1. Anyone who desires or expects government agencies to relinquish the use of information-gathering should read David Brin’s The Transparent Society. Indeed, that book is a must-read for anyone who cares enough about the issue to pay attention to recent news reports.
2. I also claim that a must-read is my own article, The Constitution of Surveillance, written nine years ago.
3. I hope people are putting the NSA program in context with the Boston Marathon bombing. Here you go to all this effort to use Big Data to find terrorists, and when you are handed hard, actionable intelligence from the Russians you muff it.
4. I bet you will not find politicians putting the NSA program in context with Chinese cyber-spying, and explaining why ours is good and their is bad. I don’t think politicians are capable of doing the hair-splitting, so I think what they are left with is “What we do is good because we are good, and what they do is bad because they are bad.”
5. The issue is an uncomfortable one for libertarians, because I think that most people believe that the government is snooping in their interest. The majority may even be right about that. I myself have less of a problem with the snooping per se than with the secrecy of the programs. In my view, it is the secrecy, along with an absence of strong institutional checks, that is bound to lead to abuse. Also, see point (3).
6. The issue is an uncomfortable one for progressives, because their impulse is to treat the Obama Administration differently than they would have treated the Bush-Cheney Administration.
7. The issue is an uncomfortable one for conservatives, because it turns them into strange bedfellows. The civilization-barbarism axis clearly argues in favor of government snooping to defend citizens against barbarians, so conservatives feel inclined to betray libertarians and instead offer aid and comfort to President Obama.
8. How does snooping technology relate to the idea of competing private security agencies? Isn’t snooping technology going to be a vital tool for security agencies? What if a rogue private security agency conducts snooping in a way that customers of other agencies see as abusive? What if there are such significant economies of scale in snooping that it is a natural monopoly? David Friedman probably has thought about this.
Maybe the key point is (5). Government officials will argue that what they do must remain secret. They cherish secrecy. They claim that it is for our own good that we do not know what they do. I would say that such claims are often made and rarely true.
Obviously, a lot of other people have written about this. I recommend David Strom’s post (he is the St. Louis technology consultant, not the North Carolina libertarian) for its useful links.