It’s worth noting that there are primarily two very different groups lighting their hair on fire and screaming off in all directions over the revelation that the security apparatus created pursuant to the Patriot Act is compiling a database directly from the servers of all major communication companies: The paranoid right wing conspiracy idiots who think Alex Jones is a prophet, and arrogant Liberals who smugly assert that anyone who disagrees with Glen Greenwald is a fucking Obot traitor slightly more evil than the bastard spawn of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.
Whenever these two gangs of assholes come together, one is well served by shooting one’s reflexes full of something potent and giving the matter closer consideration.
The depth and breadth of the collected data reminds one of that TV commercial for some video-on-demand service: a weary traveler checks into a motel and asks, “Do you have cable?”
The clerk replies, “We have every movie ever made, in any language, ever.”
The man looks perplexed. “How is that even possible?”
Oh, it’s possible, Toto. It’s possible and they’ve been at it for some time. Every phone call, every email, every tweet…all of it is logged and turned over to the government. There is an important distinction here, and I will return to it later: The fact of the call is logged, the content is not. More specifically, the source of the communication (ISP, phone number, twitter handle), the recipient (email address, phone number…) and the date/time of the communication is logged. The specific content of the communication (at least pursuant to this particular warrant and this particular program – PRISM) is not.
This is emphatically NOT to suggest that there are not other covert operations under the auspices of the NSA that ARE pulling message content out of the ether for analysis. Project Echelon has been public knowledge for some time. It employs supercomputers to analyze the content of electronic communications looking for specific keywords, and flags those for closer examination. If you send an email to your sister telling her, “Jimmy really bombed in the school play,” the proximity of the word “Bomb” to the word “School” will probably result in some junior G-Man having a peek at you.
If you turn out to be a suburban housewife from Maine, they probably won’t dig any deeper. If you turn out to be a Saudi exchange student studying chemical engineering, they may very well look a little deeper. I’ll come back to this, later, too.
To those convinced that the government has already crossed the line into tyranny (and especially since the Kenyan Usurper began his plot to turn America into a communist, fascist, secular Muslim drug orgy), this “revelation” is all the proof they need. They never needed any before, but now that they have something at which to point while they sputter their paranoid fantasies, they feel vindicated.
They were unreasonable idiots to begin with, and they’re still unreasonable idiots. They’re just more convinced, if such a thing is possible.
But let’s break this down into manageable pieces. The first screaming point of the unhinged left is the alleged invasion of privacy, so let’s examine this in some detail.
Years ago (and I mean many years ago), I was offered a client card by my regular supermarket. Each time I went through the checkout, they would swipe the card and I would accumulate “points” useful for discounts, as well as air miles (which I never collected or used). Nevertheless, I soon began receiving offers from my supermarket chain for products that demonstrated a rather intense and particular knowledge of my lifestyle, habits and circumstances. They knew I had a dog (Science Diet); when my girlfriend was menstruating (Tampax); that she was on the pill (prescription filled at in-store pharmacy); that I bought environmentally considerate products; that I had thing for fish sticks; that I had no children (never bought school supplies); my preference for beer and liquor; the red meat unbalanced nature of my diet. They knew what size underwear and shoes I wear, what brand of deodorant I use, and a thousand other things that most people would consider none of their fucking business. Any information the government might possibly discern by knowing who I phone or email, and when, absolutely pales in comparison to the information my local supermarket was able to accumulate about the most “private” details of my life. So, the idea that this data grab pursuant to a FISA warrant is some sort of new, unheralded breach of anyone’s privacy is ludicrous. Compared to what corporate America already has on you, the government is playing fucking catch-up.
The big knob on which the unhinged right seems to want to gnaw is that this amounts to some sort of investigation in which each and every citizen of the United States is, without any form of reasonable or probable cause, the subject; that the government is now using this data from the dot.coms and the Ma Bells to go after anyone it deems troublesome, or just to generally troll with a massively over broad net looking for evidence of wrongdoing. In a word, bullshit.
The government is not compiling a list of all of YOUR phone calls. They are compiling a database of EVERYONE’S phone calls. They don’t give a flying fuck that you called the HIV testing lab, then your doctor, and then your insurance company. They don’t care if you’re fucking around on your wife, calling in sick so you can play golf, or planning a surprise party with strippers for your brother-in-law.
When the next twisted jihadi freak show, or Minute Man militia asshole, or god-walloping abortion clinic bomber gets nabbed, the government will then have the ability to discover who the suspect was communicating with and when; who those people frequently call…and by virtue of accessing that information, better know where to devote their investigatory resources most effectively. This is precisely what we should WANT the government to be doing.
Is it open to abuse? Of course it is…and this is why there must be some form of oversight and control – to ensure that this data mining is not employed for improper purposes. But the data cat is well and truly out of the privacy bag. It is already being compiled, bought and sold and used in ways you cannot imagine and probably wouldn’t like very much. The only question now is how are we going to ensure that the collected data is not misused. Well…misused in ways that might be more troublesome than your local Whole Foods knowing your wife’s due date and that your daughter has herpes.