Thoughts on Government surveillance

“If this government ever became a tyranny … the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government … is within the reach of the government to know.” – Senator Frank Church

If you are not wondering what the hell is going on with our government these days, or what the hell the government is doing to us, or where the hell all of this is going to lead, then you haven’t been paying attention. But make no mistake about it, this Big Brother, Big Government, Snoop/Spying/Prying into our lives started a long time before a 29 year old Booz Allen Hamilton hacker copied off a stack of his employer’s classified documents and flew west, leaving both his clandestine job and glamorous girlfriend in the jet vapors.

Citizens are now blogging, commenting, tweeting, and using all forms of media to express their shock and disdain for the apparent intrusion of the United States government into their personal lives. The scandal rages. Techie type analysts scramble to educate the masses about the nuances of government eavesdropping, hoping that perhaps a better understanding of ‘metadata’ will help assuage the concerns of The Public. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the aforementioned hacker, remains ensconced in a luxury Hong Kong hotel room, sitting high atop his stack of stolen documents as he lashes out at  the Obama Administration for its failings:

“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge…”

So how could such a condition come about? What of those great ‘checks and balances’ that we learned about in our tenth grade American Government classes? Aren’t those supposed to save us from tyranny? Or, perhaps it was the Bush Administration that set us upon this road to Orwellian doom.

Perhaps a good place to begin to understand our recent condition is by reading “The Puzzle Palace”, by James Bamford, an amazingly insightful and well researched book about the National Security Agency (NSA). This book takes the reader inside the NSA’s Ft. Meade, Maryland facility and documents in detail, the NSA’s intrusive, albeit effective, role in monitoring, if not influencing, international events, including the Iran-Contra affair, the downing of KAL flight 007 over the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Soviets, and the first Gulf War. It is important to note that this book was published in 1983.

Have our God-given rights been taken from us, in one fell swoop. Did the erosion start with a Republican President riding a nationwide ‘save-us-at-all-costs’ attitude that came about as a result of  the worst terrorist attack on our soil in history? Were those same policies given a wink and a nod by our current POTUS?

I think that the march of the government into our personal lives has not happened suddenly. It is just that are many more opportunities today for governmental abuse of power. In 1983, the internet was, for the average citizen, non-existent. Today we have cellular phones that revel our whereabouts, Facebook pages that record the minutia of our daily lives, and Linkedin pages that document business associates, and organizations. Mysterious magnetic strips on credit cards, and driver’s licenses, hold facts about us that sometimes even spouses do not know about. Our medical histories, where we spend our money, and where we travel to from the assumed anonymity of our computers, is all meticulously recorded and available for tracking should the ends justify the means.

This did not happen overnight. Many of us have remained silent for decades, not taking the opportunity to lash out when we could. Perhaps requiring urine testing as a condition of employment for even the most low-level, non-governmental position, was an intrusion we could have stopped had the outrage been great enough. But as a friend of mine smugly told me after submitting to such a test in order to get a relatively mundane clerical position, “I have nothing to hide. They can test me all they want.”

Meanwhile, in a report that I read today, Mr. Snowden still remains in hiding in his Hong Kong hotel, doing what he believes to be right and waiting for the fallout. Interesting, in a brief description of his days in hiding, it is reported that when he logs into his laptop, he does so under a hood, so as not to give the prying eyes of the NSA the opportunity to discern his password. And so the paranoia shall grow.

Mahalo

–Ed

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