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Surveillance state

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“If the National Security Agency required us to notify it whenever we made a new friend, the nation would rebel. Yet we notify Facebook, Inc.” Bruce Schneier, an authoritative “computer security technologist” said that. He might have finished the statement with, “… which is essentially the same thing.” Facebook has made no secret of the fact that it is willing to roll us over and spread us for the government, and often enough, for anyone else with the money to pay for it.

Schneier goes on to point out that we’d surely be hostile to the idea of the FBI demanding to be copied on all of our email, but don’t seem to mind so much that Google, Microsoft, and almost all other major email service providers already do it for us, and unapologetically at that. Not to be too hard on them, they are sometimes left with little choice if they want to stay in business, as the secure, encrypted email service provider that served a real hero, Edward Snowden, can testify.

Likewise, every cellphone service provider routinely gives the government access to all our phone conversations & text messages blessed by virtually no resistance from anyone, least of all us who are sharing every detail of our private lives with a growing queue of third parties. In the days of hard-wired telephones it took a court order to tap a phone. Use of the public’s airwaves demonstrably includes no such protection, anytime, anywhere, whatever legal experts may claim.

We tweet away on Twitter creating huge archives of treasure that are there for the asking – when those who want it bother to ask. The same applies to LinkedIn and all the other social media. They lead us to think we have varying degrees of privacy when in fact, it’s little different from moving into an apartment with one-way mirrors in the bathroom and being told, “Don’t worry, no one will look.”

Where the government runs into legal boundaries with their own data collection, they rely on private enterprise to make up the difference. We willingly provide data to private industry that we’d never let the government have. In return for sharing it with the government, private industry is rewarded with regulatory, financial, and other freedoms. To sweeten an already sickeningly saccharine jellyroll, funding by private industry is increasingly the only way for our obviously compromised elected officials to have jobs in the first place, so our elected officials have personal motivation to help them cope with times when their professional enthusiasm needs boosting.

Once upon a time we were protected from intimate, continual surveillance by the laws of physics. The watchers couldn’t see through walls, there weren’t enough watchers in the world to watch us all, and certainly not enough watchers to watch all the watchers, and – so on. That was before we invented electronics and computers.

Now, it’s not only possible, but entirely practical for those who would watch to build phantasmagoric watching machines that monitor literally every second of every life in their domain with greater acuity than any mere human – including the ones whose lives they are, could ever hope to achieve. It’s the development of that kind of surveillance that’s at the heart of whistle-blowing Edward Snowden’s revelations, and they have barely scraped the surface. The government, and others with similar ambitions, can build huge data arrays and capture all the data they want from as many sources as might exist. It’s sorted through automatically by computers and organized so that it’s all easy to reach for should anyone get an itch that our data can scratch.

How big are the data arrays these days? Some have claimed they can hold Yottabytes (YB) of data, while others try to base their wild claims & frenzied estimates on demonstrable, documented science. However, even the lowest figures ought to be enough to cause us all to think twice about everything we say on the phone, or online, or do in front of any camera, anywhere – and there are an awful lot of cameras everywhere these days. Like that one in your face on your computer, for example. In Britain, it’s even been made an official goal in many places to be sure that every public location is covered by some camera every minute of every day.

In case that sounds like an unrealistic amount of data, consider that one company, Cleversafe, has publicized 10 EB (Exabyte) storage systems for “portable data centers.” Chances are that, if you have a computer built in the last couple of years, it has a 2 TB (Terabyte) disk drive. Ten Exabytes is 5 million of those. A few years ago the NSA built a data array in Maryland that it implied contained 5 Zettabytes of data. That’s the equivalent of 2.5 billion 2 TB disk drives. It’s also easily enough storage to keep all of every American’s cellphone & other online data archived in unabridged, uncompressed, positively titillating detail ready for immediate search & display for longer than a year – and it’s only one of the more than half dozen data centers the NSA has built so far.

Along with advances in storage technology, advances in processing capability make it practical to use the storage. A few years ago single computers with 256 processors in them were not far removed from sci-fi. Today, they are about to be standard production items from all the major computer manufactures, and come with over 4 TB of memory as well. (Yes, that really is twice as much memory as you have storage on that disk drive in your brand-new computer.)

Just in case you were planning on getting some sleep tonight, consider this: the data processing facilities being built by pathological paranoids with the desire to know everything about everyone all the time aren’t just giant piles of disk drives. They’re driven by sophisticated, optimized operating systems that sort, filter, and condense all the data as it comes in. That way, the amount of duplicate data is minimized, and it’s already pre-catalogued so the analysis tools have an easier time finding things. You know how you expect a better than instant response to your Googling? Like, before you’ve even typed in a whole query? Yeah, like that.

In turn, the analysis tools are capable of developing profiles on the data and the people it describes. Some robot in the computer will know more about you and what spins your gears than you do. They observe trends and patterns in your life that you may never notice.

You may forget how much you can get out of the ATM, but the spider in the data array doesn’t. You may not think anything of a careless remark you made in passing on an obscure social networking site last year, but it’s on record and if it indexes just right some day, you may get one of those dystopian visits from Men In Black that we hear about from time to time.

Or, your data may have come mostly from private industry – like the credit card companies – and simply be part of a venal trade to make the advertising and other garbage that pollutes your senses more appealing. You may not buy the specific products, but you’ll swallow the lifestyles, world-view, and self-image whole. It doesn’t matter what products you buy, so long as you do, indeed, buy products. It’s of just such stuff that good Americans are made.

Use of online media, cellphones, and willing – eager – submission to all the other technological experiences that define the modern world may be as inescapable in America as eating GMO corn. Along with invasive airport security that no one 100 years ago would have submitted to, aggressive, pervasive surveillance may just be another scarcely discernable increase in the temperature of the water in which we frogs sit, maybe not even aware that we’re in the process of being boiled, or already feeling too stupefied by the heat to do anything about it. But boil we most certainly will.

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Links directory (Get the info straight from the sources! The article text that the links link from is in parentheses at the end of each line. The music video links are intended to help tell the story in ways that simple reporting can’t, and the lyrics for all the tracks have their own links so you don’t miss any of that sometimes not very subtle messaging.)

Data Links:

  1. Bloomberg (Bruce Schneier, 2013 Jul 31) – The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership (Schneier goes on to point out)
  2. NBC News / Reuters (2013 Aug 13) – Lavabit.com owner: 'I could be arrested' for resisting surveillance order (left with little choice) For all those who thought that there was no way those nasty, Patriot Act class of laws would ever be used domestically for political purposes, this incident had better be a five alarm wake-up call – right now, or the place the waking up will be done is in a certifiable police state.
  3. TechDirt (Mike Masnick, 2013 Aug 16) – Feds Threaten To Arrest Lavabit Founder For Shutting Down His Service (want to stay in business) What’s developing here is a superlative for “Orwellian” and “Kafkaesque”. The more extreme term will be, “American”.
  4. BBC (2013 Aug 09) – Snowden link to encrypted email service closes (encrypted email service provider)
  5. Washington’s Blog (2013 Jul 13) – Snowden Is a Traitor to the Political Elite … But a Hero to the American People (real hero, Edward Snowden)
  6. The Hill (Jonathan Easley, 2013 Aug 13) – NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times (bother to ask)
  7. Washington Post (Barton Gellman, 2013 Aug 15) – NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds (legal boundaries) Queue the NSA wearing its bandito bandoleers sneering from between clenched teeth, “Legal boundaries? Legal boundaries! We don’ need no steenkin’ ‘legal boundaries!’”, and then making Swiss cheese out of the Bill of Rights while slamming cheap tequila.
  8. truthout / McClatchy (Michael Doyle, 2013 Aug 17) – Feinstein Defends Congress' Intelligence Oversight Amid New Revelations (obviously compromised elected officials)
  9. MSN Entertainment (Wenn, 2013 Jan 11) – Beyoncé keeps extensive digital archive of life and work (hope to achieve)
  10. Information Clearing House / Washington’s Blog (2013 Aug 17) – You Won’t BELIEVE What’s Going On with Government Spying on Americans (Edward Snowden’s revelations) This article is an extensive list of links to all that’s exploding in the world illuminated by Edward Snowden’s courageous whistle-blowing.
  11. The Hill (Blake Neff, 2013 Aug 13) – Senate Democrats warn reported NSA privacy violations only 'the tip of a larger iceberg' (barely scraped the surface)
  12. Forbes (Kashmir Hill, 2013 Jul 24) – Blueprints Of NSA's Ridiculously Expensive Data Center In Utah Suggest It Holds Less Info Than Thought (How big are the data arrays) Includes architectural diagrams of the bean-shaped data center and parts of its interior.
  13. Gizmag (Brian Dodson, 2013 Jul 08) – New technique would allow a petabyte of data on a single disc (demonstrable, documented science) The article discusses optical media, e.g., Blu-Ray, DVD, etc. Disk drive technology is always at least a couple of orders of magnitude ahead of offline storage technology.
  14. Washington Post (Dana Priest, 2013 Jul 21) – NSA growth fueled by need to target terrorists (more than half dozen data centers) Read the rest of the articles in this list and it’s easy to see that the word “need” the Post’s title is a little “ambitious”.
  15. The Guardian (Adam Gabbatt, 2013 Aug 01) – New York woman visited by police after researching pressure cookers online (visits from Men In Black) Try it yourself! Spend an hour or so every day for a week or two Googling “pressure cookers,” “backpacks,” “fertilizer bombs”, “timing devices,” “IUD detonators,” and other fun stuff like that. What better way to get your name in articles like this one all over the world!
  16. AlterNet (Brad Friedman, 2013 Aug 13) – 14-Year Old Activist Destroys TV Host on Monsanto, GMO Labeling (eating GMO corn)
  17. Nanotechnology Now – Metric Prefix Table For those who get lost in the numbers.

Multimedia Links:

  1. Pitbull feat. Christina Aguilera – Feel This Moment (YouTube, 3:51 min – PitbullVEVO) (made a new friend) Lyrics
  2. Animal Kingdom – Get Away With It (YouTube, 3:26 min – AnimalKingdomChannel) (essentially the same thing) Lyrics
  3. Skrillex – Kill Everybody (YouTube, 5:38 min – FireGodVlad) (pathological paranoids) Lyrics The lyrics to this one are, um, “really deep,” you gotta be reptile or you’ll miss it.
  4. Omnia & IRA – The Fusion (YouTube, 4:28 min – zigis vansilasars) (the modern world) Lyrics (There are no comprehensible lyrics, but in this case, the music video works fine without them.)
  5. Macklemore with Ryan Lewis feat. Mary Lambert – Same Love (YouTube, 7:04 min – Ryan Lewis) (do anything about it) Lyrics Just so nobody gets the wrong idea about why this video link is here, it’s intended to show that even though we frogs seem to be very nearly cooked well enough to serve at a surveillance state banquet, it’s still not over. The goons don’t have to win. Even 30 years ago few would have believed that today gay people would have been able to get married anywhere, or that even a small percentage of the public would ever be willing to tolerate the idea, let alone vote to make it legal. Yet now, fewer every day try to get in the way. They’re your rights. If you ignore them, they will go away.
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