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Parsing David Simon on the Price of Security

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 20 2013

David Simon, whose entire career has revolved around the drug-ridden streets of Baltimore's poorest and most heavily surveilled neighborhoods, provocatively suggests in a recent post that what's going on here is that the rest of America is suddenly and hypocritically rejecting a call to ante in on the security apparatus that keeps the country safe.

People who live near Baltimore's drug corners, innocent people, are caught up in wiretaps all the time, he says. All of that is legal, too — and it's the result of a court order, just like what the NSA does, even if the NSA gets its orders from a secret court. And it is a trivial thing for police to get a warrant, knock down an innocent person's door, turn the place upside down and leave — at great consequence to the innocent civilian and zero consequence to the police.

What's happening here, he says, is that people of privilege are suddenly confronted with a reality that their poorer or perhaps darker-skinned countrymen have been living with — unfairly — for decades.

The so-called civil libertarians who are crying foul about the NSA but said nary a word about stop-and-frisk, or the inequal distribution of prosecutions in America's drug war, or all the other troublesome parts of the administration of American justice don't get much credit from Simon. He rejects their invitation to "man the barricades" and invites them, instead, to join his more fundamental campaign to reform law enforcement.

Simon points NSA critics to the best place for their anger: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and its secrecy, which he says is untenable in a free society. He also suggests that this is an opportunity to revisit the whole social compact around law enforcement in this country, which now holds that people who are poor or black sacrifice more of their liberties than people who have money or are white. Whatever the rules will be, he seems to be saying, let's just make sure they apply to everyone equally.

This first appeared in First POST, our morning round-up of news about technology and politics from around the web.