• 06.13.13

David Simon On The Problem With The NSA “Scandal”

“We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course, we do.”

David Simon On The Problem With The NSA “Scandal”

When it was revealed on June 5 that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting reams of telephone data for an unspecified purpose, a wave of shock and horror–mixed with some shrugging of shoulders and confusion–swept over the relatively small number of people who know and care about these things.


The NSA news has raised troubling questions about privacy and the chickens of our unfettered, unquestioning digital habits coming home to roost. But should it? Should we be troubled, or rather, are we being troubled about the right things?

David Simon, former journalist and creator of HBO’s The Wire, offers an interesting counterpoint to the panicked coverage of events. The complete quote teased on this article is: “For us, now–years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic–to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism–is as childish as it is obtuse. We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course, we do.”

The quote comes from a post on his blog entitled “We are shocked, shocked . . .” It begins:

Is it just me or does the entire news media–as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle–not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? It would seem so.

And it goes on to argue that the “scandal” has, so far, been ginned up, or at least misunderstood. Simon literally calls bullshit on the scandal as it’s been presented, and on our shock that this data is being collected.

The question is not: Should the resulting data exist. It does. And it forever will, to a greater and greater extent. And therefore, the present-day question can’t seriously be this: Should law enforcement in the legitimate pursuit of criminal activity pretend that such data does not exist. The question is more fundamental: Is government accessing the data for the legitimate public safety needs of the society, or are they accessing it in ways that abuse individual liberties and violate personal privacy–and in a manner that is unsupervised.


And to that, the Guardian and those who are wailing jeremiads about this pretend-discovery of U.S. big data collection are noticeably silent. We don’t know of any actual abuse. No known illegal wiretaps, no indications of FISA-court-approved intercepts of innocent Americans that occurred because weak probable cause was acceptable.

Read the whole post–and do read it–here.

About the author

Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Co.Create. She was previously the editor of Advertising Age’s Creativity, covering all things creative in the brand world.