Thursday, June 13, 2013

… then you have nothing to worry about …

I dunno — I pictured more pomp and circumstance for the moment I surrendered my privacy.

(Or as I called it in high school, to no one listening, "bombs and circus acts."

Just a note to all you NSA/CIA/defense contractor spooks reading along for fun and profit: "Bombs and circus acts" is but a juvenile Cockney-inspired play on words, and in no way suggests the use of or desire for bombs. Or circuses or the acts therein. Moreover, Cockney may sound like a dirty word; it isn't.)

I imagined my privacy would disappear in a short, dignified but well-documented (perfect for social media! Trending!) ceremony in the White House rose garden, during which facebook®© founder Mark Zuckerberg would hand to the president a thumb drive containing all the personal information we willingly log into his übersite multiple times daily.

The crushed-velvet pillow with the silver tassels and braided trim, securely nestling the thumb drive ($24.99 retail), would be a nice touch.

"It was time," the president would say. "I told Mark (Mark!) I needed all of your information, and he said, 'I'm warming up my private jet as we text!'" They'd share a laugh.

Zuckerberg would explain in his brief followup how all the communications companies, in patriotic solidarity, aggregated all our data, everything known about us, everything to be known. Amazing what will fit on a little thumb drive.

Neither the president nor Zuckerberg would take any questions, a moot gesture anyway because the press would be asking none. As our public watchdogs, reporters would react appropriately on our behalf: ohhhhkaaaaaaayy …

Because we'd have known it was coming, would have known deep in our gut we were already giving up ourselves piece by piece, and that eventually it would be handed over for patriotic (meaning its opposite) uses.


Now, of course, we know that our government has been sucking away our private information for a long time, and that the suckage has increased as the data became ever richer. We've been drifting away for years in a data stream like ash piles in a vortex.

It happened not in one concrete gesture at the White House, nor in a chilling moment like when Winston Smith learned from a disembodied iron voice in George Orwell's 1984 that he had been betrayed. It happened with a long, slow, imperceptible whimper.

Our government has our phone records and Internet use data, with which we are told government spooks and spies can find patterns that may reveal terrorist activity planned against United States interests.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein, one of my U.S. Senators and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, last week responded to public discovery of this news with the equivalent of a shrug — oh, that old thing?

So did 56 percent of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, who reported such surveillance is acceptable for thwarting terrorist activity. But 41 percent said it's not acceptable; good for the 41 percent.

I'm part of the 41 percent, who didn't expect the president in that rose garden ceremony to be Barack Obama. I expected different. I expected President Obama to right the strange course George W. Bush had set in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, in which we gave up freedoms in the name of freedom.

We moved in earnest to give up the idea of America as an idea, and regard it as a piece of property on which we live.

Under Obama, I'm sad to say, we surrender those freedoms in greater volume.

Here's what I conclude in my long, slow ascent in age:
  • Democracy is an ideal, a work in progress, constantly buttressed and degraded, the latter at a slightly faster pace.
  • The Constitution is whatever the prevailing power says it is. It guides law for the most part because checks and balances keep it more or less intact. As we become farther and farther removed from its principles, by weakened education and the world's rapid complications, the Constitution and our country face increasing threat as an idea.
  • The United States faces grave danger all the time; you don't even want to know how grave.
  • People serve on our behalf, without our awareness, to save us from grave dangers.
  • Those people go to extreme means in their vision of saving us. Sometimes they ask permission, follow the Constitution. Sometimes they don't; sometimes our legal representatives, sworn to uphold the Constitution, instead comply with these extreme means.
  • Science is cool.
  • The amount of data in this world is staggering, its manipulation stunning. Target®© stores use metadata (data about data) to map my daily habits and predict what I will buy.
  • Data can reveal patterns. Data may even prevent mayhem and crime; data may have done so already.
  • America and the world are too goddamn complicated for us citizens to follow. So much better for the data collectors and manipulators.
  • We do a terrible job as citizens, neither caring nor knowing how to hold our representatives accountable.
I get this. I'm even rational enough to hear President Obama when he tells us, "Nobody's listening to your phone calls. That's not what this program is about."

I hear it, but I have a hard time heeding it. The data is available for someone to listen to our calls, track our communications. Nobody is, we are told.

For now. That's what I fear.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Martin Niemöller

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