Dear NSA, Read Me.

I was sitting in a McDonalds in Detroit’s airport when a man asked the manager to switch from some painfully bad 80’s western drama to CNN.  I sat there eating my fries as I watched President Obama’s speech in regards to national security, the NSA, and the controversy over whether or not the government has become an “Orwellian” dystopia (it hasn’t).

Over the past few weeks it has come to light that the government, especially the IRS and NSA, have been overstepping what many regular citizens would justifiably consider their rights to privacy.  Hell, even The New York Times, considered to be relatively liberal, blasted Obama for the NSA’s intrusion into our phone and internet records.

My God!  Did I...did I just learn something?

My God! Did I…did I just learn something?

There are massive loads of information as far as this whole debacle goes but I’m going to try and sum it up as quickly as possible.  If you still want to know more then I highly suggest you read the links provided to better educate yourselves, as is your civic obligation.

The IRS was caught just a few weeks ago having targeted Tea Party and other right wing “sounding” groups for extra scrutiny regarding their vaguely legitimate tax-exempt status requests. After much outrage by both conservative and liberal pundits/congressmen/citizens, the IRS issued a formal apology and the commissioner, Steve Miller, stepped down.  There is no official link to the White House but it does reflect poorly when the president seems to supposedly have no idea what the IRS is up to.

SO if that wasn’t bad enough, just weeks later the shit hit the fan again and The Guardian reported that the National Security Agency was pulling the phone records of millions of Verizon customers.  These calls are indiscriminate and can be either international or domestic.  The order from the NSA states that all the information is to be transmitted daily from Verizon to the NSA and that Verizon cannot tell its customers of these actions.

Now I do feel that it is PARAMOUNT to assure all readers, paranoid or otherwise, that this “metadata” (buzzword of the week) shows all data about the call including time, numbers, location, etc. BUT NOT the actual content or your personal data.  In order to obtain such information the NSA would have to obtain a secondary warrant from the courts for each specific case.  That’s not actually so different than any other police investigation.

Can’t get much worse right? WRONG.  Literally two days after the Verizon debacle it was leaked to The Washington Post that the NSA and FBI were, “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets…”  Those companies include Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Apple, Youtube, Skype, Facebook, PalTalk, and AOL (whoever still uses AOL?).  Basically, we’re all being watched because I’m willing to bet everyone reading this has an account on at least three of those.  The program that did the gathering is known as PRISM.   The best part?  PRISM is being used by Britain’s NSA equivalent, GCHQ, to sidestep Britain’s more strict observation laws and obtain people’s personal data since they’re held in servers outside the UK.  So the NSA isn’t just breaking the trust of all American citizens, but it’s helping to screw with that lovely bloke you know in London too.

Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden.

On June 9 it was revealed that a former CIA and NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked the information to The Guardian and Washington Post on both Verizon and PRISM.  Snowden was in a Hong Kong hotel until Monday at noon when he checked out, but no one seems to be reporting where he is now (at least as of writing this).

Many have called the NSA’s actions a breach of the fourth amendment.  For those who are not aware, the fourth amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”  In short, no government can take away my personal stuff unless they have a good enough reason.  That includes both my house and my email… in principle.

Now I would try and explain how this all is related to The Patriot Act and is thus entirely, though immorally, legal but I’m sure I’d only come to confuse both you and myself.  Though I would like to point out that former President Bush pulled all these shenanigans in his time in office as well but, I mean, who would remembers that? In fact, between 2004 and 2007 it was the Bush administration that got federal judges to approve of the expansion of surveillance. The government now no longer needed to show probable cause in regards to a particular target but rather could periodically collect US citizen’s data without a warrant. That being said, Obama is just as at fault for continuing these practices.

"They'll never know right?" "Nope! Hehehe" Photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“They’ll never know right?” “Nope! Hehehe”
Photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I’d like to use this as a chance to discuss what we, as American citizens, are willing to endure and give up for the sake of safety.  In that McDonalds I heard Obama say, “You can’t have 100-percent security and then have 100-percent privacy.”  I believe this to be true. I think we all do to a certain degree. My point is: how far will the American people be pushed until finally there is a break? What matters to us more, blissful ignorance or actual ugly transparency?

Perhaps it is some bit of cynicism in me that says this will all blow over in two weeks, but I sincerely hope that we as Americans will at the very LEAST talk about and educate ourselves on what is happening.  This is ridiculous, ridiculousness we have known and been repeatedly fed while telling our Chef-in-Chief we love it.   I cannot speak for you dear reader but I can say that I would rather have transparent uneasiness than ignorant bliss.  We are the voters and we are the ones most affected by these violations of our personal space. The saddest thing is that I like big government, but not big-brothernment™.  We deserve to feel unobserved in our own private homes.  We deserve the trust of our government.  While, yes, some terrorist plots may have been foiled by these NSA actions, is it really necessary to indiscriminately pull records of Joe Smith the elementary school teacher from Nebraska?  No, I have to believe that our country’s intelligence system is advanced enough to be able to pick out potential threats from zero threat citizens.  Apples and explosive oranges, right?

I don’t know, maybe someday when all our career baby-boomer politicians finally die (bless their souls) and we have a new class of idealist young-ish congressmen and women, we’ll see some real progress in transparency and a plethora of other issues that seem to go nowhere despite public opinion.  I’d like to think that will happen and the United States will make leaps and bounds in smart legislation… until those politicians are in their Xth term and realize, “Man I really like this power, I think I’ll stay,” and the cycle will begin anew.

While like I said above, I do not believe we are yet on the road to an “Orwellian” dystopia (though some respectfully disagree) we could be down that road soon if we are not willing to make a stand- either in the booth or the streets.  I suppose what I’m really asking is, how much are you willing to sacrifice to know the entire story?

•••

Only semi-relevant but one of my favorite movies so I’m adding it anyway.

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3 responses to “Dear NSA, Read Me.

  1. I’ve been agreeable and forgiving of a lot of Obama’s actions and throughout his term, but this kind of garbage can’t be ignored. This kind of intense, privacy-violating monitoring isn’t new, either. It’s just caught up with Internet and cellular technology now. Indeed, the government shouldn’t need to sift through the dealings of every citizen, it should be relatively easy to distinguish questionable individuals from honest citizens through more constitution-adherent means (notice that I didn’t say LEGAL means, the fact that PRISM’s actions were legal is what’s scary to begin with). I understand that after 9/11 politicians had to show that they were going to do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but I think further privacy inroads is not the way to go. It’s so un-American that it doesn’t even take an outsider to point it out to either end of the political spectrum. Now I’d hate to encourage both your cynicism and my own, but I guarantee it: it will blow over like no big deal in about a couple weeks. Hell, I bet next election it will be used against the Dem’s as if the Republican Party had their hands clean of it, and it will work. I don’t know if people have short memory spans, short attention spans, or are just too lazy to get all the facts and history themselves, but it will work. And don’t get me wrong, the Democratic Party pulled the same kind of thing over the housing market crash; there too, BOTH parties were quite instrumental it its happening, yet the Republican Party caught a lot of crap for it. There, too, people had a stink for only a few months (not to mention more controversy was made over the bailout than the undone regulations that caused the mess in the first place). In short, people need to care, but they really, really, don’t want to. Oh, and to Obama: I expected better of a fellow liberal. Be the grown-up and save yourself some face: apologize, and dispense of the program altogether. You’d probably earn respect and integrity points, if anything.

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