So the cat is finally out of the bag: The United States does, in fact, spy on its own citizens. They have been collecting cell phone data, e-mail, and online activity data for years. E-mail, much like one’s postal mail, is often extremely private in nature. One’s online activity, while publicly accessible, can provide a lot of context when compiled and analyzed. The wildcard, however, is the cell phone data. Many would state that cellphone “metadata” doesn’t reveal much as they aren’t necessarily gathering phone calls themselves. This is absolutely incorrect, and one should be very skeptical of any agency who describes this information as “metadata” — it’s data, plain and simple. Metadata is a red herring term used to make the information collected seem trivial. It’s not.
Have a look at this visualization of German politician Malte Spitz’s cellular activity over the course of six months. This is a compilation of the sort of “metadata” the United States Government is collecting on its citizens. With this data, one can track Spitz’s every move, see just how much time he spent in any one location, see how many phone calls he made and how long those conversations were. This is just the cellphone data mind you, and this is in 2009, created by a newspaper without the expansive resources of a Government agency with a multi-billion dollar budget.
It’s 2013, and the very lucrative defense industry has been working very hard on all of its spying technology. What kinds of automated visualization software do you think they might possess that uses one’s cellphone data, one’s tweets, one’s e-mail, one’s Skype chats, and whatever else the comb picks up, to create as accurate a picture as possible of one’s life over the course of several years? What kind of a picture would that paint about you? Your friends? Neighbors? Family?
While the “nothing to hide” argument is gaining prevalence throughout law enforcement and among the more naive of the American populace, that argument has likely never been more flawed or more dangerous. Regardless of any wrongdoing, a person has the inalienable right to privacy in his or her own matters. When that privacy is lost, one is then at the mercy of his own ability to reconcile the notion that his actions might be seen as unfavorable by whatever entity might be watching at that moment. That’s the moment during which freedom has been lost.
Think of it like this:
A company that you work for has been making some poor decisions lately in regards to its workforce. They’ve cut hours and instituted a payroll freeze. No one’s getting any raises, and the shifts are getting smaller. Meanwhile your bills aren’t going anywhere, and you still need to feed your family. Quitting the job seems like it would be an option, but the cost of finding a new job, interviewing, and possibly relocating are too much. The market is flooded, anyway. Instead, you and a few of your coworkers decide to petition management for fair pay. Management doesn’t appreciate the employees’ organization and makes it a policy that if any of the employees are caught organizing without management’s prior approval, there will be consequences up to and including termination. They make sure the employees do not organize, management creates a department that monitors employee’s e-mail and their social network activity. Now every employee is scared to speak up for fear of reprimand. Everyone clocks in, does their job, clocks out, and goes home. It’s not worth it to raise a fuss. At least we’re getting paid.
If this sounds familiar to you, then the time to speak up might be right now.