William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

What If Ed Snowden Benefits The State? Guest Post by Jim Fedako

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him. –Cardinal Richelieu

With word coming out today that our loving government—which would never, as the theory goes, use its powers for any but good—is using the NSA to spy on your cell phone apps, like the data you give up on Angry Birds, we have this important article from Jim Fedako.

What if Ed Snowden ends up benefiting the state? What if having the NSA’s watchful eye exposed brings a cloud of fear over its captives? What if the captives begin to tremble at having their past Internet activities subject to scrutiny and exposure? What if they began to look at the Internet with suspicion and then break social networking ties and cease expressing opinions—political and otherwise?

“Aren’t you afraid?”

One of the comments I occasionally receive from readers of articles I have written is, “Aren’t you afraid to put your name on those words?” My response has been, “Look, since no one is anonymous on the Internet, I might as well use my real name.”

I used to say that out of a belief the state was watching. I had no evidence it was, but I suspected.

After an article of mine was published, one particular email exchange with an anonymous reader sounded threatening. So I did a simple search on the email address and found the name, address, and phone number of the sender. Turns out he had used that email as a contact for an organization he had joined. I responded with his personal info and never heard from him again.

So, if I could make a connection using simple resources, I assumed the state, with its vast resources and partners could make connections in murkier data. And with the recent revelations, it turns out my assumption was right.

The near future: A time to atone

Because I never created alternate selves in order to post anonymously, I am not concerned about a state-generated profile that links me to Internet comments and emails—my comments already have my name attached to them.

But I’m certain many are concerned that the spindly fingers of the state will connect comments with the commentators. And all of those off-color remarks, now deemed offensive by the state, will be evidence of guilt.

Guilt of what? No one knows. The crimes have not been defined—violations of laws that will never exist. Nevertheless, on some day in the future, the state will take action, with offenders rousted into the public square to be roasted, so to speak, by neighbors and instigators who will demand atonement—a cathartic experience of the Maoist kind.

Neighbors, afraid of their own pasts, will eagerly show allegiance to the state and its minions. Better to extinguish another’s light than have their own snuffed out.

But what about the instigators and associated minions? Certainly they all made similar comments in the past. However, they will claim they made such comments only to expose the philistines in their midst. What horrible things they wrote in the pursuance of their duties, how heavily the task weighed upon their shoulders!1

An unrealistic, dystopian view of the future? I really do not think so, especially given history and our current situation and likely prospects.

Privacy violated

While I never lived a dual life on the Internet, I do desire privacy. But now some sleazy NSA employee has access to that which only my wife knows. It is as if, in the name of national security, the man behind me in line at the pharmacy counter takes a few steps closer to note my discussions. And with that knowledge, he builds a profile to hold over me.

Will he use it against me? There is no way to know. Will I act differently knowing he has that information—a tacit blackmail, so to speak? Maybe. Just maybe.

That nosy man has now done the same to all of us—in all aspects of our lives. And folks who would typically throw verbal, as well as likely physical, fits of rage, demanding privacy, remain quiet, saying nothing. Nothing.

Odd, isn’t it?

For some reason, folks still believe in an altruistic state—an entity with good intentions that, on rare occasions, goes bad. But those folks are either short on history or long on the American myth. And as we find more instances of the state using its ill-gotten data to further its singular goal of power over the individual, it becomes ever more apparent the state is an entity unto itself, completely separate from the masses it controls and confines.

The phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people,” was a lie when it was written—if it was ever true. Any tie the state had to the people has long been broken. Yet, myths tend to live long after proven false because folks would rather believe the myth than acknowledge the reality.

This is not a right-left or a Republican-Democrat issue.

Conservative radio is bewildered: how to deal with the continuing revelations of state subterfuge? And now some of the masses are beginning to question the validity of the spying state. Such discussions could easily weaken, if not destroy, the entity both the right and left worship.

So radio hosts invite the dog-and-pony show of Republican legislators to discuss the issue. Sure, there is the sop to liberty, but the discussion is quickly brought back into line: Spying is not the issue; it is the party in power. Return a Republican to the White House and your data is secure. Trust us.

However, the state is greater than the sum of its two parties. What of the Hegelian dialectic that our two-party system only strengthens the state? Neither party wants to reduce spying, and neither party stands for liberty. They simply want the scraps of power the state provides to the party in office. Both parties serve the state, not their so-called constituents.

A glimmer of hope

Will folks ignore, what is for many, their first glimpse of the all-powerful state—an entity seeking to invade all aspects of their lives? Will they live under a cloud of fear, trembling and changing their routines? For a while? Yes. But in the long run? No.

Where is that tipping point—the point when the state is deemed illegitimate by the man on the street? It is hard to tell. But the time is coming. So we must continue to keep the abhorrent activities of the state in full view. And we must continue to remind folks that their pasts and futures can be outlawed by the stroke of a pen.

We all owe Ed Snowden thanks. His revelations exposed some vile truths. But he can only take things so far. The rest of us must continue educating others—we must continue shouting that liberty is an option—if only we all withdraw our support from the state.

What if that happened? The advent of liberty would follow.

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Jim Fedako (send him email) is a business analyst and homeschooling father of seven who lives in Lewis Center, OH.

1“The trick used by Himmler…was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!” Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Bonus Link! Infinite Arrogance, Infinite Incompetence: Miss Ammerica, Miss Universe, Miss Government

Bonus Link 2 52% support Obama using executive orders to bypass Congress on his legislative goals. Hey, if people are for it, why not a dictatorship?

Bonus Link 3 Stopping the NSA.

21 Comments

  1. Halflife Toolmkaer

    January 28, 2014 at 9:01 am

    It is good to know the truth? Maybe. I could argue that there are a lot of spouses, happily married because they do not know, or refuse to believe, the truth.

    The other consideration is the goldfishlike attention span of the American electorate. Does it really make a difference if the truth is revealed too far ahead of the election for the sheeple to remember?

  2. Good article. I sympathize with a glimmer of hope but when seeking liberty one must always keep in mind that in avoiding Charybdis one does not fall into the clutches of Scylla.

  3. You think its the government we really need to worry about…we have more recourse (still, for now) to reign that in than industry…for example:

    How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/

    Google’s data mining bonanza and your privacy: an infographic: http://www.welivesecurity.com/2012/03/14/google-data-mining-bonanza-and-your-privacy-infographic/

    Sen. Al Franken to Facebook, Google users: ‘You are their product’ http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/sen-al-franken-facebook-google-users-you-are-their-product-609349 and http://www.franken.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1543

  4. Briggs

    January 28, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Ken,

    Good points. The lesson is: Spend Cash.

  5. But that has always been the case. Even if you spend cash, the shopowner, if he is any good at his job, builds a profile of his customers — if only in his head. To think that you can walk into my store (the one I own only in my immagination) and purchase items that imply pregnancy without me noting it is to think that which has never happened.

    Issues arise when the entity with the knowledge owns the power of the gun.

  6. Rereading the article. Target only surmised the girl was pregnant. It did not “know” she was. Just as some of her friends (thouse she did not tell) likely surmised as well.

  7. Snowden is complicated. Yes he was probably a Russian stooge. Some of his revelations were good, others not. Raise your hand if you object to the NSA spying outside the country. Revealing details of that damaged the country.

    As for the NSA and it collecting data on Americans you only need to ask one question. In light of the news that the the IRS, EPA, OSHA and almost every other alphabet agency has been politically weaponized you only need ask; “Has the NSA been turned into a political weapon YET?”

    To ask the question that way is to answer it. The NSA as it currently exists is simply too dangerous to be allowed to exist. The darker question is whether it is still possible to stop it.

  8. Fletcher Christian

    January 28, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    John Morris – Consider my hand raised. Even were I American (which I’m not, I’m a Brit) I would object to the idea of allies being spied upon. If only because if the fact of it got out (which it has) it would damage relations between America and its allies – which it has.

  9. Snowden is a traitor because he broke the law yet he is a whistle blower regarding the overreach of state power. He should be prosecuted for the secrets he has revealed about our operations regarding other countries. Spying on other states is among the highest of priorities for every state. The media has been reporting that foreign ministers and bureaucrats are envious of our capabilities. By revealing our secrets Snowden has compromised our intelligence gathering capability.

    Our government has taken liberties with its own people. This perfidy of the highest order should be stopped as soon as possible. I myself have little or nothing to hide but spying on your own citizens is primary to controlling those citizens. I have every hope that the 4th amendment will be made to prevail.

    I love my country but fear my government.

  10. Yawrate,

    But didn’t the government break the law (the Constitution) when it spied? Why no indictment of the officials responsible? Are they not traitors to the Constitution?

    And, what makes Snowden a traitor in a legal sense if he exposed a government violating the Constitution? I believe the correct term is hero.

    To my knowledge, he never revealed my secrets, so your use of “our” is incorrect.

    But here you sort of get it right, “Our government has taken liberties with its own people.” But it is not a government of the people, it is a government over the people.

    Regarding, “I myself have little or nothing to hide but spying on your own citizens is primary to controlling those citizens.” Why are you posting comments under a pseudonym? Please include your name, address, and phone number in your reply.

    Also, please post your tax documents and health records here in the comments for all to see. Also, include your most recent credit card statements. Let’s see if you have anything to hide.

    I believe you are actually stating that you feel you have nothing to hide from the government. If so, why do you fear it?

  11. Ye Olde Statisician

    January 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    In this morning’s revelation, we learn that it was the British government collecting and analyzing the metadata from YouTube and such. In particular, they were able to anticipate yet another public demonstration in an Arab country by watching the frequency with which certain YouTube videos of a previous demonstration were watched. (The did not tally which individuals were watching, since that would have been irrelevant; but the volume of traffic on the topic was suggestive.)

  12. The problem is not Snowden. He has fallen on his sword, rightfully or otherwise, and may have to face consequences. All he did was not righteous.

    We have let our government get out of hand with their intelligence collecting in the name of national security. The irony is that spying on its citizens is in the interest of national security. Hence, they not only need to catch the foreign based terrorists, but also the domestic terrorists who happen to be citizens, too.

    The government views us as just one big Waco compound full of militarists, nuts, and outright revolutionaries. Even if less than one percent of citizens are that way, that is still enough wacko’s to kill millions given a nuke.

    Anybody that buys guns, says nasty things on a blog, or exhibits some sort of social profile that matches a terrorist, is toast. It is a pity that they can’t ferret out the mass shooters, too. Certainly their profile is just as easy to track. But, that would be treading on the rights of nutcases.

  13. Don’t get me wrong, because I am a staunch Libertarian but…

    ….I’m not too worried, at least not about the United States.

    I wonder if we have ever had more privacy than we do now? Remember, at the start of the last Century, I think something like 90% of the populace lived in small-towns and led a largely rural or agricultural life style. And everyone knew everyone else and knew what they were doing. Phones were either party lines or were connected through operators who could listen in on conversations and knew who was calling who and when and what they were talking about.

    Privacy is a relatively new invention. I think people romanticize a past level of privacy that never existed.

  14. I fear the left and they insane love of a strong central government, they and their government have killed millions. All for the common good. To bad most people do not understand this. As for Snowden, I cannot believe that our security apparatus would have allowed anyone like even close to the data. God help us not only are they snooping into everything they are also totally incompetent. With that much data and the lack of adult supervision some going to use it and they will not be using the information for our benefit.

  15. Fletcher Christian

    January 29, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Ye Olde Statisician – Interesting but irrelevant. YouTube is public data in the first place. Similarly, anyone who makes public posts on Facebook (as in not restricted to his friends list) has no right to complain when the government, or anyone else, scoops them up.

    Any and all of that is just a little different from the NSA listening in on the private phone lines of the Chancellor of Germany, don’t you think?

  16. Jim F,

    NSA officials and their oversight probably did not break the law. Loose interpretation of those laws led us here. They haven’t been looking at emails without FISA approval they’ve been storing them for later use.

    Maybe some individuals have been looking when they shouldn’t and they should be dealt with appropriately.

    Perhaps without Snowden we would never have known. But what has he given away to other countries? Should we just ignore his disregard for his own country? It certainly merits investigation. Snowden could have done this in any number of ways. To steal user names and passwords and essentially defect with a hard drive full of secrets makes him a traitor.

  17. Yawrate,

    “To steal user names and passwords and essentially defect with a hard drive full of secrets makes him a traitor.”

    Pretty low standard for being a traitor, don’t you think? Sounds like a Derrida-esque misuse (abuse?) of language.

  18. Ye Olde Statisician

    January 29, 2014 at 10:04 am

    I cannot believe that our security apparatus would have allowed anyone like even close to the data.

    Which leads to only one conclusion. Snowden is an agent of the USA whose task is to spread disinformation about intelligence capacities, leading others to believe we know more than we do.

  19. Ye Olde Statisician

    January 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Fletcher
    Not according to the breathless reports of the Usual Suspects.

  20. This is very odd.Does no one remember the Cold War?
    Read ‘Spy Catcher’ by Peter Wright a former head of MI6 in the United Kingdom. in the 1950’s 1960′ see Americans spying on embassies, British spying on embassies, Russians spying etc etc… and not only embassies … they drove around street … to listen to conversations whether diplomatic or not…and this was before the internet.
    Read ‘In the First Circle ‘ Solzhenytsin. Voice recognition attempts in the USSR
    I wonder how, with all the emails flashing along the fibreoptic cable, the authorities can do more than track messages from people they want to track. It would be impractical to open all the emails to see, so they would use pointers, like age -which you have registered somewhere-, like advertisers who sell anti wrinkle cream. (or Chinese brides )

  21. Jim S: I agree totally and often remind people of this fact. There was always a person or two in town who knew everything that was going on. No one seemed freaked out by this. It was just the way it was.
    Jim F: My name is on my websites, etc. People have both insisted that I needed my name and that I never should have put such information out there. I suppose I never had any illusions about privacy on the internet. As you pointed out, I can find tons of information on people with little effort. Why try to pretend I can somehow hide in this system?

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