An argument in defense of federal collection and examination of our Internet records and information…
Recently, the Obama Administration was lent a staggering one-two body blow; first, documents popped up indicating that the NSA has been forcing Verizon to hand over the cell phone data of every single one of its subscribers, and just a day later, info about the PRISM program -- which appeared to reveal collusion between the feds and some of the tech industry’s largest players, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo -- got leaked by the Washington Post. As expected, hardcore contingents on the left and the right responded with seething outrage, with the New York Times -- considered by many to be one of Obama’s most obedient media lapdogs -- stating that this new scandal completely destroys any and all credibility the O Cabinet used to have. Needless to say, this newfangled information doesn’t put the Obama Administration in any better standing that it has been this year, but is all of this government “spying” really as awful as some folks on the Web would have you believe?
First off, let’s clarify a few things. Allegedly, this whole PRISM thing appears to have started as an initiative under George W.’s watch in 2007, so you really can’t come out and call it an outright Obama project. Similarly, a lot of these “spying” programs were actually green lit by House and Senate approval…meaning as much as the nation’s conservative contingent (and for that part, the hyper-individualistic/hyper pro-privacy liberals) want to bitch and moan about the U.S. turning into an Orwellian state, the fact of the matter is that our democratically elected officials have had NUMEROUS opportunities to stop programs of the like from being authorized, and they haven’t.
Similarly, I haven’t really detected that much ire towards these mega-huge-conglomerate entities, who are only, you know, half of the goddamn equation. So, the feds come out and ask Google and Verizon to hand over some user data. Instead of saying “no” and turning over documents to the media (who, assuredly, would’ve gobbled the info up like free munchkins on National Doughnut Day), they willingly complied with the fed’s wishes and kept the shit under lock and key from the public. As the old adage goes, it takes two to tango, so why aren’t we singling out both dancers in this Grand Funk Railroad of duplicity?
That, in itself, raises a pretty interesting question : how come there’s so much concern about our “private data” falling into the hands of the feds, when our “private data” has been visible, collectible and archivable by Google, Facebook and Microsoft this whole time, anyway? If you want to complain about the government for “spying” on allegedly “private” Web info, then I think it’s a little hypocritical -- and woefully ignorant -- to not ALSO harp the hell out of these Internet firms for doing the same.
I sound like a government apologist right now, don’t I? Well, while it is cool to be all Libertarian and anarcho-radicalist on the Web in the wake of this leaked data, all it took was one quote from President Obama to get me to COMPLETELY accept all of this spying and data collectin’ without any ill feelings whatsoever.
"You can’t have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society."
That line right there has to be one of the most intelligent things I’ve ever heard a politician, of any ideology, say. The reality is, we live in a social structure that promises us freedom from the kind of mayhem that goes on in a good 90 percent of the world; and to afford us that freedom from mass death, maybe, just maybe, we have to give up a little bit of personal freedom for guaranteed mass protection.
This idea isn’t new, you know: I mean, shit, how long ado did Rousseau pen “The Social Contract,” anyway? Even amongst hardcore Libertarians, the government’s function as social protector is vaunted pretty strongly. So here, we have the federales doing the one thing even Ayn Rand believes it should be doing, and of course…the masses cry “foul.” Of course they would. Of course they would.
Now, I’m not exactly a big fan of that George W. character, but in hindsight, I have to respect some of his executive decisions. It took a lot of brass to authorize something like the “PATRIOT Act” and give so much authority to the NSA, but in hindsight, I think it has to be considered a right call.
I don’t know if you kids remember this or not, but about 13 years ago or so, a a bunch of highly pissed off jihadists took control of a few aeroplanes and decided to smash them into some fairly expensive real estate. The brutal deaths of about 3,000 Americans, not to mention billions in architectural damage costs (you have to factor in property in the equation…after all, that’s the only kind of value you can get some individuals to consider significant), revealed something quite telling about U.S. domestic security: that, it was, in a word or two, pure shit. Looking back on 9/11, it was ridiculously clear that the U.S. -- the most formidable military presence in history -- had a MASSIVE weak spot on the domestic front. And seeing as how a couple of million militant extremists want us dead, maybe you can determine for yourself why so many political higher-ups have been on a nearly 15 year long national security improvement spree ever since.
Geopolitics is a game we all like to play in our heads, but the fact of the matter is, we don’t really know how complex and challenging this whole “keeping the U.S. safe from atomic briefcase attacks” business actually is. Odds are, it’s probably a billion times scarier than what we think it already is…and the fact that we’ve had two presidents in a row, with completely antithetical political ideals, becoming hardline advocates of intensified domestic security ought to be “clue #1” to anybody.
I imagine President Obama’s first joint chief of staffs meeting…the really secretive kind, where he convenes with generals and defense administrators underneath Camp David in a top-secret, radiation proof bunker with robotic maids and shit…to go a little something like this.
Obama: “I just want you to know that, like many Americans, I too am outraged by the excesses of the War on Terror, especially all of this NSA wire tapping stuff. So, what’s going on in the military world, mi amigos?”
Defense Advisor One: “Well, Intel has detected increased radioactive hotspots in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and parts of southeastern Russia. These, it is worth noting, have completely different frequency signatures than what we’ve already picked up in North Korea, Syria, Lebanon and Iran. And they appear to be moving around, Mr. President.”
Obama: “Umm…what do you mean ‘moving around,’ exactly?”
Defense Advisor Two: “Most likely, they are in the process of being actively transferred. As you can see here on this display [A flat screen monitor automatically unfolds from the ceiling], these signatures are not stationary. The green spots, where most of our silos and Russian sites are, indicate stationary atomic weaponry. These red ones indicate stationary atomic activity, albeit in much smaller scales, in China, Pakistan, and Israel.”
Obama: “And, these beeping yellow dots…you mean its’ moving atomic weaponry?”
Defense Advisor One: “More than likely, Mr. President.”
Obama: “So you mean all that shit about suitcase bombs and dirty bombs was real all along?”
Defense Advisor Two: “Very much so, Mr. President. And this map is just indicating confirmed nuclear armaments hot spots. Here’s a map of what Intel believes are potentially active sites…”
[Hundreds of yellow dots pop up on map, followed by thousands of miniature blue ones all across the globe.]
Obama: “So, uh, what are the blue ones, exactly?”
Defense Advisor Two: “Unconfirmed biological weaponry. The Chinese have been creating super-strains of SARS for the last decade, and former Soviet satellites have been actively engaged in the production and sale of designer germ weapons since at least 1988.”
Obama: “…but there are blue dots on that map in America!”
Defense Advisor One: “About 90 percent of those are lab stock. The other 10 percent, Mr. President, are unconfirmed.”
Defense Advisor Two: “Quite possibly dirty bombs or black market stocks, Mr. President. NSA records indicate that transfers have been attempted at least three times this week already. If it wasn’t for that cell phone data, they likely would’ve gone completely unchecked.”
Defense Advisor One: “Two attempted transfers between Al-Qaeda sleeper cells and one attempted transfer from a Russian nationalist to a Turkish extremist group outside of D.C. In that one, the CIA netted a pretty nasty strain of designer Ebola mixed with rubella. Completely indistinguishable from chicken pox, but at two weeks onset, results in extremely fatal hemorrhagic fevers, with a 95 percent kill rate. In all likelihood, an entire city could be contaminated in the span of an afternoon.”
Obama: “…and, uh, the only way you knew about that stuff was from wiretapping?”
Defense Advisor One: [nods head.]
Obama: [Lights up Marlboro, and paces back and forth for about ten uninterrupted seconds.] “All right. Keep it up, then.”
Defense Advisor Two: “Thank you, Mr. President. Now, here’s a map of suspected domestic terrorists, including one militia in Colorado that has been exchanging plans to blow up the Hoover Dam on Skype…”
Obama: “You know what? Fuck it, canvas the entire Internet if you have to. I’ve seen ‘Deep Impact’ before, and I’ll be damned before I become known as ‘the First Black President…who also let Saudi hi-jackers blow up a nuclear power plant!” [slams fists on table, dramatic music begins playing.]
And so, President Obama (as will every commander-in-chief this country will have from hereon out) faces a moral dilemma: while he or Hilary become known as “that one asshole that trampled on our civil liberties,” or “that one asshole that let terrorists fly two jumbo jets into the Sears Tower?,” or “that no good prick that was asleep on the job when Chinese infiltrators laced the water supply of Philadelphia with smallpox?”
Everybody that wants to rag on the executive office over this PRISM/Verizon/drone strike stuff have seen “The Dark Knight,” but seemingly none of them have picked up on the general lesson of the film: If you’re in a position of power, and you have the ability to stop mass destruction on one’s home front from transpiring, and you can avert another instance of milli-death (or, much, much more horrifically, even mega-death) from happening by combing through phone call transcripts and a few Google searches, then what’s necessarily immoral about doing a little proactive snooping from time-to-time?
And all of this brings us back to Obama’s quote from earlier. You and me live in a society, where we agree to sacrifice some of our fundamental liberties in exchange for mass protection. So, yes, we can cry and bellyache about the government MAYBE taking a look at our cell phone logs and YouTube videos, but do we ever praise and celebrate them from keeping international and domestic terrorists from blowing up our power grids, or knocking down our buildings, or unleashing genetic nightmares on entire metropolises? Of course we don’t, because it’s stuff we don’t know about. It’s easy to complain about an unfair trade-off when you only know what you’re being asked to trade. So, we’re giving the feds access to our electronic data, and what are they giving us in return?
Well, all I can say is that since 9/11 -- and since the PATRIOT Act and the NSA re-authorizations and the PRISM project have been enacted -- there hasn’t been a single wide-scale, cataclysmic domestic terror attack on U.S. soil since.
And if the occasional peak at somebody’s Reddit account is enough to keep bridges from being blown up and children from being immolated in burning buildings? All I can say is “keep up the good work, Senor Presidente. Keep up the good work."