Google. Amazon. Facebook. Apple.
China. Russia. England. Austrailia.
James Bond. Maxwell Smart. Sydney Bristow. Jason Bourne.
You. I. That guy. This one.
We all do it. We all keep one eye on the creepers all around us.
We always have. It's hard to avoid looking out for our own interests when every other person and government is doing the exact same to some degree. And predictability and information is the way to keep the machine functioning appropriately. And, man, are there a lot of these programs out there.
This past year, as we all know, has had some major revelations in the constantly evolving role of FISA and respective courts as well as NSA surveillance. It's amazing. If you want to immerse yourself into two really great resources on this, head over to:
I talked to my students and coworkers about it today. One of the most poignant questions came from a young man, while perched over his laptop, asked me, "What did you expect? Did you think that the government wasn't doing this?"
Hmm. Great question.
I didn't think the government couldn't do this, I just did not expect the lack of deference for the Constitution and the protections there in.
I grew up watching James Bond. I was in love with Jack Ryan from The Hunt for Red October. I knew what spying was, and it was gimmicky, gadget-laden, and reliant upon boots on the ground. There were 'bad guys,' (cringe here... I am so naive) but the bad guys were not you and I, the average ordinary citizens that the Constitution was designed to protect in the preamble. It was relatively concrete.
But, as I walked past a smoldering Pentagon on 9/11 and desperately wished for a government who could do a better job preventing the slaughter of innocents, who knew what the future would hold. It's more 1984 than 1984.
I've come to a point where I look around at all the impacts of the acceleration of technology, or own willful sharing of secrets, the government's sliding respect for rights under free speech, association, privacy, etc... and well, I honestly can't tell you what is better.
Should we discontinue this police state, as many have alleged, and live in less secure environs; dealing with the ramifications of motivated people who wish us ill, and seek to harm our citizens? We'd still have our precious rights, but many more may be dead.
Do we forge ahead and put national security, a compelling government interest (and I think if the Court would have forced the NSA to prove FICA's merit via strict scrutiny... and probably would have argued successfully.) We have our lovely standard of living, our security, but many more maybe dead... and this would be foreign nationals.
And if you have read Clapper v Amnesty International, it appears that the courts don't really think that this would be a conversation had with the public (i.e., the folks being surveilled.) Darn, that stings.
I honestly can't discern what is better, but I know that I do feel violated in the interim. For better or for worse.
Until then, I am thankful that some journalists look the prospect of prior restraint and treason in the eye and allow us to have this very vital and fundamental conversation. Many journalists, including the NYT and WaPo, are self censoring.
How does NSA track?
(I'm going to mention this here at the end, because, well, it's my story and I can't prove this. And I promise you I am not a crazy conspiracy person. There is probably a really rational explanation, like I can't research.
A student showed me this awesome interactive infographic that had code names of various surveillance programs on it. you would click around this picture, which was a cartoonish representation of people in a city using technology in leisure and work. It would pop open a balloon naming the program and explaining in plain English what it did. I shared it on FB on my personal page. I have been scouring the Internet for HOURS looking for this infographic, which was published by a reputable firm. Guess what I can't find. ANYWHERE.
So weird. Right?)
OKAY! I am sufficiently done! I am going to go back to being a boring, pedestrian, middle aged suburban mom and teacher who likes to talk about gardening and government.
Not to jump on a bandwagon, here... but since we are in the midst of one here in NoVa... it's likened to a deep chill. Journalists, according to the PEN America Center, writers are actively deciding to self-censor themselves... whether they be doing so on their own personal social media accounts or in their reporting... the effect of the knowledge of the PRISM program and the FISA court has scared them a l'il bit. And even your "average Joes" are all up in arms... FOIA requests are up 800% to the NSA's Pamela Phillips (chief of the NSA Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Office).
I especially love this response to the PEN Center's report from David Ulin, book critic for the LA Times. In essence: grow a pair and do your job. We live in America, we have rights and responsibilities.
Anywho, these little gems are great to consider if you are moving towards a discussion of civil liberties or media. If you have more time, you can listen to this On The Media interview of David Ulin.
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan