Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Guard Your Privates

            In light of recent events that have blown up the front vehemently disagreevehementlypage of one of my favorite sites, Reddit, and that have inspired work from some of my favorite web comic artists like Randall Munroe, Dave McElfatrick, and Zach Weinersmith, I feel the need to explain why innocent people don’t like being creeped on by their government. Also, I need to amend statements made in Big Brother: Down to Size since we now have more information on what governments think they can get away with and why people end up blowing whistles for the world to hear.
            Early in June, news sources (at least the ones I pay attention to) exploded with information stemming from a leak in the National Security Agency which exposed a program, PRISM, which had been in place since 2007. Slides pertaining to this program claim that it accesses important information directly from the servers of companies like Microsoft, Apple, and AOL. The companies in question deny any knowledge of such a program despite leaked information claiming they are involved. The government’s response is that PRISM is used within the United States because this is where most internet traffic passes through, and that it is used for locating national threats and terrorists not protected by the Constitution.
            Here is why people vehemently oppose this: perspective. Governments are inherently paranoid; someone always wants to usurp power. Therefore, even the smallest inkling of a threat must be dealt with. Given today’s interconnection via the web, many people are probably Facebook friends with someone who’s friends with someone who’s of interest to some political entity. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s the price for being able to converse with someone across the globe with similar interests and for being able to arrange the get-together of the year and change the start time four times the morning of and still have everyone make it. Given motive, namely paranoia, and manpower, I believe many nonexistent or accidental connections between individuals could easily become “proof” that one is a national threat because he or she was in a Facebook group for a college dorm with someone who later attempted a terrorist attack or something of the like.
            Extreme example? Yup. Likely? I don’t know. That’s something that wouldn’t be discussed out in the open because it sounds as ridiculous as it sounds.
            The solution, in my uneducated and idealistic opinion, is not more security and fear, but less 1984 impersonations and more ability for problems and solutions to be openly discussed. The main reason for violent protest is the belief that one’s words are not being listened to. Our political system has become, to borrow a saying from South Park, a collection of “giant douches and turd sandwiches” who do what is necessary to take office and stay there. Privacy and rights of the people are secondary to security of one’s position in the government. That is inherent in our two-party system.
            A word of warning when taking my opinion; what do I know? Everyone has legitimate concerns about the safety of his or her culture, and upping security will make catching terrorists and dangers quicker than having less security would. However, upping security will cause more people to become terrorists or dangers. I'd rather take my chances with people who vehemently  disagree with me but feel respectfully listened to than take my chances with a police state.
            Now, on to the painful reflection on the faults of an earlier essay of mine. I said in my essay on 1984 that an Orwellian state would be impossible to sustain because people within the Party (or governing body, for the general case) would find it in their best interest to squeal or throw their superiors under the bus to usurp power. However, it has become apparent that an Orwellian state is possible to sustain for enough time to be a pain as long as nobody notices. I asked on my Facebook page how many people considered themselves knowledgeable of politics in their country, and more than half of the responses in my sample too small to draw any conclusions from said they were not. With enough wordy fluff to keep everyone except lawyers completely unaware of the fact that the government can be climbin’ in yo’ servers and snatchin’ yo’ emails up, and with, “Because terrorists,” as an acceptable response to any attempt to check the government’s power, it is possible to believe one is freer than he or she really is. This brings to mind another of Orwell’s classic books, Animal Farm.
            An optimistic change to be made to my essay, however, is due to the reason for the PRISM. Edward Snowden, the loved or hated whistle blower depending on who pays your bills, leaked information because he believed that what the government was doing was wrong. In an interview he gave while holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong, Snowden said that he accepted the fact that he may never see his family or his girlfriend again, but it was worth the price to pay to be the kind of leader he was hoping he’d be able to follow. Altruism; I guess there’s hope for us yet.

           Fun Facts: Obama, the NSA, the Department of Justice, and Verizon are being sued for $3 billion in a class-action lawsuit due to PRISM, and 1984 sales on Amazon have increased 126% as of 10 p.m. on June 10th.



-Jason Rossiter

Since the NSA knows you've already read this, you may as well like and follow QBA.

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