(See Launch of the Carnada for how I’m using this word.)
The Edward Snowden affair gives us a chance to review some “talking point” canards that get dragged out by the usual talking heads whenever questions of government surveillance and whistleblowers come up. I call them “trolling points”, since their only purpose is to distract us from what matters.
After that, I hope to review what all this means in practical terms.
Trolling point #1:
“What’s the big deal about privacy? What do you have to hide?”
If anyone seriously wants to ask this question, I expect you to send me photos of both sides of all your credit cards, and all the user ids and passwords that you use to log into everything, including your bank accounts. Oh, and your address, when you’re likely to be out of the house, and a catalog of all your more valuable property there. I’ll post it here for all the world to see.
Otherwise, don’t ask such stupid questions.
But there’s something more that might need explaining, and it might touch on the Green value of “Respect for Diversity”. Privacy is as much a part of a healthy society as free speech.
Have you never had an idea that you had to work on for a while before it was ready to expose to the world? Never a thought that would have sounded perfectly asinine in its earliest forms, that needed refinement? Ok, I write a little, so it’s really obvious to me. Maybe you tinker with machines, or experiment with recipes. Have you never had an idea that you weren’t quite ready to talk about? Never had a dream that sounded ridiculous, but then gave you a good idea later?
Free speech and privacy are very much needed for the evolution of a culture. Ideas need a safe space to develop. Without that, there’s won’t be any new ideas. Without privacy, a culture is dead. If you’ve never had an off-the-wall idea that needed work, you’ve never lived.
Tapping into your computer is like tapping into your brain. Imagine being asked to explain everything going on there. You probably don’t even like midget porn (uh…except for you, you, oh and YOU!), but does that mean you’ll never click on any by accident? There are millions of links you might click that are falsely advertised.
Juries are stupid and ignorant. They’ll probably exclude anyone from the jury who ever surfed the web. They can do that. Now imagine a prosecutor with a name to make for himself weaving whatever tale he can make up out of your surfing habits.
But we’re not just talking about some big, bad prosecutor. The most revealing part of what Snowden said is here:
“Any analyst, at any time, can target anyone… I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President, if I had a personal email.”
So a fairly low-level contract employee (not a government employee) can look at the nature of your phone calls, read your email, look at your surfing habits. He can be a stalking ex-boyfriend, an identity thief, a blackmailer, anyone. Yes, it’s presumably illegal for him to use it that way, but who will stop him?
Keep this in mind:
The feds don’t take special measures to guard information without some kind of reason. This decision is made by “classifying” it, right? They need a rationale to do this. Someone must believe that, if released, the information could harm national security.
There is nothing about your phone records, emails or surfing habits that would harm national security if released. The same data is accessible to all kinds of phone and internet company employees before it gets to the NSA, right? All we’re talking about here that’s classified is the fact that the NSA is taking it and analyzing it, and how they’re analyzing it. So we don’t know whether anyone would even need a clearance to look at your records, as long as they’re not told how such things were acquired and processed, and that horse is already out of the barn.
Ok, I’ve spent too much time on a trolling point that should be ridiculous on its face.
Trolling Point #2:
“Snowden signed an agreement not to divulge classified info under severe penalties. He committed a crime, plain & simple.”
There’s more than one law in play here. If you see a crime being planned or carried out and help to cover it up, you’re an accessory. We’re being told that everything Snowden reports was “legal” by people who might have some really strange ideas of “law”, especially since they seem to think the law can be secret.
Trolling Point #3:
“Revealing this surveillance program endangers American lives by tipping off Al Qaeda so they can avoid it.”
Geez, those Al Qaeda people must be dumb. This is news to them, that their phone records are being collected and analyzed? To not know this, they would have to be dumb enough to fall for one of those FBI stings, the faux terror attacks that are “foiled” for show. So that’s the people you’re mainly worried about? Afraid people won’t fall for the stings any more?
Now, lets look at what this means for us, political activists, in a practical way.
If we didn’t know this before, anyone with a clue kinda figured it.
I’ve been telling you all for some years not to send anything in email, or post anything on the web, that you wouldn’t want your mother to read aloud on nationwide tv.
The phone company keeps records of the calls you made so they can bill you for it. You knew that. They probably keep it all archived several years back, if not forever. You knew that. Did anyone ever think they could count on a phone call being private? Now that most of it goes through the airwaves, rather than a wire, it’s all that much easier to tap into, if anyone cares to.
Email: Especially if you use web mail, leaving it all filed there on the provider’s server, how could it ever be difficult for someone with access to the company’s servers to read it all? Even if you use a downloading email client, it might get archived somewhere. You simply don’t know, and the provider is under no obligation to tell you. I do know, from many years in data processing, that anyone dealing with data likes to keep backups. Lots & lots of backups, if they’re smart.
Web Surfing: Google and Facebook, among many others, provide their services “free”. How do you think they pay their expenses and make profits? They monitor what you do with their software and use that profiling of users to target ads. If you use Windows, it’s a pretty safe bet that Microsoft could scan your machine whenever you hook up for a system update and tell a lot about what you’ve been doing. Same with Apple, I imagine. Whether it’s the feds or some leviathoid corporation watching you, should it have made any difference to you all these years? Just the fact that such databases exist means that the feds can have them any time they want them, if they care to.
Notice that recurring theme: “…if they care to”. We’re talking about people who would like, in their perfect world, to save the content of every phone call, and every click on the web, and can contrive the “legal” authority to do so if they wish, but it would be far more data than anyone would want to deal with. It would effectively duplicate all the data transmission in the world. So they don’t. They only record “metadata”, because that’s all they can work with. Don’t let anyone tell you that that’s all the FISA court decided was legal to collect. If more were requested, a secret rationale could always be found for it.
Just for yuks, read about this case:
Is there a built-in camera and mike in your computer? Most recent
ones have them.
It’s good to have it confirmed, in any case, just so we know what we’re dealing with.
What we’re dealing with is still a little difficult to say, exactly. We know that someone can snoop on all your electronic communications, and draw whatever conclusions they like from it, and it might have very little to do, in effect, with actual national security.
An interesting aspect of the program is mentioned here:
“There seemed to be more of a desire to contract out and
cause a money flow than there was to actually perform the
Translation: As with many aspects of the government, much of the work has been outsourced to people who have the lobbying muscle to get the contracts. It’s just another way to drain the treasury. Whether they can actually target anyone you or I would call a “terrorist” is still up in the air. They do, however, have lotsa data that they can analyze any way they wish, for whatever purposes they have. Their #1 purpose is to justify the existence of the program so the money keeps coming. They have to catch SOMEbody at SOMEthing once in a while, just to keep up appearances. Remember those FBI stings. With so much data to play with, they must have a very target-rich environment.
So whom are they likely to choose for sacrifice? Well, it sure won’t be any of “the boys”. Look for the usual suspects: poor people who can’t mount a legal defense, people from certain parts of the world, “non-whites”, people who can be easily smeared as “Un-American”. Do you like French cheeses? Do you think “reality” tv is about as real as wrestling? Keep your head down.
This is what should be setting off alarm bells if nothing else does. It makes sense for the usual kind of wiretapping order, with a warrant, to be secret. If the crook knows he’s being tapped, he’ll be more careful, right?
But this is a whole different can of wires: The court order requiring Verizon to hand over all phone records on all customers, AND THE INTERPRETATION OF THE LAW THAT ALLOWS IT is a “secret”. That means it’s “secret” that millions of people not accused of any wrongdoing are having their data collected and analyzed. Let’s go back to that trolling question, “What do you have to hide?” and ask it of the NSA folks.
Secret laws, such that the ordinary citizen is just told as-needed what’s legal and what’s not, is about as clear a mark of a police state as there can be. That’s what we have. It’s time to start learning morse code so we can communicate with flashlights and wig-wag. Tap codes are a bit simpler to remember and often used in prison. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tap_code