So now we know, but we always suspected. The well meaning forces of security are watching, everything. That’s what we pay them to do. It’s what our representatives enabled our system to do with laws and organizations. It’s why the huge data center in Utah exists, to store it all. It’s too much to go through in real time even though huge breakthroughs in supercomputers during the early 2000s doubled or tripled their speed and capacity. That just means than any encryption can be broken at a much faster rate. So we store it all and then leaf through it after the fact.
That’s the way the system of surveillance is set up. When someone like Tsarnev blows up a bomb at the Boston marathon, some agency prepares a request, sends it to a special court and the court gives them an order to sift through all the information of his past, emails, Internet browsing, phone calls, text messages ect. to look for clues or connections.
All lawful, all legal all well intentioned. Many of us would say “all needful” as well. I guess the real questions are:
Are we willing to give up our own privacy so that a terrorist doesn’t have any?
What have we accomplished with this hugely complex and expensive system?
If you worry about loosing your right to privacy in making phone calls or sending emails or just browsing the Internet, you haven’t. You never had that right anyway. The supreme court, the final arbiter of what the Constitution says and means, decided a long time ago that information you give away to private communication companies is fair game. The Fourth amendment does not apply. By the way, read one of those endless cell phone contracts or Internet provider agreements sometime, it doesn’t promise any privacy. It doesn’t even promise good service.
I would really like to know if this giant system that we’ve built is doing any good. But then again I’m always concerned that tax money is well spent. I don’t mind picking up the tab as long as there is some reasonable value. If we could just see a report once in a while, this many investigations revealed this many crimes or conspiracies. This list of people went to jail or got kicked out of the country for these crimes. These evil foreign plots were foiled. Maybe that’s what will come out of all this. The whole “we can’t tell you if it’s useful because that would reveal a secret” is wearing a little thin. I suppose I could make an information request in 20 years but that seems like a very long time.
About three years ago I was looking hard at encrypting communications. I went through countless methods and software to make my communications unbreakable. It’s a complex pain in the ass encrypting things and it makes the process of sending an email really, really long. Then I learned that the latest super computers could break anything anyway, so I decided “fuck it.” Life is too short for secrets, so now I encourage all my friends and acquaintances not to tell or let me know anything they don’t want the whole world to hear. I can’t keep a secret so don’t tell me. That didn’t stop them, by the way.
The real problem with secrets is that they don’t really last all that long, a lesson our government is learning right now. People talk, it’s the nature of people. The Internet makes that a million times more prevalent. Seriously, why would we invent a system of open global open communications if we weren’t all blabbermouths? Who would reasonably expect that communication to be secure? “Just make sure only this one hundred million people can know, but no one else!”
The other problem with secrets is that they are inherently suspicious. More than half of the controversy over the surveillance by the NSA (and a lot of other agencies) is that they tried to keep it a secret. Pretty piss poor job they did at that, but that relates back to the first problem. Whenever I hear “National Security” as the reason for keeping a secret I wonder why that makes sense. Why not tell everyone that these people are suspected terrorists or actual spies and then when we saw them on the street or the local bar we could say “So Dude, how the spy business going?” or “Sorry, no drinks for terrorists. Clean up your act dirtbag.” It seems to me that it’s a matter of national security that everyone should know what’s going on.
A good argument can certainly be made for keeping some secrets, like my bank access code for instance. Then again, if I and everyone else knew who used my code illegally and spent my money we could stand outside their home or business and say things like “Bob’s a thief, Bob’s a thief!” or “I feel bad for Bob actually, he probably has a terrible drug problem or a nasty social disease that needs expensive and embarrassing treatment. You know, the kind that they stick the big thing way up your…….” Not to mention making it just about impossible to get away with anything.
So, as a consequence of this kind of thinking, I’m not really that concerned by the NSA filing away all my emails. In fact I’d like access to it all. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked for old emails and couldn’t find them, or swore I told my wife something during a call that she denies emphatically. Actually, if the NSA has all that storage why cant they back up my machine nightly? I’d never loose another song, document or picture again. Now that would be cool.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2012