But I'm bringing these things into the discussion because there is an equality aspect, which I will focus on in another post today.
With these articles, I am attempting to show that the PRISM surveillance operation is intrusive on people's lives, even if they think of themselves as not committing crimes. Now there is a special type of inequality involved here. When a government performs pretty much universal surveillance, and can keep all the data on every single citizen in storage indefinitely -- this has just been a sci-fi dystopian fantasy in the past, until now, until PRISM. But the implications of the inequality aspects have been thought out, as I mentioned in that book review post at the bottom of the list.
When all our data is collected and stored indefinitely, a future government can search back through it and begin causing problems for people based on things people had no idea would run them afoul of the government at the time they did them. Heck, even with present laws, this can happen.
Wired: Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance
Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are ”nearly 10,000.”
If the federal government can’t even count how many laws there are, what chance does an individual have of being certain that they are not acting in violation of one of them?
As Supreme Court Justice Breyer elaborates:
The complexity of modern federal criminal law, codified in several thousand sections of the United States Code and the virtually infinite variety of factual circumstances that might trigger an investigation into a possible violation of the law, make it difficult for anyone to know, in advance, just when a particular set of statements might later appear (to a prosecutor) to be relevant to some such investigation.For instance, did you know that it is a federal crime to be in possession of a lobster under a certain size? It doesn’t matter if you bought it at a grocery store, if someone else gave it to you, if it’s dead or alive, if you found it after it died of natural causes, or even if you killed it while acting in self defense. You can go to jail because of a lobster.
If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.
Here's some more discussion of the subject in the news:
* PRISM is only a part of a much more massive effort to accumulate all types of data on every citizen -- not just electronic communications, but real-world data such as your DNA and your physical location and activities, Eavesdropping on face-to-face conversations seems like a logical next step, if it's not being done already.
NYT: Police Agencies Are Assembling Records of DNA
Mueller: FBI Uses Drones for Surveillance
Secret to PRISM Program Success: Even Bigger Data Seizure
Why the NSA Spying Is Even Worse Than It Sounds -- because the way it has been set up is specifically designed to break encryption and therefore penetrate privacy shields.
* Discussion of the implications
3 Past NSA Whistleblowers: We Told You So, we just didn't have Snowden's electronic files before. (including video interview)
Bill Moyers and Lawrence Lessig: Big Brother's Prying Eyes (including video interview) Even if you think everything is on the up-and-up today, "This is just a treasure trove of potential misuse" later in the future. There is no infrastructure in place to protect the subjects, only to promote the surveillance.
Guardian: Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent over Climate and Energy Shocks -- the definition of terrorism is too broad already. If the fears of the Peak Oil-ers and Climate Alarmists have any validity at all, or if other types of misfortunes come about such as further economic recessions... participating in a protest against the government when events turn against average citizens, could well be declared Terrorism, and criminalized, leading to the use of collected data against broad swaths of citizens.
Meanwhile, presumably, the bankers and financiers will be free to continue colluding over the phone, because that's not what PRISM is tasked with monitoring.
Financial fraud of the type I am discussing on this blog is illegal. Some of the more esoteric things like CDO swaps are of course not illegal, but there is plenty of evidence that insider trading, front-running, bid-rigging, and other practices are costing us tens of billions of dollars, and those things are illegal.
If we aren't even going to demand that this system be used to combat major financial fraud, which is and has been illegal for centuries -- then we are not only giving our approval to the idea that those in power can spy on us and collect dirt, means of controlling or influencing us; but we are also acknowledging that we have no problem if the reverse is not true. If the government can propose this system be used against citizens in their everyday transactions, but using it against their powerful financial backers is simply "out of the question, never gonna happen"... then with our silence and our acquiescence, we are establishing a tyranny.
One miscellany: I remember this original article years ago, that a company called "Palantir" in Silicon Valley seemed to be the one designing or running the surveillance.
Is This Who Runs Prism?
The "Palantirs" are the crystal balls in Tolkein's fantasy which were once used by the good guys for long-distance communication, but they became corrupt by the villain Sauron, and now could only be used for ill. At the time I made the observation that the Palantirs in the Tolkein novel _ALWAYS_, in every instance, show the user a vision which is 100% completely accurate, yet 100% completely misleading. For example, Denethor looks into his Palantir and sees that the Orcs have captured Frodo. He therefore decides that Frodo's mission has failed, Sauron has the Ring back, and therefore nothing can stop Sauron and the entire world has been lost. Denethor then decides to commit suicide and basically take his entire nation with him. What the Palantir has failed to show Denethor, is that Sam had taken the Ring just before Frodo was captured. Therefore, the Ring was not lost to the Enemy, Sam later rescued Frodo from the Orcs, and they destroyed the Ring and saved the world.
In a similar manner, there is the very real fear that even omniscient spying will lead us all to bad conclusions, no matter how accurate the spying is.
Also, tying it back to science-fiction, recall an episode of Star Trek Voyager: The Voyager Conspiracy. Yes, Voyager is not the Trek franchise's best work, and this episode was pretty silly and over-wrought. Nonetheless, it raises a good point: when you accumulate enough data, you can insinuate any kind of crazy conspiracy you want, and make it seem to stick. As somebody else said recently, paraphrasing, "If the government, or a corporation, is not wise enough to limit the data it collects down to things that are actually relevant, then that government, or corporation, is not wise enough to make good use of it."