening to see this kind of opportunist crap, seeking to strip civil liberties and privacy rights from people, at the same time so many people are focusing on the other side of the story, about protecting free speech.