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07 June, 2013

When Your Secrecy is Gone, Shout!

Find the dangerous one.

In the past few weeks, we've learned that the US government is snooping more than they had wanted us to know. The federal intelligence community, long enamored with the potential that computers and electronic communication offer for listening in on a huge scale, snagged barrels full of AP reporter communications, and shiploads of social network and email and phone data from the rest of us.

This should come as no surprise. For quite a while, we have seen this coming: Admiral Poindexter's soul-less body reanimated to head up snooping programs with names like "carnivore" and "echelon," establishment of a goal so important that it gets an acronym (TIA = Total Information Awareness), and construction of a massive internet and phone eavesdropping center in Utah, the Patriot Act's indulgence of blanket searches, the Foreign Intelligence Security Court established pretty much for the purpose of giving the imprimatur of legitimacy to snooping, and so on and on and on...

At the same time that usually docile "news" organizations are getting their hackles up, the US government (right on up to el Presidente) is busy prosecuting leakers and complaining that the outing of its taps and intercepts will endanger security. Both sides are lying or stupid. Given our government's history of spying on perceived enemies foreign and domestic, and given the obvious potential for mass snooping presented by modern communication technology, how can any reporter with a gram of awareness think that the NSA or any other security agency would forego the opportunity?

Likewise, for the Commander-in-Chief to step up to the microphone and say that a couple of newspaper stories endanger the secrecy--and by extension, they would have us believe, the success--of intelligence-gathering efforts is complete bullshit. Maybe you hadn't inferred the existence of widespread data mining, of blanket search and seizure of your communications, but all of our supposed enemies have. The Chinese (or any other nation you want to think of as an enemy) have certainly known about PRISM for a while, and even the most podunk affiliate of al Quaeda operates on the assumption that any phone call or email is being monitored. Hell, I do too, even though I am the very model of an ineffectual internet voice.

We are stuck in a bind: if other nations, corporations, and corporate enterprises are availing themselves of big data, wouldn't the US intelligence agencies be remiss to ignore it themselves? There are plenty of reasons to distrust our government a little less than Chinese military hackers, or Russian mobsters, or web advertisers. But still, for citizens to roll over and accept searches of everything, all the time, with no real cause or case, will only embolden authoritarian tendencies. Giving the spies a pass now could come back to haunt us later, should we get an even more secretive and coercive government. Remember, Dick Cheney ain't dead yet.

Maybe the government will pretend to back off, or be more open about how and why they spy on us. In fact, I would count on there being some effort at window dressing, attempts to make it appear that the spies are held in checks and balances. But I assume, and would advise anyone using the internet in any way to also assume, that they are being listened to by the US and other major world powers like the Chinese, Russians, Facebook, and Google. If you want your communication to remain private, send handwritten letters by snail-mail. Attempting to use crypto-communications online will only draw attention, and the interceptors are more sophisticated and well-funded than you are.

Did you think that what you wrote in an email or on a comment page was confidential? That your clever fake username made you anonymous, or your phone call a secret? That you still have 4th Amendment rights? That a "liberal" president would put concern for your privacy above opportunities to take power? What you do is no more secret from the US government than it is from a determined hacker. Or, let's face it, from corporations, which harvest your data with your own permission (and by permission, I mean ignorance as to how to stop the cookies and trackers and whatever other tech means to harvest data that we users do not even know about).

Assume that nothing is private. Even if public outcry caused the US goverment to (pretend to) stop snooping, that won't do anything about other national governments or international corporations. And if you value your freedom, speak up. Post like I am now, proclaim your disgust with a spying government, tell the NSA to fuck off. The more mildy rebellious citizens and non-violent curmudgeons speak out, the more the snoopers get the message, the more their algorithms are clogged with harmlessness.

Maybe one day I will end up like Winston Smith, but I don't plan on waiting as long as he did to speak up. In case the NSA has not flagged this post thus far (they shoulda, I said "al Qaeda" and referenced US government spying), let me just say that I do not believe in the legitimacy of online spying. I think it does more to corrode democracy than to protect it. Fuck off, secret police.

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