Edward Snowden, sysadmin extraordinaire, hero to some, traitor to others, who currently enjoys asylum in Russia for one year ending in June 2014, to be reviewed depending on whether he violates the condition of his asylum: that he cease hurting the United States. An odd requirement in my view, considering Russia was the villain while I was growing up a child of the Cold War.
The question that has taken everyone’s attention is whether or not we are living in a police state, and whether that is constitutional according to the documents with which the government of the United States of America. That an organization like the NSA may or may not have the power to do what it is doing.
And so before going any further, I quote from one of my favorite movies and graphic novels, V For Vendetta, on the day that this movie takes it’s name:
Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent. Last night I sought to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey, to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.
I do believe in the US government overall, but at the same time I believe the tree of freedom must be watered with the blood of patriots in order for us to remain free. I believe in the right of reaction, where an action taken by one side gives the right of an opposing action on the other side. Wars are based on this, and if you think hard enough, the very actions we take in our daily lives is based on this.
Major social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter have been at the center of this attention, although one you might not know, Silent Circle, is actually at the forefront of the battle. I fear that because of the power of the NSA, we might see a situation where groups are saying they are working to keep the NSA from spying on you, but in reality are still working with the NSA. Comparisons are made with East Germany, the Soviets and the Nazis. But is this something we already agreed to?
But examining the internet itself, other than the payment we make to our internet provider, what are we paying for our onramp to the information superhighway? Most of us will never read the documents that come with the Agree button on the social networking services we subscribe to. How many of you know everything in the document you agreed to when you signed up for Facebook, and kept up with every change they made to it? I’m going to have to guess nobody, and that includes myself. Most of us have it in us to believe that nobody would do us harm on this medium, and so we get into agreements that no sane person might make, or agreements that don’t mean anything at all. In order to fund your free social networking account, you gave up portions of your privacy so that ads could be put in place of where you would give a credit card number. You thought it was free, and you did it because everyone else took advantage of it being free. Those that complain that the ads are targeting, and that they are being taken advantage of are being naive; they agreed to this when they signed up and didn’t bother to read the agreement.
In the end, social networks are not democratic. They are controlled by entities other than ourselves, the first part and the NSA and whoever else we don’t know about. While I don’t subscribe to most conspiracy theories, and downright sneer at them, I believe I don’t know everything there is to know. Social networking is shaped one click at a time, every time you agree to something, every time you see someone post that goofy thing on Facebook where they believe they are telling Facebook that they can’t used photos without their permission and do not realize that they do not legally have the power to unilaterally change something they agreed to. Honestly to overcome all these things, we would have to close all our social networking accounts, and none of you, not one of you reading this on this social network is about to do that. Me either.
There is a pretty large number of people, 15%, in the United States (more globally due to affordability more than anything else) that are not on the internet, not interested in the internet and will die without browsing the internet. That is not me, and I can’t imagine a life like that. 44% of people 65 and up are not on the internet – I’ll assume that makes up for a large number of the overall people who avoid the internet, and as old as I am, I will go out on a limb to call them old fogeys. But to think that we as a country can afford to have people who are not educating themselves online, on a daily basis, improving aspects of their lives, where other countries cannot wait to get everyone online so that they can improve their economy, is ludicrous. Without participating in the internet, we as a society have lost out on networking with experiences and wisdom, and that is a sad thing to have avoided.
So what about the things I’ve posted, won’t the NSA see my stuff? Honestly, I feel sorry for whoever is looking at my boring posts and pictures. I am just another American trying to live my American dream. Today, social networking is a big part of it. I no longer have to explain to anyone what email or the web or Facebook or Twitter is on a daily basis; I’m not that special anymore. But the power to express that the internet has given people, in that it is now affecting election where freedom of speech is a big deal elsewhere, that the very elections around the world are influenced by what they see in 140 characters… that’s a big deal.
The mandate of the NSA is to rabidly protect the American interests against foreign and domestic threats. Sometimes they do it poorly, like that whole Shah thing in 1953 Iran, and sometimes they do it admirably lie thwarting ANYONE from being killed on airliners since 9/11/01. We will never know everything they do; frankly they do things I don’t want to know about that need to be done in ways I never thought should be done, 10 moves ahead. The whole 9/11 topic is something that makes me angry and anyone spouting the loose change “inside job” bullshit and talking about the Amero are on a path to getting a full dose of my wrath. So moving on…
Nobody is talking about revolution here, and for goodness sake, they should not be. This is a social issue and if it needs to be solved will be solved with the next elections or by laws enacted by current leaders or even not affected at all. But it must be discussed. The face is that the average America is more concerned about TV than what they can or can no longer do, and not caring about online Agreements and spying and whatever is their natural right. But without sane discussion, it is not going to do anything more than scare people away from being social and spreading wisdom and participation. And that’s a sad thing to lose. This is like the Butlerian Jihad from the Dune novels, where people become afraid of a technology because they think it will turn against them. In this case, there are no terminators or thinking machines out to get us; it is just us against us. It is us that make programs that snoop, it is us that allow these systems to remain on and communicate, it is us who approved by silence.
Some people want to encrypt everything, and I believe that’s a fools mission. No matter when, encryption technologies improve, and once your data is out there, it is available to be copied some time in the future. Whatever you think you might encrypt now, I believe is childs play to the NSA. Whatever improved encryption you think you have, the NSA either has it or will have it within the next 10 years. The lack of foresight by agencies like the NSA, because we tied their hands, may be what led us to fail as a nation on 9/11/01. It is a Catch-22; do you want to know whats coming or not? We will know one way or another when it all hits the fan.
Similarly we are now living in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. There is no putting that genie back in the bottle. It is out there, and if anything, it is still being doled out by his associates. If anything else, he has encouraged more to get away with what they will take, or those who have already walked away with secrets. Try as anyone might, there is no stopping the information and we cannot unknow it once it is out. Information wants to be free. And that is the right of reaction.