The White Paper… our own private Minority Report?
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My father once told me, “We don’t choose the things we believe in; they choose us.” -While the preceding could have been transcribed from Barack Obama’s book “dreams of my father” it wasn’t. It is a quote delivered by the character Lamar Burgess in the 2002 film “Minority Report”. In light of the government’s recent release of the white paper, one could easily be forgiven for confusing the narratives associated with the two. A white paper is an authoritative report or guide helping readers to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. In conjunction with President Obama’s press conference on Friday afternoon, the government released its very own white paper detailing its legal rationale “for an intelligence collection program under which the Federal Bureau of Investigation obtains court orders directing certain telecommunications service providers to produce telephony metadata in bulk.”
In this white paper, the administration’s definition defies any previous interpretation of the law as noted by experts at the A.C.L.U. The way the government interprets relevance, anything and everything they say is relevant becomes relevant; past, present…and even future. Critics say the program amounts to a “dragnet,” collecting massive amounts of what the report refers to as “telephony metadata” detailing records of telephone calls. Included is information about the telephone numbers involved in calls, when the calls were made and how long they lasted. Yet, they stress content of the call is not revealed. The government said the record searches are not unlike a government agent copying an entire computer hard drive to later review it for specific evidence. It cites a case in which a doctor was subpoenaed to produce 15,000 patient files considered relevant to a health-care fraud investigation. The report conceded that such cases might not permit the “bulk collection” of the sort carried out under the NSA program. However, it asserts, “the relevance standard affords considerable latitude, where necessary, and depending on the context, to collect a large volume of data in order to find the key bits of information contained within.”
So again for further clarification and not to get lost in the minutia of the report “a white paper is an authoritative report or guide helping readers to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision”. But a white paper is also often times the name a government gives to a memo directed toward an issue they want solved as quietly as possible, hoping it will be buried in the myriad of other white papers released by governments in the past. Like Britain did in 1939 with its own white paper, which was later augmented heavily to become the document that the present day Jewish State of Israel owes to its creation. A Google search for the phrase “white paper” will lead you into a kaleidoscope of different information strings all of them seemingly constructed to be blander than the last. Coupled again with the President’s impromptu press conference, this all seems to be designed to hide the main point I personally take away from reading the white papers. With this one document the government asserts what it feels is its right to collect evidence on individuals who have yet to even be involved in a crime. Edward Snowden’s information leak’s eerie similarity to some aspects of the novel 1984 sparked a trending rise in sales that has temporarily placed it back on the best sellers list. However, there is another bit of once science fiction fantasy that has to all our collective dismay now sadly began to eerily resemble reality. That is the greatly unappreciated film Minority Report, a movie which focuses on a city protected by the abilities of three “precognitive” children that can essentially see crimes before they happen. Under the directives of the three super intuitive beings the police set to work catching criminals before the “future criminals” have had the opportunity to commit the crimes for which they are arrested and instantly prosecuted. Here too the President is claiming the same “precognitive” abilities we saw exhibited in the Spielberg film. Essentially stating with the white papers that the government has the ability to collect evidence that one day “might be” used in a terrorist investigation. Within the white papers, the D.O.J is declaring the right to gather evidence for crimes that will be committed in the future before a suspect has actually done anything illegal. It also establishes that this information can be and may have already been used in drone strikes in regards to ongoing terrorist investigations.
The papers released a few days ago attempt to explain away secret means of data collection until recently thought possible only in the minds of the most ardent conspiracy theorists. This document leaves the ever evolving and fluid definition of “terrorist” in the hands of the D.O.J, and perhaps even more terrifying than that, ultimately with whomever the current administration happens to be. In this last month “We the People” have had to contend with news of Prism, XKeyScore, and now the white papers and what these revelations mean to how we define our own personal freedoms. I contend that it might be easier for the Obama administration to release another white paper to stem what is sure to be the oncoming string of leaks soon to come, this time however I suggest their topic be …what freedoms do “We the People” still have? Hopefully one day Logic Will Prevail.