Peter Watts on the Harms of Surveillance

Biologist Peter Watts makes some good points:

Mammals don’t respond well to surveillance. We consider it a threat. It makes us paranoid, and aggressive and vengeful.


"Natural selection favors the paranoid," Watts said. Those who run away. In the earliest days of man on the savannah, when we roamed among the predatory, wild animals, someone realized pretty quickly that lions stalked their prey from behind the tall, untamed grass. And so anyone hoping to keep on breathing developed a healthy fear of the lions in the grass and listened for the rustling in the brush in order to avoid becoming lunch for an animal more powerful than themselves. It was instinct. If the rustling, the perceived surveillance, turns out to just be the wind? Well, no harm done.

"For a very long time, people who don't see agency have a disproportionate tendency to get eaten," Watts noted.

And so, we've developed those protective instincts. "We see faces in the clouds; we hear ghosts and monsters in the stairs at night," Watts said. "The link between surveillance and fear is a lot deeper than the average privacy advocate is willing to admit."


"A lot of critics say blanket surveillance treats us like criminals, but it's deeper than that," he said. "It makes us feel like prey. We’re seeing stalking behavior in the illogical sense," he said.

This is interesting. People accept government surveillance out of fear: fear of the terrorists, fear of the criminals. If Watts is right, then there's a conflict of fears. Because terrorists and criminals -- kidnappers, child pornographers, drug dealers, whatever -- is more evocative than the nebulous fear of being stalked, it wins.

EDITED TO ADD (5/23): His own post is better than the write-up.

EDITED TO ADD (5/24): Peter Watts has responded to this post, complaining about the misquotes in the article I quoted. He will post a transcript of his talk, so we can see what he actually said. My guess is that I will still agree with it.

He also recommended this post of his, which is well worth reading.

EDITED TO ADD (5/27): Here is the transcript.

Posted on May 23, 2014 at 6:42 AM • 54 Comments


who cares about my name?May 23, 2014 7:04 AM

Fear to terrorists? Fear to criminals?

Surveillance (not only the one coming from the National Security Agency but also the one coming from private corporations like Google) has no so high goals. It is just mercantile, business-targeted, and political surveillance.

Surveillance as business model.

DanielMay 23, 2014 7:20 AM

His name is Peter Watts, not Alan Watts. Your linked source has the right name.

Aside from being a biologist, he's also known as an author.

BenMay 23, 2014 7:27 AM

If the rustling, the perceived surveillance, turns out to just be the wind? Well, no harm done.

That's not true, though--there's a quantifiable and significant cost (see the rich ecological literature on this subject) to being too wary. If you jump at every wind rustle and flee with every twig snap, you'll never eat, and will die just as surely as if the lion had eaten you.

hitchMay 23, 2014 7:29 AM

this explains my visceral reaction to all the surveillance. I don't fear terrorism

EricMay 23, 2014 7:34 AM

"People accept government surveillance out of fear: fear of the terrorists, fear of the criminals"

No, no we don't. The general public wasn't really even aware of it and the vast majority of people I know do not "accept" surveillance, we just have no say in the matter.

Bill P. GodfreyMay 23, 2014 7:49 AM

Its interesting to see the reaction of people when you hold up a camera in front of them, vs the CCTV camera. Both are doing exactly the same thing but most take exception to the fellow human pointing a camera at them.

uh, MikeMay 23, 2014 8:00 AM

Our balance of power indemnifies the officers, but punishes them by thwarting their work. That's why we throw out tainted evidence instead of convicting the perpetrator of the search.

Nowadays, keeping the fruit of the illegal search out of court is less of a deterrent. Who foresaw that the government could just collect Everything and monitor Everyone? Plus, the government now has other options for arrest that don't involve Habeas Corpus.

Threaten the police with a change to the balance of power. That will start a new discussion.

Alternatively, militarize the NSA. Make it illegal to use evidence that they collect in criminal and civil matters. The NSA is weapons-grade. Treat them that way.

EchMay 23, 2014 9:33 AM

"People accept government surveillance out of fear: fear of the terrorists, fear of the criminals."

Do we? I find that, if asked, most people don't accept government surveillance. The surveillance machinery has been established without asking people. No-one ever voted for having the NSA spy all our internet activity; they did everything in the shadows. Even after their activities came to daylight, no-one has asked the people if they want to keep the current system or disband the NSA and replace it with something way less intrusive.

tjallenMay 23, 2014 9:50 AM

The destruction-of-evidence model of privacy that he suggests (facetiously?) is also a crime. He notes, “the cats get to write the laws for the mice,” implying he knows this route of escape has been blocked already.

MaezeppaMay 23, 2014 10:08 AM

It's spelled 'prey'. Please consider my small edit a small contribution to your excellent series of articles.

SkepticalMay 23, 2014 10:23 AM

People generally don't view the gaze of the lion and the gaze of the neighbors in the same way.

We also don't appreciate neighbors peeking into our windows, but he errs in conflating all "surveillance" as the same thing. In the very broad meaning of the term adopted by some, you are "under surveillance" as soon as you step into the view of someone else strolling down the street. Human beings are socially conscious creatures, and so that view does have an effect on us, but we're also fundamentally social creatures, and so that view is also quite normal to us, and is not placed in the same category as a predator stalking us.

The privacy concerns of most are founded not upon fear of predators, but upon the effects of being socially conscious animals.

x17D8A3May 23, 2014 10:25 AM

I'm really not sure I buy this. Seems like a set of evolutionary just-so stories that have no place here. I think selection plays a role, but it's more a matter of public choice theory than biological evolution. These kinds of projects proliferate because they're robust against dissolution. Even if no one involved is being Machiavellian in their approach to the creation and propagation of these sorts of programs, the people who act as if they are thinking strategically (even by accident) are the ones whose programs survive.

AlexMay 23, 2014 10:44 AM

I'm interested in neuroscience, but don't really know anything about it. So please read this skeptically.

The brain has modules that do various kinds of dedicated processing. So the system that takes in visual data and builds a 3D representation is built out of dedicated modules. It's hardwired, so the way we see things isn't really plastic. You usually can't learn something and see 3D objects differently.

I think we have modules that track danger. Again, this is hard wired -- we can't just decide it's dumb and turn it off. We can sort of attenuate the volume on these systems, but they're still going to be there.

Sometimes brains don't work right, and people have delusions. But very often different people in different circumstances have the same delusions, which suggests that the delusions come out of the shape of the brain, in some sense -- out of a dysfunctional module.

It's really common for delusional people to believe that they're being watched when they aren't. Again, this suggests that there's some brain module that keeps track of whether someone is watching us (as part of the system that keeps track of danger), and that there's something screwy with that module in people who have these delusions.

So the idea that being under surveillance would bug us on a low neurological level that we'd have trouble turning off isn't entirely implausible.

My skeptical push back comes from what might data the module uses as input. I'd expect it to use queues from other people's body language, monitoring other people's faces and lines of vision, odd sounds, etc. That's the sort of stuff other mammals can do (remember, this trait belongs to mammals, not just humans, so the system has to work for all mammals), and it's the sort of stuff that natural selection would have baked into us.

If that's the case, can the module tap into more abstract knowledge we might have about what the NSA is doing? Personally, I'm immersed in the subject, and I'm not really feeling that "someone's watching me" visceral mamalian paranoia. I'm unhappy about it, but it's not the same thing as being creeped out by someone staring at me on the subway.

Having said that, I think there's some evidence that there are, in fact, structures in our brains that integrate different sources of knowledge for some systems, ways higher level knowledge gets piped into modules that go back a long way in evolutionary terms. So I don't think the objective I raised above is necessarily fatal.

It's definitely fun to think about.

topMay 23, 2014 11:10 AM

Growing up in a very safe place.... I have far more fear of the feds than I do of terrorists, criminals, or child pornographers.

None of the above three affect me directly in meaningful ways in real life. But I also grew up on the Internet. And that's where the feds come in.

The feds routinely lock up great people on the internet. They destroy communities in the name of copyright enforcement. They drag the names of those they arrest through the media mud. Hell, they've driven people whom I greatly respect to suicide.

So yeah. Having grown up on the Internet, I view the Feds as the greatest threat to my life. Their actions often seem arbitrary and inconsistent. They've gone after gamers for gamer speak, people ranting/venting on the Internet. But not everyone. Actions I've viewed as harmless, they've viewed as worthy of life-destroying.

I perceive bulk surveillance as a tremendous threat to me as I have absolutely no trust in the ability of the feds to make rational decisions or only go after the truly harmful people.

AlexMarlonsMay 23, 2014 11:14 AM

"Mammals don’t respond well to surveillance. We consider it a threat. It makes us paranoid, and aggressive and vengeful." - but we also have to consider the advantage and disadvantage of using surveillance. Disadvantage for those who are the suspect and advantage for those who are the victim. Alan watts also has a good point on this matter.

Andrew BurdayMay 23, 2014 11:38 AM

The amateur psychology of surveillance politics could go in a lot of directions. I'm sure many of those directions have been tried. The jump from "mammals don't like to be stared at" (true in my experience) to "I don't like the abstract knowledge that somewhere the NSA is collecting IP packets" is a pretty large one. I'm not convinced it helps us understand much about responses to surveillance.

Also, Ben's point really deserves emphasis. It's not only that constantly running away is incompatible with eating; constantly running away is also incompatible with finding a mate and raising young. Evolution is about passing your genes on. Extending your lifespan is instrumental at most. Human beings put a lot of energy into mate selection, and we produce infants who are totally helpless for about eighteen months and don't reach full physical maturity for nearly two decades. Protohumans who ran away at the first sign of danger didn't leave a lot of offspring.

Neither did humans who were constantly tense, even if they didn't literally run away. For one thing, people who can't distinguish between the lion and the rustling grass are going to be less effective at avoiding lions than a calm person. For another, try spending some time with a really jumpy person; you'll be trying to get away from that person as soon as you can. Isolated people don't pass their genes along.

... Ok, I'm not going to delete all the above, but looking at the OP again you appear to be rejecting Watt's view, unless you want to build on it by inventing an evolutionary story about fear of terrorists and criminals and a psychological mechanism for resolving a "conflict of fears". There's nothing in Watt's (loopy) story about a balance of fears. Now I'm not even sure what the OP is advocating.

DanielMay 23, 2014 11:39 AM


Exactly. Any biologist who says such a thing is irresponsible and a crank. Not only is there an evolutionary cost to jumping at the wind there is also a direct neurological cost to it as well. A nervous system that is constantly being primed develops what neurologists call "central sensitization" which can lead to all sort of maladies from balance and dizzy spells (leading to animal being easier prey) to depression and neurosis.

So the claim that there is "no harm done" is so bizarre that without even clicking through and reading the article the author loses all credibility. Yet another person waving academic sounding terms around without even the foggiest notion of what they actually mean.

Raven667May 23, 2014 11:42 AM

A corollary to this theory is that not only are the surveilled fearful like prey, but the operators of the surveillance state are stalkers and have the aggressiveness of a predator. We need to put the lion in a cage, not invite the lion to dinner as they are not civilized company.

BuckMay 23, 2014 11:46 AM


So the idea that being under surveillance would bug us on a low neurological level that we'd have trouble turning off isn't entirely implausible.
If you've ever felt the sensation of 'being watched' you'd know this to be true. It can manifest as just an ambiguous feeling/idea/thought, or it can even send chills down your spine and raise your hair.
Since sight, smell, and sound seemingly aren't prerequisites for the sensation, I'd suspect an electromagnetic sense or some other poorly understood signalling mechanisms are at play...

DanielMay 23, 2014 11:57 AM

Speaking of surveillance, there is new research that has some implications from the perspective of the one doing the surveillance.

So what we know is that when a person is engaged in surveillance and trained to categorizes targets into friends and enemies an ambivalent target increases the cognitive load on the one doing the surveillance leading to delays in decision making. This suggests that the neurological basis for camouflage runs deep in evolutionary terms. Or to put it more basically the adage, "if you can't convince 'em, confuse" has a biological basis. This also suggests that if one is trying to defeat surveillance then it is not always necessary to mimic a safe target but simply enough to confuse or distract the one doing the surveillance long enough to get by. This isn't a revolutionary insight in and of itself but it is interesting that this has a basis in biology.

Bill StewartMay 23, 2014 12:28 PM

Alan Watts's book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are really wasn't about pseudonymity, but that was Zen and this is Now.

Chris AbbottMay 23, 2014 12:30 PM


That's so ridiculous that if I was laughing any harder I would need to be hospitalized!!

Walking down the street and being seen by people is nothing at all like someone surreptitiously monitoring your online activity and communications!

Walking down the street and being seen by people is not surveillance since in most cases nobody is focused on you and your activity at the mall. Sure, you're on surveillance cameras, but you're in public and it's reasonable to be seen by other people because you're in public.

Our communications are expected to be PRIVATE. There's a bit of a difference between public and private!

DJMMay 23, 2014 12:38 PM


"So the claim that there is "no harm done" is so bizarre that without even clicking through and reading the article the author loses all credibility."

You say this after several other authors have pointed out that this is an article misquoting (Bruce got the name wrong) that biologist? And if you go to the original, the biologist points out that he was misquoted in several places? Which author lost credibility here?

Interesting article but...May 23, 2014 1:06 PM all other articles about surveillance, they kind of miss to emphasize the main thing.

Mass surveillance is not to combat terrorism and the common bullshit you use to hear about. Mass surveillance is to keep the population under control and to make everybody vulnerable.

I can see already where this is leading, in my country. People are incriminated only based on taping. Judges almost don't bother to check other physical evidences as long as they have records (even if the person may be really guilty). Simple discussions, distorted and fragmented are "leaked" to media and presented as "proofs". Regime opponents use to "benefit" from sudden leaks of whatever minor thing they made 20 years ago and they were talking recently, presented like a huge crime. As long someone has information about you, even only "metadata", he can own your life. Conversations can be truncated, the relationships can be altered, the pictures can be well as the people around.

It's only a matter of time until another Snowden will leak a database with people recordings and things can go bad really fast. Now, only few realized the magnitude and consequences of what is really happening. It's not normal, it's bad. The only solution is political and international. Just like they way they agreed on nuclear weapons or assassinations. The freedom will be probably soon gone in the "big brother" countries. The technology was just evolving too fast and gave too much power to some people who already abuse it - that's the human nature.

I think things are is still fixable - or they evolve only in the wrong direction.

BenMay 23, 2014 1:09 PM


I don't think either @Daniel or I is attacking the author of the piece. It's just that like Daniel, when I see a flagrant mistake like that in the quoted material, I'm not going to spend my time and click through. It doesn't really matter (at least in this case) where the mistake originated, I'm just not going to bother.

unhappyApplesMay 23, 2014 2:18 PM

"Mammals don’t respond well to surveillance. We consider it a threat. It makes us paranoid, and aggressive and vengeful."

One might also posit that this explains Alexander's, Hayden's, etc, reactions to being scrutinized.

SkepticalMay 23, 2014 3:10 PM

@Chris: Would you count police and/or security cameras in public areas as surveillance? As to what others do and don't notice about their neighbours, you might be surprised.

I agree of course regarding communications (which is why I noted that we dislike our neighbours peering into our windows even if we don't mind being viewed on a public street), but my overall point is that most of the public in the US and other Western countries don't view mass surveillance as "predatory" so much as they view it as "creepy" and uncomfortable.

In other words (and again, I'm not talking about all cases), in large part our aversion to mass surveillance has to do with our consciousness as social creatures, and not with a fight/freeze/flight response to potential danger.

I'm also not sure I'd describe what the programs disclosed do as mass surveillance per se (by which I do not imply anything as to the ethics or wisdom of these programs), but that's another discussion.

DJMMay 23, 2014 5:21 PM


You didn't attack the author, Daniel did. I replied to Daniel, who called Watt a crackpot, said he had no credibility, said he was "waving academic sounding terms around without even the foggiest notion of what they actually mean."

I can say, based on empirical evidence, that Daniel is shallow. That's an attack on the author, but it is based on reading what he wrote, not what he was quoted at third hand as writing.

MikeAMay 23, 2014 5:55 PM

You must not spend much time in "Middle America". It is not at all hard to find folks who think the TSA are doing a fine job and if we didn't have to take off our shoes and have pen-knives confiscated (but knitting needles OK), the terrorists would have already instituted Sharia Law. And surveillance? Sure, bring it on. Better that than have those Occupy scum blocking the entrance to WalMart.

All I'm saying is that Skeptical is not necessarily a paid shill. There are plenty of your fellow citizens who hold the same views, and vote (more often than folks who fear their government do)

Sancho_PMay 23, 2014 5:55 PM

@ uh, Mike:

Make it illegal to use evidence that they collect in criminal and civil matters.

It is illegal, as no one could prove / give sound evidence that “the collected data” is true.
From the technical point of view you have absolutely no chance to guarantee the truth, as there are several software products and processes involved.
With none of these steps there is any person / company reliable for this single step, let alone in combination to other hardware / software.

On the other hand, no one, no technician / lawyer / judge would be able to examine, let alone disprove “the collected data”.
Gone is gone, no chance to recall what happened in .6 ms three month ago.

If Mi$o was involved - read their disclaimer / EULA.
If Unix / open source was involved, …
If there was someone deliberately tampering “evidence” …

Would you be allowed to run an elevator with such systems?

It’s a reliability issue.
Unfortunately no one seems to open that bag.

However, continuos secret surveillance is a threat and must be stopped by law.

DanielMay 23, 2014 6:08 PM

"Daniel, who called Watt a crackpot"

Based upon an attribution in an article, which I assumed quoted him correctly. As Ben pointed out I'm not going to click on an article if the person sounds like an idiot. If the person is claiming he was quoted incorrectly then I would expect Bruce to at least point out that controversy, and indeed it appears now that I return that Bruce has edited his post to provide a link to Peter's original comments.

At the end of the day I read Schneier on Security and I rely on Bruce to do some type of basic filtering, that's why I come here. Likewise, I stand by my comments--anyone who makes the type of claim attributed to Peter is a crank. Whether Peter actually made the comment attributed to him I'll leave for others to debate.

Chris AbbottMay 23, 2014 6:27 PM


I guess it's almost a matter of opinion security cameras. It's not that you're being spied on with security cameras really or being spied on when going for a walk, but some of the programs are indisputably mass surveillance, like the metadata gathering on virtually all Americans and other things, it's indeed creepy, and has the potential for being predatory through abuse. The potential for being preyed on is enough to invoke fear in a lot of people, and that's the focus of the article. Prying into people's communications is indeed spying (surveillance), and when you do it to an entire population, it's definitely mass.

As far as what others were saying about paranoia being an evolutionary disadvantage, it certainly could be in too high of a dose, and think people and animals have developed an ability to discern between threats and other things. The surveillance is certainly a threat. It's not paranoia either because we know it's happening.

Mr. PragmaMay 23, 2014 6:30 PM

I'm not afraid of terrorists. Even more, I know that virtually all terrorists either are not at all terrorists but are merely called so, or have been driven into terrorism as a last resort of defense, typically against wanton us mayhem and destruction, or are simply disturbed people instigated and under control of fbi/cia/etc - who actually *need* terrorism as a convenient and no-discussions-needed excuse or cover.

There is, however, one kind of terrorism I really fear (well, theoretically) and that's state terrorism performed by, for instance, dhs, fbi, cia, us military, etc.

Just look at the occupy movement. That was a clear case of terrorism - by the usa. After the terrorism attacks on their own citizens, the citizens had learned their lesson, i.e. the government terrorism had worked quite well.
(Nota bene: I pick usa as the most striking example but they are not the only guilty party. Many european countries, for instance, act in similar ways, albeit usually less drastic).

I'm also not at all afraid of pornography. Not even concerning children. For a simple reason: Children aren't interested in porn. Once they are, from a certain age on, it will probably not be seriously harmful.

Whatever, that whole surveillance discussion can be cut short by one simple fact: There is no evidence of surveillance having been a major factor in spoiling or preventing (real) terrorist attacks. At the same time there is lots of evidence that surveillance is perceived as intrusive, not wanted, legally and democratically questionable, frequently abused, and problematic in many regards.

Wesley ParishMay 23, 2014 8:41 PM

Just my 0.02c folks.

Privacy - personal boundaries between humans inside a grouping - is something a bit different to anti-predator behaviour such as making oneself scarce when the big hungry predator turns up looking for lunch.

The best explanation I've come across for personal boundaries between humans, is "conflict avoidance", followed by "child-raising necessities" ... Other great apes do have forms of personal boundaries, but nowhere near as complex as the ones humans take for granted; the most complex being those of the chimpanzee and the bonobo.

That said, it is obvious that intergroup relationships in such an internally quarrelsome species leaves plenty of scope for intergroup predation. War is intergroup predation writ large.

And that is where the linkage between privacy and predator avoidance lies.

(A fair number of species do suffer intragroup predation: Hans Kruuk talks about male hyena predation on hyena cubs in both Hyena! and The Spotted Hyena (University of Chicago Press). Infanticide and infanticide avoidance is arguably one of the drivers of human social evolution.)

Someone who does not observe the general personal boundaries of the group he or she associates with, is likely someone with predatory intentions towards that group. And permitting such in a group is often suicidal.

Just my 0.02c worth.

pinoMay 24, 2014 11:49 AM

@Eric, @Ech
I agree too. Haven't seen much supporters of surveillance (even less when a supporter finds out he's not excepted from surveiilance)

GweihirMay 24, 2014 1:52 PM

Well, clearly the west is heading into a new age of fascism. The last one was terribly expensive in its cost, but there are almost no survivors left and people seem to be fundamentally unable to learn from history. This one is a bit different though: This time the west is unified in the goal and the US plays the leader. Concentration camps have been replaced by prisons, with much the same size and purpose: Being able to permanently remove anybodies freedom easily. Surveillance complements this, because it makes it easy to find dirt on people. Everybody has some. And surveillance plays an important secondary goal: Anybody not fully in accordance with the regime has to be afraid all the time. The Nazis did not rule by permanent brutality, they ruled by permanent fear.

AutolykosMay 26, 2014 5:24 AM


my overall point is that most of the public in the US and other Western countries don't view mass surveillance as "predatory" so much as they view it as "creepy" and uncomfortable.

"Creepy" is actually what happens right before things turn "predatory". The only thing missing is the creeper deciding to pull the trigger. That is, if it's not just perceived creepiness (the label gets thrown around so much that it starts to become meaningless). But with government spying, that's not just perceived. People are harassed, arrested and killed because of it.
Or, as the Daily Show put it: "Good news! You're not paranoid."

Leon WolfesonMay 26, 2014 11:06 PM

I have to agree with Dr. Brin here, while not disagreeing per-se with Dr. Watts.

Watts is quite correct that's the individual response, but Government is not a person. Institutions can be scrutinised in ways which don't cause the same threat response - people not reporting on *themselves*...

TTOMay 27, 2014 6:31 AM

Surveillance is a good thing and can't be compared to being preyed upon.
When they know they are being watched, people behave nicely. They are more human, less animal, they are aware of themselves. They perform better and feel better. They do what they assume is right.

Without surveillance the world would be a real life 4chan.

Bob S.May 27, 2014 6:42 AM

Re: "Surveillance is a good thing..."

I disagree. However, assuming you are correct, how do we conduct surveillance on the government and corporations?

What's good for the goose....

TTOMay 27, 2014 8:02 AM

"how do we conduct surveillance on the government and corporations"

It's a question that has been at the centre of the preoccupations of the Founding Fathers and many political philosophers (and specifically Montesquieu).
They assumed that surveillance is a good thing and consequently they created the Checks and Balances. Surveillance is the only way for democracy to exist.

I hear many criticisms toward the American government saying the Checks and Balances do not work anymore and that NSA's behaviour is the proof and consequence of that.

So, for some, the absence of surveillance is bad and at the same time surveillance itself is bad.
As you say, what's good for the goose...

Bob S.May 27, 2014 11:24 AM

"Checks and Balances"?

Surely you jest!

The government now reserves the right to conduct "surveillance" on itself based on it's own secret rules and secret laws. That's not checks and balance, that's police state tyranny.

When both Alexander and Clapper were caught lying egregiously to Congress, which is the people's representative, and absolutely Nothing happened I knew right then WE the People were in big trouble. The vicious attacks on Snowden (and others who preceded him) who conducted surveillance on the government and corporations is proof postive.

Secret surveillance is not compatible with democracy or our fundamental rights as American citizens.

In any case equating "checks and balances" with today's kind of oppressive, intrusive, creepy, violence prone surveillance of every American is an inappropriate analogy on many levels.

William PayneMay 27, 2014 1:59 PM

Hmmmm ... well, perhaps we are prey in the sense that the OP means.

Lots of other prey animals seem to survive just fine. Perhaps we should just develop coping mechanisms?

Bob S.May 27, 2014 5:43 PM

Re: "perhaps we are prey"

Would it be more correct to say "cannibals"?

The lion does not prey on it's mate or pride.


TTOMay 28, 2014 5:15 AM

"Secret surveillance is not compatible with democracy or our fundamental rights as American citizens"

You are actually right, it should not be secret (only the surveillance of other countries should be secret) but that does not mean it should not be done.

The need for surveillance is one of the reasons of the invention of God. Despite answering many questions primitive humans could not answer, god was also an eye keeping watch on everyone, everywhere.
It was an easy way to push people to reflect on themselves and their actions

Quoting Victor Hugo's “La Conscience" : "The Eye was in the tomb and fixed on Cain."

At least, shutting down our computers, we can be free from NSA's eye(s).

AutolykosMay 28, 2014 8:56 AM

@William Payne: We do. They're called Tor, PGP, OTR and Truecrypt, for example.

And on a personal scale, "refuse to be terrorized" also helps against the spooks. You can reclaim a lot of your freedom just by truly understanding two things:

- The main tools others use to control and manipulate you are fear, shame and guilt
- All three are just emotions inside your head; they have no more power than you give them

Yup, they may still shoot you if you don't obey. But they never had any power over you. In that sense, it is quite similar to the Scorched-Earth Society - but it's actually older than the hills: Taoism and Zen-Buddhism also have some ideas going in the same direction.

vas pupMay 29, 2014 9:16 AM

Some input on the subject.
The problem is that all alphabetic soup of LEA/Intel is now considered as a lion, predator with its OWN interests opposite to the interest of general population. All LEA/Intel image should be transformed in the eyes of general population into GUARDIAN DOG which will protect the owner (general population)by all legal means established by not secret laws/regulations with approval of general population. LEA/Intel should not be eliminated because their existence is based on protective function of the Government. Until function is required the existence of particular Government structure is necessary. My concern is not surveillance itself, but usage of collected information to control society (general population), i.e. guardian dog became in charge of its owner. We do have examples in the history of such examples: Gestapo, KGB, Stasi. We should never ever let our LEA/Intel move to the same direction. That is why I am in support of idea to keep Intel ( NSA - within US) and LEAs (FBI, prosecutors, etc.) separate as check and balances of power.
And finally, as government by itself not a problem, but dysfunctional government is. By the same token, LEA/Intel by itself is not bad by default, but LEA/Intel transforming from the guardian dog to the lion (predator) is.

vas pupMay 29, 2014 11:54 AM

@Daniel • May 23, 2014 11:57 AM.
Thank you for the link. I love that part of the article from it: "Accumulate enough information to meet threshold of action". That is golden line for all LEAs, prosecutors, counter intel, military, foreign policy implementation. For Intel applies first part only (accumulate and probably pre-process) and action (including POTUS decisions) are based on both pros and cons provided by Intel without bias. I'll just add between 'information' and 'to meet': "from independent and reliable sources".

Chris K.June 3, 2014 5:54 AM

For those who support the "harm is done" conclusion, this is precisely what J. Edgar "Katrina" Hoover intentionally wanted: all Americans to believe that there was an FBI agent behind every mailbox. Now, there actually is in a sense.

It is only to serve Wall Street and our ever-growing paranoia industrial complex. Or, as Mike Lofgren called it, the Deep State.

Peter GerdesJune 13, 2014 12:43 AM

That's just stupid.

Animals respond negatively to be *STARRED AT* not from being surveilled.

My dog gets agitated if my wife just sits and looks at her too long. Responding that way to a stare is a natural response. She likes the fact that we surveil her and thus have a good idea when she will need to pee or when to check her food bowl.

Equating an animal's reaction to overt stares to their reaction to the abstract knowledge data is being harvested about them is totally absurd. Humans are no different.

If some guy in an NSA basement I never meet is logging every time I watch porn I really could care less (other things I might). If you stuck him in the room and have him watch over my shoulder I while I watched porn I would be very bothered.

Try as much as you like you just can't bridge the gap between the reactions of people and animals to being WATCHED and their reactions to the abstract fact that some distant agency might be recording their internet behavior in some secret government installation.

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Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient Systems, Inc.