If Obama wanted an ‘open debate’ on NSA spying, why thwart one for so long?

Jennifer Hoelzer writes: Tim Cushing made one of my favorite points of [last] week in his Tuesday post “Former NSA boss calls Snowden’s supporters internet shut-ins; equates transparency activists with al-Qaida“, when he explained that “some of the most ardent defenders of our nation’s surveillance programs” – much like proponents of overreaching cyber-legislation, like Sopa – have a habit of “belittling” their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners. I think it’s worth pointing out that General Hayden’s actual rhetoric is even more inflammatory than Cushing’s. Not only did the former NSA director call us “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years”, he equates transparency groups like the ACLU with al-Qaida.

I appreciated this post for two reasons.

First of all, it does a great job of illustrating a point that I’ve long made when asked for advice on communicating tech issues, which is that the online community is as diverse and varied as the larger world we live in. Of course, we are more likely to come across the marginal opinions of twentysomethings with social anxiety online because, unlike the larger world, the internet gives those twentysomethings just as much of an opportunity to be heard as a Harvard scholar, a dissident protesting for democracy or General Hayden himself.

Sure, it can be infuriating to read scathingly hostile comments written by troubled individuals who clearly didn’t take the time to read the post you spent countless hours carefully writing (not that that has ever happened to me), but isn’t one of the things that makes the internet so darn special its unwavering reminder that free speech includes speech we don’t appreciate? Of course, that’s a point that tends to get lost on folks – like General Hayden – who don’t seem to understand that equating the entirety of the online world with terrorists is a lot like posting a scathing comment to a story without reading it. You can’t expect someone to treat you or your opinion with respect – online or anywhere else – when you’re being disrespectful. And I can imagine no greater disrespect for the concepts of transparency and oversight than to equate them with the threats posed by terrorist groups like al-Qaida. [Continue reading…]

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