In an earlier blog (8/28/13), I poked fun about NSA spying. But, at heart, I don’t find the subject funny. As an older person, I feel obligated to remind the young, who may know little of life before “virtual reality,” that walking into the world wide web is fun and convenient, but it has its price. Everyone knows that price, some better than others, which is why I repeat the obvious: to enter the web is to abandon personal privacy. No one, I suspect, would willing choose to live in a Borg World — that Star Trek cybernetic organism that assimilates individuals. But that is the risk. Am I being over dramatic?
Take, as a lesson, the harrowing account of one young journalist/writer, William T. Vollumn. He came to the attention of the FBI during the search for the Unabomber. (“Life As A Terrorist,” by William T. Vollman, Harper’s pgs. 39-47) Something he said or wrote brought him to the agency’s attention. When he learned he was under surveillance, he asked to see the records gathered on him. What he received were redacted documents that provided little information except that the surveillance was extensive, despite the fact that he was not high on the suspect list.
After the Unabomber was caught and convicted, Vollman imagined his file would be closed. It wasn’t. Probes continued, possibly because he defended a friend caught up in a different FBI dragnet. The friend was eventually exonerated but not until he’d spent $100,000 in attorney fees to defend himself and not until after his personal records were damaged and his computer hard drive destroyed. When the man asked for restitution, he was told he had no complaint. The system had worked.
Unfortunately for Vollumn, his file remains open. Each time he crosses an international border, he is intercepted, interrogated and sometimes held for several hours. As he explains it, “Once you’re a suspect and you’re in the system, that ain’t never goin’ away…” (Ibid, pg.46.)
Theoretically, the government is required to stop maintaining records on persons of interest after an investigation is over. But the Privacy Act passed in 1974. “… permits the collection of such information if it is ‘pertinent’ to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity.”(Ibid, pg. 46.) The loophole, apparently, is large enough to allow a battleship room to maneuver.
Given the government’s enormous capability to collect data, anyone can be subjected to the system’s harassment. The young should have this fact drummed into their heads. The web world is real and it doesn’t go away when someone clicks off the connection.
(Courtesy of www.flickr.com)