Friday, June 7, 2013

Privacy and politics

He is not having an easy time of it.

President Obama ran on a political platform that included a few hard to deliver promises.  Just one of those that he has encountered is closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  He pledges a policy of preferring to capture terrorists rather than kill them, but then recommits himself to closing the detention center...with no suggestion of an alternative to take these proposed captives.  Like many people, I find the situation at Guantanamo to be deplorable, but there needs to be viable solution in the offing before something can be done.

Now the President faces another problem a-brewin' (lordy, I've been living in Indiana for less than a year and the slang is filtering into me.) Obama has always touted himself to have an administration of transparency.  That is until a report was released stating that in an operation called PRISM, the National Security Agency had collected phone records on millions of Americans...and tapped into the servers of the nine largest internet firms in the U.S.  

This means the monitoring of email, video, audio, and sent documents.  We're talking about companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Facebook, although Mark Zuckerberg has stated that the government does not have direct access to Facebook's servers. On the other hand, the Guardian has reported that much of the information mining conducted by both the NSA and the FBI was done without the knowledge of the IT corporations involved.

In Obama's defense, the report did show that this project began back in 2007 while Bush was in office.  That said, the graph demonstrating the amount of monitoring involved spikes up considerably during Obama's presidency. 

So do you feel violated?  I'm not so sure that I do.  I remember learning all the way back in the very early 1990s that almost all communication worldwide is passively monitored (heck, it was even in the 1998 movie, Enemy of the State.)  This means that security devices scan and wait for keywords such as "bomb" or "assassination" or any number of others.  Many are likely to be specific to Arabic, Farsi, or another language spoken by potential enemies.

Of course people can use the words I just listed in any number of ways that have nothing to do with terrorism or crime of any nature.  That's when the NSA shrugs, maybe documents it, and then moves on to other things.  But here's the rub: an opponent of such an operation might argue, "do you really trust them to do that?"

Does this mean that our government is keeping files on all of us with intimate details of our daily activities?  Probably, although I'm hesitant to conjecture on just how intimate they get.  A conspiracy theorist might claim that these files are kept so that they may be released if someone gets too outspoken about one policy or another.  The individual's dirty secrets (which we all have) are laid bare and they are then humiliated into obscurity or at least discredited.

Then there are those who object to such surveillance on the principle of it.  No one's privacy should be invaded, they may argue, for any reason because it is against the Constitution.  So would you feel comfortable if your privacy no longer truly existed?  Would you be okay with it if it stopped something like the Boston bombings from happening?  Ultimately this will be something for legal scholars and our government as a whole (hopefully) to sort out.  Glad I'm not the one to have to do it because all I see here are various shades of gray.

Being president must suck.  I don't know why anyone would want to do it.  I'd abdicate so fast it would make your head spin.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets


  1. On Facebook, PR said: "Nice article as always."

    Thank you!

  2. On Facebook, Smitty said: "Then there are those who object to such surveillance on the principle of it. No one's privacy should be invaded, they may argue, for any reason because it is against the Constitution."

    Respectfully, Jon, I have to submit that your livelihood relies upon at least one of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. I am thankful that there were those who objected enough to violations and abuses of those freedoms that they fought to earn them for us. It is sad that there are so many who now find the concept of personal freedom and privacy to be quaint or naive.

    Would you be so quick to give up the freedom to publish without having, say, a government inspector show up and review your work prior to publication? To ensure, you know, that no ideas that might incite violent outbursts were unintentionally sprinkled throughout your prose?

    I find the idea that the government feels it's acceptable to violate the covenant of freedom in order to "PROTECT" me to be just as disgusting as you may find the concept of a "thought police".

  3. In a way, I think it already happens. There are plenty of things I could write under the banner of free speech, but there would be consequences. One of those consequences would quite possibly be ending up on a government watch list. Free speech is mostly a myth. Even in fiction writing I'm well aware of what I can say and can't say.

  4. On Facebook, Graymalkin said: "Freedom is an illusion used to distract the masses. Someone's always watching what we are doing to manipulate our environment and keep us where we belong.

    We the people have the right to assume that our government will protect us from foreign powers, but at the same time we have been stripped of our rights which were granted instead to corporations by our capitalist controlled government.

    I love our system, but the failings of our government to give us protections for our personal data will only continue to erode the protections put in place to protect our possessions, unless an individual creates self protections as an individual under corporate law and sustains them through continuous legal action.

    You can't just assume our existing government is out for our best interests anymore, and that makes Peggy sad."


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