Never Walk Alone
Here’s a pleasant thought: The super-spooks of the United
States government are following you around, and they have
the ability to watch pretty much your every move. And some
huge companies that you probably patronize every day have
been enthusiastically helping out. A lot of stuff you’ve been
doing that you thought was private has not been.
All this is coming from so many directions that it’s staggering,
and it’s not like we haven’t been warned. Most of us, myself
included, just haven’t been paying attention. And here’s what’s
Starting around December we started hearing that the National
Security Administration was conducting large-scale spying
on U.S. citizens. The NSA isn’t supposed to do that without
checking in with a secret panel of judges, known as the FISA
(Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, whose job it
is to be sure that the NSA doesn’t cross the line. This scheme
has been in place since the late 1970s, and it’s not a big
lift—there’s even a provision for emergencies where the NSA
can go snoop first then go to the FISA court afterwards.
But Bush’s NSA has ignored the clear requirements of the law
and gone ahead with what appears to be massive, unrestrained
surveillance of domestic Internet and telephone communications.
There is little legal justification for this, despite the
administration’s issuance of a lengthy legal brief and Attorney
General Gonzales’ congressional testimony last week to the
contrary. Basically, the government’s justification goes like
this: We’re at war, and during times of war the President
can do whatever he wants.
Which is, of course, nonsense. This ill-defined “war on terror”
is likely to be a permanent part of the geopolitical landscape
for the foreseeable future, and so Gonzales’ argument implies
that the President can ignore the law ad infinitum.
And the government’s spin has been that it’s only looking
at a limited number of direct communications with al Qaeda—trust
us, we’re only interested in known bad guys, etc. But there’s
growing evidence that the government has been doing massive
data-mining of telephone and Internet communications within
the United States. In other words, millions of communications
are scanned for key words and numbers, for patterns, for geographic
locations, and suspicious activity is looked at more closely.
I just Googled “al Qaeda” to check the spelling—maybe I caused
a blip on the surveillance radar screen, who knows?
Who knows? The unrestrained agents of the out-of-control government,
Now, the NSA couldn’t do this without help. Somebody’s got
give the NSA access to the data, and that somebody’s been
doing it in the absence of a court order, a legitimate subpoena,
without any sort of process whatsoever. While it’s still unclear
who-all that “somebody” is, AT&T has definitely been involved.
Last week, a class-action suit commenced against AT&T
for allowing the government apparently unrestrained access
to its network.
Expect more telecom companies to be brought into the suit,
tons of stonewalling, a major telecom company refusing to
comply with the requirements of litigation on national security
grounds, and for the U.S. government to try to interject itself
into the lawsuit in order to derail it.
Meantime, Google is fighting a subpoena from the Department
of Justice, asking it to turn over data regarding the public’s
use of the Google search engine. Apparently, the government
is looking for evidence to justify the latest version of the
Child Online Protection Act, as several previous versions
have been laughed out of court on First Amendment grounds.
Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft have already coughed up the info
the government’s looking for.
While the DOJ subpoena doesn’t ask for any stuff that could
be traced back to any individuals, it does raise some flags.
Most Internet companies, from the big networks to the small
local service providers, store a lot of information, and much
of it can be traced back—to you.
Trading this information is one of the ways these companies
make money; you may not realize it, but you agree to the storing
and to some extent the selling of your personal information
every time you log on.
Combine this with the unrestrained government snooping and
you’ve got Orwell on steroids. Already there is ample evidence
that the Feds are looking closely at not just terrorists,
but anti-war and social justice groups. Sort of like a virtual
Nixon/J. Edgar Hoover tag-team assault on your most fundamental
In hindsight it looks inevitable we’d be at this point. The
lure of the Internet and modern communications is so great
that we all use them without thinking of the ramifications.
It shouldn’t be a great surprise to learn that your online
and telephone activity is capable of being captured, stored
and monitored. We’ve let it happen, or more accurately, the
world has changed so quickly that these incredible events
flew by while we weren’t looking.
Maybe it’s time to start paying attention.