How can we distinguish between better and worse surveillance states? Balkin identifies and contrasts two. The first is an authoritarian surveillance state, while the second is a democratic surveillance state. And the recent scandals clearly reveal that we live in an authoritarian one.
What do authoritarian surveillance states do? They act as “information gluttons and information misers.” As gluttons, they take in as much information as possible. More is always better, indiscriminate access is better than targeted responses, and there’s a general presumption that they’ll have access to whatever they want, at any time.
But authoritarian surveillance states also act as misers, preventing any information about themselves from being released. Their actions and the information they gather are kept secret from both the public and the rest of government.
Even though the paper is from 2008, this description of an authoritarian surveillance state fits perfectly with recent revelations about the Obama administration. The information that the National Security Agency has been seeking, from phone metadata to server access, is about as expansive as one could imagine. Meanwhile, the administration’s war on whistleblowers, which received public attention after revelations about the surveillance of AP reporters, shows a lack of interest in measures of transparency and accountability.