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Bar News - June 17, 2015

Book Review: Greenwald Delivers a ‘Stinging Rebuke’ and a ‘Stark Warning’


No Place to Hide
By Glenn Greenwald
Metropolitan Books, 2014
Hardcover, 253 pages

No Place to Hide, the most recent book by attorney and journalist Glenn Greenwald, is first an expose of widespread government electronic surveillance as conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), and as disclosed by Edward Snowden, Greenwald’s whistleblower source. Thereafter, the book is a presentation of the issues that Snowden’s NSA disclosures present to a people that considers itself to have a constitutional right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.”

The book’s introduction presents the reader with a political dilemma: “We stand at a historic crossroads. Will the digital age usher in the individual liberation and political freedoms that the Internet is uniquely capable of unleashing? Or will it bring about a system of omnipresent monitoring and control, beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past?”

To address the dilemma, the first two chapters deal with Greenwald’s making initial contact with Snowden, and then with developing Snowden’s disclosures in greater detail. All the while, Greenwald holds the reader’s attention by recreating the suspense that accompanies blowing the lid off of surreptitious government practices.

The third chapter is more technical, discussing specific NSA surveillance programs, each categorized under its own Orwellian acronym. Still, Greenwald’s conclusion about the NSA program in its entirety is blunt: “[T]he Snowden archive led to an ultimately simple conclusion: the US government had built a system that has as its goal the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide. Far from hyperbole, that is the literal, explicitly stated aim of the surveillance state: to collect, store, monitor, and analyze all electronic communication by all people around the globe.”

Later chapters address the legal and political issues presented by the existence of widespread government electronic surveillance, with Greenwald driving home his point by summoning the 1928 landmark opinion in Olmstead v. US, where Justice Brandies wrote, “[t]he right to be left alone [is] the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people.” Greenwald suggests that privacy is not some passing fad; it is the very fabric out of which the social contract between the government and its citizenry is woven.

This of course raises an interesting question: When the sovereign can be said to have abrogated its responsibilities under the social contract, i.e., the Constitution, what responsibilities, then, remain with the governed?

Time will tell.

In any event, No Place to Hide is highly valuable not only as a stinging rebuke to those in our society whose political actions are inimical to the Constitution, but also because it delivers a stark warning to our largely ovine public.

The major shortcoming of the book is in its lack of attention to the matter of what can be done to combat the pervasive surveillance state, an omission that unfortunately leaves the reader with a feeling of powerlessness.

Perhaps that is Greenwald’s intent. Given the surveillance state’s funding, its political supporters, its lack of principled opponents in the judiciary, and, perhaps most important, given an apathetic public, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Fourth Amendment is a dead letter.

Thus, rather than being the advocate for reform that his introductory question would suggest, perhaps Greenwald is simply the harbinger of bad tidings indeed.

Attorney Brian P. McEvoy has been practicing in New Hampshire since 1991 and lives in Laconia.

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