Surveillance: The God That Failed

Over a few short days, we have learned the Obama Administration and the NSA are engaged in worldwide surveillance on a scale unprecedented in human history. The president and other officials have dismissed the privacy concerns therein, insisting that the security benefits outweigh basic human dignity. Yet even if this had been the case, it is plain that PRISM and the rest of the surveillance schemes are such colossal failures that they are impossible to defend on any grounds. They must be immediately stopped.

PRISM is the most important aspect of this surveillance system, and gives the NSA and other affiliated officials with direct access to private data of hundreds of millions of Americans, and billions of users worldwide, through nine major Internet companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple.

This is just part of the overall system, however, and a leaked report from the NSA's analysis tool named Boundless Informant showed 97 billion pieces of "intelligence" culled over a 30-day span centering around March.

As officials have sought to defend the program, they have been unable to provide many examples of this "intelligence" amounting to anything. Several years of this level of information awareness amounted to one arrest over a speculative plot by Najibullah Zazi. In 2009 Zazi was arrested for plotting to bomb the New York subways. His plot consisted of him buying hydrogen peroxide and nail-polish remover from a beauty salon, and his ability to go from those items to a "weapon of mass destruction" was dubious, at best.

Still, a plot is a plot, and officials are clinging to it apparently for lack of anything else. Some critics have noted that 97 billion pieces of intelligence per month did nothing to stop the Boston Marathon bombings, which again is a fair point. Yet when the surveillance system has jumped outside of the realm of "terror suspects" and is now watching all of us, all of the time, it is clear that focusing merely on this one segment misses the broader point.

Murders, kidnappings -- in fact, all the violent and non-violent crimes in the United States are being committed by people who, if they are on the Internet, were under surveillance. Yet PRISM failed to detect any of these other plots ahead of time.

Think about that: every school shooter was under intensive scrutiny for years before their attack. Every premeditated murder was planned by someone whose communications were being carefully scrutinized. PRISM caught nary a one of these people. That's a string of failures impossible to ignore.

We can even extend it beyond matters of crime. Every person who attempted suicide was facing the same surveillance. Every Google search they did, every desperate email they sent that could've served as a warning went through PRISM The NSA collected all of this, and did nothing about it.

If we, as individuals, are to be expected to sacrifice the sum total of all of our privacy to a surveillance leviathan watching us at all times, nominally for our own protection, this dramatic incompetence is an insurmountable problem. We can put aside all of the debating about sacrificing our liberty for security, because the plain truth is that we aren't getting the security dividends at any rate.