Lying with numbers

The government always lies.  Even when it looks like they’re telling the truth, they are lying:

Here’s a seemingly comforting statistic: In all of 2012, the Obama administration went to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court only 200 times to ask for Americans’ “business records” under the USA Patriot Act.

Every year, the Justice Department gives Congress a tally of the classified wiretap orders sought and issued in terrorist and spy cases – it was 1,789 last year. At the same time, it reports the number of demands for “business records” in such cases, issued under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. And while the number of such orders has generally grown over the years, it has always managed to stay relatively low. In 2011, it was 205. There were 96 orders in 2010, and only 21 in 2009.

Thanks to the Guardian’s scoop, we now know definitively just how misleading these numbers are. You see, while the feds are required to disclose the number of orders they apply for and receive (almost always the same number, by the way), they aren’t required to say how many people are targeted in each order. So a single order issued to Verizon Business Solutions in April covered metadata for every phone call made by every customer. That’s from one order out of what will probably be about 200 reported in next year’s numbers.

I understand the impulse to believe the government is telling the truth about something.  No one wants to think through the implications that they are lying about the NSA’s domestic spying, or Sandy Hook, or 9/11, or Pearl Harbor, or nuclear weapons in Iraq.

But the fact is that they are.  They repeatedly and reliably are.  Believing that the U.S. government always lies doesn’t make one a conspiracy theorist, it merely means that one is paying attention.  As I’ve said before, the main reason I am dubious about the Moon landings is that the government claims they took place.