Peter Scheer: The connection between drone strikes and massive government surveillance programs

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From the First Amendment Coalition:  First came news accounts of the government’s use of armed drones in the targeted killing of terrorists abroad. Then came the revelations about government surveillance programs, breathtaking in their scale, tapping into data on phone calls, emails, internet searches and more.

These activities are, in fact, linked.

The use of drones to target America’s enemies represents the fruition of technological evolution in weapon accuracy. While America’s previous military conflicts have been characterized by military strategies that often maximized enemy casualties (think of the “body counts” during the Vietnam War), the technology of drones makes possible the highly discriminate targeting of selected individuals, with minimal civilian casualties (compared to alternative, and less sophisticated, weapon systems).

US intelligence gathering, also because of advances in technology, has evolved in the opposite direction. Before data mining, and especially before the end of the Cold War, intelligence gathering was narrowly focused on selected institutions or individuals. America knew who its enemies were; the objective of espionage operations, from wiretaps to infiltration by American spies, was to find out what they were up to: whom they were communicating with, their capacities and plans.

In recent years, by contrast, the focus has shifted to intercepting and analyzing mountains of data in order to discern patterns of activity that could lead to the identification of individual enemies. Intelligence gathering has evolved from the penetration of known groups or individuals to the sifting and mining of massively “big data”–potentially including information on all US citizens, or all foreign customers of Google, Facebook, et al.–in order to identify individuals or groups that are plotting attacks against Americans.

The logic of warfare and intelligence have flipped, each becoming the mirror image of the other. Warfare has shifted from the scaling of military operations to the selective targeting of individual enemies. Intelligence gathering has shifted from the targeting of known threats to wholesale data mining for the purpose of finding terrorists.

Please visit the First Amendment Coalition for the full article. Also, see Obama speech impacts California drone lawsuit for more coverage.

Peter Scheer is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. The First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds.