Welcome to Dystopia

Hong Kong skyline

What if the al-Qa’ida plan all along had not been to actually kill thousands of Americans but to create enough fear and anxiety among the population at large that Americans willingly surrendered their basic freedoms to a government that had become more secretive, paranoid and extra-legal in its operations.

If we were in a movie this would be what’s called “the third act twist.”

And that’s what it seems we’re on the cusp of: increasing levels domestic spying and data mining in disregard of the Fourth Amendment, all justified in the name of “national security.”

Washington insiders downplay the revelations today that the National Security Agency has allegedly been collecting Americans’  personal data for years (6 years) with the cooperation of the big internet brands: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL and others. The companies themselves today denied their participation. Yet the classified government slides appear to fly directly in the face of those denials:

PRISM slides

Often when I talk to some of the more experimental or sophisticated tech companies about “AI,” “machine learning,” big data or advanced biometrics, I often feel like I’m in a movie flashback showing the years “before [the apocalyptic thing] happened” that changed everything forever — e.g., the “singularity” and “rise of the machines.”

The Verizon telephone metadata mining and the NSA PRISM revelations are positively scary and should be unacceptable in our culture and legal system. We shouldn’t be complacent about or otherwise rationalize these events.

This is as big a political scandal as I have witnessed in my adult life. But because both Democrats and Republicans (in the Senate) are all in on it and regard this new deep surveillance as necessary for security little will probably happen as a result.

Are you simply content to go back to “online shopping” and largely ignore “datagate”? Or do you regard it as a kind of “line crossing” that shouldn’t be tolerated in a “free society.”

Here’s the just-released ACLU statement on the matter:

NEW YORK – The government has the ability to secretly tap into a wide range of Americans’ online activities, according to reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian.

“The secrecy surrounding the government’s extraordinary surveillance powers has stymied our system of checks and balances,” said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. “Congress must initiate an investigation to fully uncover the scope of these powers and their constraints, and it must enact reforms that protect Americans’ right to privacy and that enable effective public oversight of our government. There is a time and a place for government secrecy, but true democracy demands that the governed be informed of the rules of play so as to hold elected officials to account.”

The reported program appears to be based on the FISA Amendments Act, which authorizes surveillance of communications if one party is believed to be outside the U.S. The ACLU’s lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality was dismissed 5-4 by the Supreme Court in February on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not prove that they had been monitored.

“The stories published over the last two days make clear that the NSA – part of the military – now has direct access to every corner of Americans’ digital lives,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “Unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms. These revelations are a reminder that Congress has given the executive branch far too much power to invade individual privacy, that existing civil liberties safeguards are grossly inadequate, and that powers exercised entirely in secret, without public accountability of any kind, will certainly be abused.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Update: See my story from today on Marketing Land — As Early As 2000 NSA Set Out To “Live On The Network”

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6 Responses to “Welcome to Dystopia”

  1. Foomandoonian says at

    I don’t really understand how anyone benefits from any of this, least of all al-Qaida. 

  2. Greg says at

    I was being sarcastic/ironic 

  3. Foomandoonian says at

    Ah, of course. I’ve heard that ‘theory’ so often I was blind to the sarcasm.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    Now the US is saying this is all just about foreign nationals and not (really about) US citizens. That’s probably not entirely true and even if so it doesn’t make the program any more acceptable. 

    This kind of surveillance of individuals should only be permitted if there’s some sort of indication of a threat.  

  5. Peniel Cronin says at

    Question is, who do you hold responsible? How do you stop it? How can American citizens EVER truly track to the source and stop the activity?  At least the most invasive parts of it. Seems like the Total Information Awareness project was never really stopped – was it? No matter what the public outcry was at the time … and the assurances that it was being abandoned.

  6. Greg says at

    I’m not sure now how we stop this. However I know that it’s important to not simply shrug and accept this as part of the way we live now.

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