The Farmer's Almanack and wiretapping.

I originally wrote this piece in the summer of 2013, two years ago today.  I'm amused by my fiery rhetoric; most people give Facebook more metadata publicly than the government could ever need.  But it's still relevant, given the recent debates in Congress whether to keep the NSA humming along as before, or to try and change course. 


This has been quite some news day.  Our paradigm has shifted.  We knew, vaguely, that the internet would change things.  We knew that some of those things would be changing for the better, and that’s happened.  We knew some things would stay the same, and they have.  What I feared, however, what we all feared, was that someone in the government (and one can make the same argument about corporations that I’m about to make about the government, but that’s another issue) would take this wondrous new technology and use it to corrupt the very ideals of our putative Republic, that some faceless guardian of the public “safety” would usher in a new and unprecedented era of surveillance.  This future has come to pass.

The recent publications of leaked data from the government agencies responsible for keeping us “safe” have revealed that which we most dreaded: a surveillance and police state that Orwell couldn’t have dreamt.  We created the panopticon ourselves, walking into Facebook and other social media with a blasé brushing-off of the privacy concerns, leaving the information they contained ripe for the taking.  It led some journalists and academics to speculate as to whether we were seeing the end of privacy as we knew it, pre-internet.  I think that speculation was correct.  The corollary to that speculation was what would happen to our society in this post-privacy era.  Would the government continue to be bound by the shackles of an earlier time, which the public had so enthusiastically thrown off?  We suspected not, but we did not know.

Now, we have proof.  The government has shown disregard for the Constitutional protections against blanket searches and seizures, of the essential expectation of privacy in one’s private papers and affairs.  The constant drain of data from Verizon (and doubtless the other cellular providers), coupled with the deep mining of internet media, translates into a government that knows where you are, who you speak to, what you buy, where you browse, what sites you’ve visited, your complete financial records.  A government that could, physically, monitor EVERY American citizen, 24/7.  The only thing militating against that reality, the only assurance we have that such monitoring isn’t already taking place?  The government’s word!  The government’s word that it isn’t violating our Constitutional protections in its secret courts, its classified apparatuses and its sub rosa programs.  We have nothing to go on but the word of Congress and the Administration, and with all due respect, those words are just that. 

The potential for this is staggering.  The recent construction of an NSA computer facility in Utah, sinister to begin with, now takes on a painful clarity.  With the capability to not only house but to analyze the mountains of data the government has taken, it is now feasible for computers to monitor records on each and every American, in real time.  They’ve likely been doing such things already.  This is an unprecedented development in the history of our nation, of any nation, and it’s an open question as to whether our structures can survive this kind of challenge.  I don’t have too much faith in our government to reform itself, and most Americans seem uninterested in working to make it better.

This is not what the government is supposed to be.  It was created by the people, for the people, as an instrument to keep us from harm and to ensure the growth and prosperity of the nation.  Our government has come unmoored from its foundational grounding, morphing into a self-perpetuating machine controlled by money and agencies that outlast the administrations and rationales that gave them life.  Only action by US, the citizenry whom the government purports to represent, can make a difference.  If it still can.  Call your Representative.  Call your Senator.  Demand an accounting, and don’t let their rationale of security palliate your concern!  As Benjamin Franklin rightly warned us, any society that would give up a little liberty for a little security, deserves neither and will lose both.  We must not allow this slow and steady drift to go unchallenged. 

Let us not forget the lessons of McCarthy and Hoover.  This kind of disregard for our rights is laying a disastrous trap for us, the trap of “necessity”.  It is a short step from collecting the information to using it. 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?