"The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” - Susan Sontag -
"Here’s the National Security Agency spying scandal in three sentences:
Agent: “Do you want me to tell your wife how often you look at porn on your laptop?”
Agent: “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
That’s a scenario that every Internet user in the world now has to contend with, thanks to the U.S. government, the British government and most major Internet companies in the world, from Facebook to Microsoft to Google to Apple.
Thanks to a string of reports by Guardian journalists working with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know — with some certainty — that Internet users worldwide have been spied on en masse by the U.S. and the U.K.
Other governments and companies may be in on it too, but it’s difficult to know for certain since every one of the schemes to vacuum up all of our emails, web histories and phone calls is secret because of “national security!” And “threats!” And “terrorism!” So let’s return to our scenario.
Of course, it does not have to be porn. Maybe it’s a can’t-miss business idea, an affair, an illness, or a nasty email typed up in the heat of the moment and deleted afterwards.
American and British operatives seem to have access to all of this, and the rulings used to justify such surveillance have made a mockery of any official claims of carefully targeted surveillance or proportionality.
But maybe it’s not a wife. Maybe it’s a son or a daughter, a business partner, an employee, a boss, or a journalist.
Really, it could be anyone, because, let’s face it, once someone has access to all the phone calls and emails and online messages that we send to each other in private, it’s not hard to blackmail any one of us.
Who is the “agent” in our scenario? As best as we can tell, a lot of people have access to our private information.
Operatives from the NSA, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters and outside contractors certainly do, and they may have shared our details with others.
Or, such details could have been stolen or leaked. Who knows? Maybe they already have, but it’s impossible to know since every scheme to vacuum up all of our communications is secret, making all abuses and mistakes secret as well.
Or, maybe it’s no one at all.
Since the infrastructure is in place, the vague threat hangs over each of us, but it’s unreasonable to expect that we will all face this scenario.
So, where does that leave us?
Writer Cory Doctorow recently pointed out that our government and corporate leaders are trying to build a new culture and a legal infrastructure where privacy is totally essential for the powerful and completely worthless for the rest of us.
Gag orders, secret courts and prosecutions of whistleblowers are ramping up, while the basic right to private communications is being wiped out through secret programs and secret court rulings, always with cross-border consequences.
Governments in the English-speaking world — both left and right — are trying to share less and less with their citizens, while pulling out some variation of “Terrorism!” and “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” to justify increasing surveillance for the rest of us.
Though “transparency” is now a politician’s buzzword on par with “democracy” and “fairness,” true transparency is very rare in practice, and usually limited to local politics.
Corporations — especially large multinational firms — are trying to find out as much about their customers as possible while “controlling the message” through private surveillance of employees, confidentiality agreements and by curtailing any investigations into their activities by civil society groups or journalists.
And in this new normal, the political battle lines that we are used to — left against right, conservatives against liberals — seem like window dressing for what is beginning to look like the defining political division of our age.
It looks like big against small. Elites against everyone else.
With the latest revelations about the spying and lying, some are beginning to realize that the emperor has no clothes.
The problem is, our democratic governments and online corporations are making sure that the rest of us are naked, too."
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