NSA and the Future of Privacy


Edward Snowden has been labeled both patriot and traitor, and people have called for his death as well as clemency for the charges brought against him in June 2013 for espionage and theft of government property.  He is currently in exile in Russia after giving up any chance of a life here, so whatever our opinions of him might be, he is conclusively a fugitive and a smart enough man to have known this was going to happen.  If the sacrifice for any worthy cause is honest and selfless, then the martyr becomes irrelevant at the same moment they become immortalized, so what will become of our expectations for the future of privacy in a world of information gathering by the NSA?

Before we level our attacks and dismay against Obama, the question must be asked, would any President have done it differently?  Clearly if these programs started under Bush II and were continued by his diametrically opposed political counterpart, something existential must have validated the reason for these ridiculously widespread programs.  If whoever comes into office gets a report that casting their nets this wide has retrieved information that averted a terrorist attack or saved American lives, what possible argument could any Commander-in-Chief present to stop them?  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

We are exhibiting a strange kind of bi-polar disorder in America.  Half of our celebrities are famous for doing nothing but achieving attention, originally meant to become an extension of dismantling the inferiority complex in us that celebrity creates while vicariously enjoying the train wreck as it occurs.  Unfortunately, with normal people realizing that fame arrives now by doing anything to get noticed, and acting in such ways that are as compulsive as they are narcissistic, the future of privacy is a strange argument to become a proponent for, especially when we have no problem taking and sending nude pictures of ourselves across satellite transmissions.

Don DeLillo wrote that citizens of democratic societies do not have to fear the pathology of the government, that we create our own frenzy, our own collective convulsions, and that “world” is supposed to mean something that’s self-contained, but nothing is self-contained.

NSAWhen arguments arise about surveillance and government intrusion, about national security versus personal boundaries, London is always the poster child for success when it comes to crime, but there is a steep learning curve.  In 2008 only one crime was solved for every 1000 CCTV cameras, but in 2010, 841 cases were brought to court in Wandsworth alone, a south-western borough of London.  In this context, however, we are talking about public space in which privacy is not guaranteed and therefore cannot legally be expected.  In America’s question about the future of our own privacy, it is shocking to discover that to infect computers the NSA specifically attempts to trick targets into visiting false websites by spamming them with site links to malware.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their programs:

TURBINE – created to allow their implant network to scale to millions by designing a system that performs automated control implants by groups instead of individually.

SECONDDATE – made to influence communications between client and server and redirect web-browsers to FA servers for individual client exploitation.

CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE – used to take over a targeted computer’s microphone and record conversations.

GUMFISH – will hijack a computer’s webcam and take photographs without the target’s knowledge.

FOGGYBOTTOM – records browser histories, collecting login info and passwords.

GROK – made to record keystrokes on a target’s computer.

SALVAGERABBIT – made to extract data from removable flash drives connected to a target’s computer.

QUANTUMHAND – NSA program to disguise itself as a fake Facebook server to intercept connections between account holders and the social networking site’s computers, which the NSA redirects to a site embedded with malware to infect the target’s computer.

The question was never whether or not we need the protection of oversight, it has always been about the extent to which the government will go to ascertain information for our benefit, an ethical limitation that can be lost with simple apathy, something else modern Americans are getting better at.  During the Cold War, if a citizen was known to be a Communist it was in our best interest to spy on them, and now with the threat of homegrown terrorism and paranoia over a population’s growing discontent with control systems, it seems ironic that the all-seeing eye is a series of algorithms meant to catch those who should not have anything to hide.  If we were given a choice, democratically speaking, about whether or not we wanted certain programs in place, such as internet watchdogs to protect our children from exploitation or lunatics planning mass murder, the question remains to what extent are we willing to relinquish the future of our privacy to buildings full of data-crunchers at the NSA.

Perhaps the problem is that we were never asked in the first place, and treating the American people like irrational children or worse, dangerous, is the exact method that all elitists use to distance themselves from morality.  As Lincoln also said, “You cannot build character and courage by taking away someone’s initiative and independence.”

By Elijah Stephens


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