It was just as I had expected it. There was a mixed combination of indignation, disappointment, gloating, and as usual, apathy. So although this particular story only relates to Korea tangentially, I decided to write this one essay on government surveillance.
If this is the first time you are reading my blog, you ought to know that I am a libertarian. Now that you know that I'm a libertarian, who has never held President Obama in high esteem, you’re probably expecting me to gloat. I could but I’m not going to. Gloating is not funny. Besides, saying “I told you so” may bring some level of satisfaction to the one saying it but as much as schadenfreude is something that I have a deep appreciation for, I also recognize that it is never ever productive.
Or you’re probably predicting what I’m going to say next. Government spying is immoral; it is unconstitutional; we are losing our liberty, etc. You’d be wrong. While those things are not untrue, that’s not what I want to say. What I do want to say is this:
If you’re wondering if this libertarian has gone bananas and abandoned his views and become a State-loving democratic socialist, well, no, that hasn’t happened. But, and let it be known that even libertarians can sometimes learn to remove their tinfoil hats once in a while, I think this is a good time that we take a deep breath, drink a cup of tea, have a piece of toast with marmalade, read some Keats, and relax.
|How could this NOT make anyone feel relaxed? |
George Orwell was a brilliant writer. Though I personally preferred ‘Animal Farm,’ ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ was also a spectacular piece of literature that ought to be read by everyone. That being said, and I say this with all the reverence that I can muster for Mr. Orwell, his dystopian, or rather, Orwellian future that he predicted in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ was not entirely accurate. And that’s because in his book, Big Brother is seen to use all kinds of modern-day technology to spy on most everyone and deeply care about the innermost convictions of every single person who lives in Oceania. This is why in real life, Orwell’s Big Brother has not actually materialized (except for maybe in North Korea). In real life, Big Brother doesn’t actually care about every little thing that we do or about our innermost thoughts.
To explain this, let’s take a look at the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, aka the Patriot Act, a law, which, as you remember, was passed by the overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress despite the fact that, at the time, virtually no one had actually read the damned thing.
(I’m going to digress for a moment and ask something that has been plaguing me for a bit. Is there actually a job where someone has to come up with acronyms for Congressional bills? It seems to me that someone thought that ‘Patriot Act’ sounded like a nice, strong name for a law but then someone said, “But we need to make it sound serious. Someone, please, make ‘Patriot’ an acronym for something. I don’t care what. Just make it sound official.” I’d like to know because I’ve never seen an ad for that kind of job in the classified section.)
This is the law that made warrantless wiretapping, email snooping, Skype intercepting, missile-dropping drones, extraordinary renditioning, military tribuning – all of it – perfectly legal. Somewhere beyond the grave, I think Richard Nixon might be throwing the mother of all hissy fits.
Now the Patriot Act really does sound scary. When you read excerpts from the law, it certainly sounds like we’re living in the kind of dystopian future that Orwell warned us about. However, we’re forgetting one tiny little fact. The people who are overseeing the Patriot Act are bureaucrats and unlike the bureaucrats who work for Orwell’s Big Brother, real life bureaucrats, or at least most of the ones I've met, are less Nazi-esque and more Vogon-esque.
To quote Douglas Adams: “They (Vogons) are one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy - not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without an order, signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.” Now if that doesn’t sound like your typical pencil-pushing bureaucrat at the Department of Veterans Affairs, then I don’t know what does.
|Real life bureaucracy. |
The incompetence and/or the apathy of most bureaucrats aside, there is also one thing that we should try to think about with this PRISM story – and that’s the sheer volume of data and information that the NSA has to sift through. Every day, there are billions upon billions of phone calls between adolescent couples whose conversations revolve around the phrase “No, you hang up first;” people liking their friends’ posts of their babies on Facebook; banal comments about comic books and video games that people leave behind on obscure discussion boards on the far edges of the internet; P2P downloads of movies and television shows and books; angry rants about Team Republican, angry rants about Team Democrat, angry rants about libertarians, angry rants about socialists, angry rants about theists, angry rants about atheists, pictures of quesadillas on Instagram, funny looking kittens and puppies, memes, and of course, porn. Lots and lots and lots and lots of porn.
Out of all this cacophony of senseless noise and banalities and inanities, those dullards at the NSA (I’m willing to bet that not everyone who works at the NSA is a freakishly smart MIT graduate) are supposed to find delusional wannabe terrorists? Is it any wonder that despite all of this technology, the government wasn’t able to prevent a couple of second-rate morons from exploding a homemade bomb in Boston?
Whenever I find myself with way too much work to do, I usually find myself not knowing where to start. The NSA has to deal with EVERY single email and phone call and internet post. There’s a very good chance that those guys at the NSA will most likely store all of it away somewhere - an electronic version of sweeping things under a rug, and then promptly forget about it until someone tells them to look for something very specific in that festering turd of a mess. And even then there’s a good chance that they won’t find what they’re looking for.
|So... where do we start? |
As a libertarian, I admire Ron Paul and, his son, Rand Paul (ooh, shocker!). I don’t agree with everything that they believe in but for a couple of Republicans, they’re all right. That being said, when they claim that government doesn’t know how to spend other people’s money or that government is an inefficient institution in general and then, in the same breath, claim that government is very efficient at spying on us and is just one step away from establishing the perfect Big Brother society, I really wonder whether they truly don’t see the disconnect in their logic or if they’re honestly just being typical alarmist politicians.
Yes, under the current legal framework, the government spying on people is not illegal. But what is legal is not always necessarily moral. So yes, the government spying on everyone is something that should make us feel concerned. But if your first thought was that Big Brother is watching our every move and that, at best, they're judging our taste in porn, or, at worst, it’s only a matter of time before men with guns are going to storm through our doors to spirit us away to some derelict torture chamber in Afghanistan, well, would you like some fries with your tinfoil?