By Piper Bayard
In one of my favorite Joss Wheden movies, Serenity, the crew of a small scavenger space ship, Firefly, risks everything to bring the truth to the people of the Alliance about how their government was lying to them and screwing them over. To do this, they transmitted a damning recording across every media outlet in the galaxy. For them, it worked, because, “You can’t stop the signal.”
What the movie did not show was what happened after the broadcast, which was most likely a lot of huffing and puffing from diverse quadrants, and then a mass forgetting the next time some celebrity choose a freakish baby name. What it didn’t show was how many people do not care what a government does, as long as they can believe it doesn’t affect them.
Which brings me to a far more relevant pop culture analogy—Game of Thrones. I don’t know if Edward Snowden watched either Serenity or Game of Thrones, but if he had watched or read the latter, he would have known that the honorable man who brings the truth to a nation is always the first to lose his head.
Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes, my writing partner, is no Edward Snowden. He is not disappointed in the Obama administration because he has been through enough presidents to not expect anything from them in the first place. Also, he never reveals anything Classified at any level; however, he does at times know what is true of what is public.
That being said, this is the information from the public domain that I would pass on to you, our readers.
The NSA has direct access to the servers of the PRISM Nine. (See PRISM Surveillance on Americans—What Price Convenience?) I’ve seen many people commenting around the net that they don’t care that the NSA knows what Google knows. After all, everyone knows the internet isn’t private. To those people, I would point out two things. First, Google doesn’t have an FBI and a DHS to arrest us. And second, the NSA reach does not stop at the voluntary information we give to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and the rest. It also includes our emails, bank transactions, credit card purchases, phone records and the very content of the calls, themselves.
All of this data is collected and analyzed for red flags. Like someone going through our “Electronic Footprint House” on a continual basis, looking for missteps. If an analyst suspects any, he can listen to specific conversations and read specific emails without obtaining a warrant specific to us. In fact, in Mr. Snowden’s words, “The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as “incidental” collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications . . .”
There is one notable exception to this illegal invasion of privacy. Members of Congress have a special exemption from NSA surveillance. Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? If the NSA isn’t spying on Americans, why would Congress need an exemption from the spying they’re not doing?
Not only is this data collected and stored on all Americans and subject to viewing at the whim of an analyst, it is exchanged with foreign countries. The Five Eyes—the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—have agreements in place between their intelligence agencies to share information on each other’s citizens.
This begs another question. Why would we spend money to illegally spy on our allies’ citizens? We are not at war with these people any more than we are at war with ourselves.
Sure, there are some maggots in those countries, just as there are some maggots in our own. Our Founding Fathers understood and accepted the fact that some maggots need to be spied on. However, they also understood that it was important to prevent the government from spying on its citizens without cause if we were to avoid devolving into tyranny. This dilemma was easily solved. It’s called a “warrant system.”
The requirement of obtaining a warrant does not in any way hinder intelligence and law enforcement agencies from acting in a timely fashion. Judges are available to approve warrants 24/7, 365 days a year. The judge’s staff then follows up with a paper document.
This procedure allows police and domestic intelligence operatives, such as the DHS, to act promptly while employing standard safeguards. The judicial system keeps records of what is requested and why. Eventually, any warrants issued for domestic eavesdropping became public knowledge. The warrant system prevents, or at least minimizes, abuse by elected officials and government employees while respecting the constitutional rights of Americans to enjoy reasonable privacy.
PRISM, however, has no such protections. The NSA eavesdrops with no judicial process, and citizens are not informed of the surveillance unless they commit felonies and are arrested. That means no accountability to the people. Think about it. A government that holds citizens responsible to it without a process in place for citizens to hold the government responsible to them is not a government by or for the people.
And it doesn’t stop there . . .
Eighteen days ago, when I first wrote about this Big Brother surveillance of Americans, I posed the following questions:
1) Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection?
2) Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors?
Only days later, it became public knowledge that, indeed, there is an information exchange between our government and private corporations. You heard that correctly. Thousands of companies—finance, manufacturing, technology, etc.—receive benefits from the federal government in exchange for sensitive information about their clientele.
Having naïvely agreed to travel from Hong Kong to Ecuador via Moscow, Edward Snowden finds himself in Putin’s hands. For Putin, this is Christmas. For Edward Snowden, he might as well be Eddard Stark in the dungeons of King’s Landing. His winter is here, and when it comes to privacy protections in America, “Winter is Coming.”
We have seen time and again that technology, once developed, does not undevelop. You can’t stop the signal. However, we can choose how we will use it. Like nuclear weapons, the horse is out of the barn, but with careful controls and regulations, we have not used those nuclear weapons in nearly seventy years. Just because we have a tool, it doesn’t mean we have to use it in careless or evil ways.
Rather than calling for a shut-down of PRISM and its use, which would only create a more sophisticated government mouse, let us instead insist on understanding the unprecedented power of this program and treat it with the respect that it deserves. Let us instead focus this power toward the true enemies—not average Americans, but those who would terrorize and destroy us. Let us not do the job for them by continuing to turn this potentially devastating power on ourselves.