The Sheep

look up:

What is this but the nightmare of political modernism? The constant watchers with cold, unsympathetic eyes. The men in trench coats falling in step as you leave your home. The knock on the door at three in the morning. The monster state crushing the individual, the “boot stamping on a human face forever.”

You cannot answer this with legalisms or minutiae. By pointing out that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts have been on the case since 1978, carefully overseeing all government surveillance programs, that the 1986 Electric Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA), the Patriot Act, and its supplementary legislation provided for further and even more rigorous safeguards. Or that the “concept of privacy” is “evolving” under the pressure of new technology, being “redefined” into something vaguer and more metaphysical that it was.

You can’t make those arguments because, obviously enough, the safeguards didn’t work. If they had worked, nothing like this NSA program would have ever seen the light of day. If FISA courts had any real power, if government attorneys had any serious intention of serving the interests of the public, the NSA effort would have been limited to a paper proposal, like thousands of other crazy ideas. (For their own part, the conservative elite have waltzed their way into the dunce corner all by themselves with the argument that national security trumps everything. Memo to NRO, Commentary et al — it doesn’t. It never has.)

Americans know full well what “privacy” is. They know it simply involves being left alone, particularly by those in power. They know that it does not “evolve” without turning into something else completely. Privacy is an aspect of human nature and, like marriage, parenthood, ownership of property, or self-defense, cannot be destroyed or modified by legislation or government activity. Those who attempt to do so are challenging the fountains of the vasty deep, and will be washed away in the attempt.

Involving as it does the NSA, it’s unlikely we will ever learn exactly who was behind this, who gave the orders, and what the precise purpose was. But in a way, that doesn’t matter. We know what the source is, and the rest we can guess.

I think we’re going to find out a lot more before this is over, though. We won’t have to guess.

[Update a while later]

The new Panopticon — the all-seeing eye:

The other day, my college age son quietly went around the house and put electricians tape over the camera lenses on the displays of all our home computers. I laughed when I discovered what he had done. . .then paused: after all, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone to remotely turn that camera on and secretly watch me and my family. I left the tape on.

This is what it has come to. The revelations of recent days about the NSA being able to spy on the phone calls of millions of everyday Americans, without warrant, in search of a few possible terrorists has made everyone just a little more paranoid – and a little less trusting of the benign nature of our Federal government. The reality is that we may not yet be paranoid enough.

I keep my webcam on my desktop unplugged unless I’m using it, but maybe I should tape my laptop camera. And no, I’ve never trusted Google with my data. But so many people I email with are gmail users, it probably doesn’t matter.

And then there’s this:

No doubt once again there will be a mad scramble in the Capitol to do something – new regulations, new oversight, new attempts to protect civil liberties. But, thanks to Moore’s Law, the technology will have already moved on. Is it too much to ask, just once, that Congress get ahead of this mess before all of those newly-purchased copies of 1984 turn into tour guides? The leaders of many top Silicon Valley companies have besmirched the reputations of their companies (“Do no evil” indeed) and lost the hard-earned trust of their international customers in the last few days – for what? Haul them in before a Senate committee and find out what threats the NSA and other agencies made to make these powerful billionaires give up so much.

Meanwhile, Congress, get ahead of the technology curve for once. You can start by asking about where the data goes from cellphone cameras. Then talk to the GPS folks about the ability to track the location of private phones and use their phone and tablet cameras. Query Google about the future plans for those autonomous camera cars. Get Bill Gates and ask him about what he had to give up to quiet that Microsoft anti-trust case of a decade ago. All may prove dead-ends, but who can now be sure?

Who indeed?

10 thoughts on “The Sheep

  1. ken anthony

    This is why simplicity is a good thing. Remember when the border meant the CIA and FBI had jurisdictions that did not overlap? The FBI grew up knowing the privacy rules and mostly keeping to them and getting real warrants . They were police, not spies. The rules for spies have to be different which is why we don’t unleash them domestically (or didn’t.)

    We should all have been clued in when they started focusing on survivalists after 9-11 instead of Mosques which are apparently untouchable now.

    Of course, all of that means nothing if our ‘leaders’ consider ‘we the people’ to be the problem.

  2. Godzilla

    Laptop cameras used to come with a sliding tab to prevent recording without the owners permission. But there is another problem. Disabling the built-in microphone is not as easy.

    I pretty much expected this to be happening already. Especially ever since the existence of ECHELON was made public. To think the governmental snooping was only being done on international connections was naive at best.

    Anyway welcome to 1984. It took a bit but it is coming.

    1. wodun

      The data apps pull off your phone is pretty scary. They vaguely tell you but you have no idea what they are doing with access to your contacts.

      During the campaign, Obama campaign would suck all the demographic data out of people’s phones. So if someone you know used their app, then the Obama campaign has all your contact info.

      Oh, most libraries use an app called Overdrive and that thing is always running in the background. You are free to surf porn at the library and rub one off and they will prevent the government from accessing the list of books you check out but they don’t care that they app they use collects and sells who knows what data off your tablet or computer. It could be just stats on how fast you read and what time of day you read but who knows, they are not forthcoming about what the app does.

  3. PeterH

    The prospect of the ‘all seeing eye’ trying to invade my computers is one reason I favor linux. A far more secure platform, with thousands of eyes watching the key code for bugs and boo boos.

  4. Larry J

    And I just found this as well:

    Much of the work already has been automated to process and analyze electronic tax returns in current “robo-audits” that flag unusual behavior patterns. With IRS audit staff reduced by budget cuts this year, the agency will be forced to rely on computer-generated audits more than ever.

    The agency declined to comment on how it will use its new technology. But agency officials have been outlining plans at industry conferences, working with IBM, EMC and other private-sector specialists. In presentations, officials have said they may use the big data for:
    • Charting and analyzing social media such as Facebook.
    • Targeting audits by matching tax filings to social media or electronic payments.
    • Tracking individual Internet addresses and emailing patterns.
    • Sorting data in 32,000 categories of metadata and 1 million unique “attributes.”
    • Machine learning across “neural” networks.
    • Statistical and agent-based modeling.
    • Relationship analysis based on Social Security numbers and other personal identifiers.

    Officials have said much of the data will be used only for research. The agency’s economic forecasts and data are a key part of Washington’s budget infrastructure. Former commissioner Douglas Shulman said in an IRS statement that the technology will employ “billions of pieces of data” to target enforcement and to “detect and combat noncompliance.”

    The question isn’t whether I’m paranoid. Am I paranoid enough?

  5. ken anthony

    You and the rest are not paranoid enough because with enough power and technology they can easily squash anyone that gets out of line. They are already doing it. It’s not something that’s coming. What’s coming is a firmer grip on the reins.

    This can’t be fought with a bunker mentality. It must be fought or we will all be witness to the final end of liberty.

  6. ech

    DARPA proposed this back in 2002. It was called “Total Information Awareness” and was (mostly) defunded in 2003.

  7. McGehee

    I have two laptops I use, but both are cabled to monitors and Bluetoothed to keyboards and mice, and never opened except to hit the power button. Their cameras could be remotely activated but the snoop would only see the trackpad, if anything.

  8. George Turner

    I positioned bikini pictures of Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Helen Thomas in front of all my cameras. They may look once, but they’ll never look twice.

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