I don’t do anything illegal. Why do I care if the government spies on me? – You should!

Posted by Andrew on Aug 12, 2013 in Politics |

“I don’t do anything illegal.  Why do I care if the government spies on me?”  This is a comment I have heard many times by naive people who don’t think it through.  Unfortunately that seems to be a common enough thought even for many individuals who I consider very intelligent.  But I want to explain to you why it is naive and how giving this power to any government for any reason is dangerous and needs to be stopped now.

Edward Snowden revealed to the world what a lot of people suspected but didn’t  really want to believe or think about, that the US government has been logging phone calls within the United States.  We have known for quite a while now that the US government has tapped into many of our large telcom and internet companies to be able to obtain wiretaps and data.  Its rumored that many of these companies have given special rooms to the government where equipment is installed for them to “listen in”.  Under the last Bush administration it was discovered that the President had authorized wiretaps on US citizens without the due process of law which is for a court ordered warrant.  At the time I thought people would be outraged, but it seemed they were too scared of terrorist to put up much of a fight.  If it was in the fight against terrorism then it was OK to break the law.  So to make it right Congress passed new laws to extend the Patriot act so that it was ok.  Then Senator Obama actually spoke out against this illegal wire tapping and vowed that he was going to stop it if he got in office.  He didn’t.  Instead he increased the programs and gave even more power to the NSA.

“Are you absolutely positive you have never broken the law or violated a tax code?”

So with that background let me tell you why this is dangerous and why even though you “don’t do anything illegal” that you should care.  History has proven over and over again that even the best governments can become corrupt or make terribly bad decisions which can take away your liberty and usually do so rather quickly.  Its even happened in this country before.  Many innocent Americans with Japanese ancestors lost their freedom and were even imprisoned during World War II.  Even the people in Germany liked Hitler and his policies as he brought Germany back to economic power.  They didn’t know what a monster he was until it was too late and then everyone who opposed him feared to speak out. But even without something as radical as these examples you could find yourself caught up in the thousands of laws on the Federal Law books, most of which you probably know nothing about.  Are you absolutely positive you have never broken the law or violated a tax code? Unless you have lived a very sheltered life I doubt anyone is completely innocent even though you may think you are.  If targeted by the US Government, or just someone in that government, you could find yourself behind bars.

The only way to keep this from happening is if the people are vigilant in limiting the power of the government and actively protesting when it does step out of line.  You also must understand that most rulers usually think that what they are doing is best.  In many cases it only takes one person or a small group of people in the right places to make things turn horribly wrong.  So we need to keep that in mind when we give ANY power to those who rule us.  We need to always think of how that power could be abused and if giving that power could lead to unexpected results.  What I am saying here is that even if the Obama administration has the best intentions and noble ideas, the leader who comes next may not. Even scarier is that there are middle men in place here who actually wield this power for the government. People who you and I have not elected, but none the less now have been given tools of immense power.  Just think of Edward Snowden.  What kind of access did he have and what kind of damage could he do?  So far I believe his intentions have been noble, but believe me he has scared the crap out of people at the highest levels who don’t know what he is going to do.  What information does he have? It must be enough to frighten a lot of people.

“Thats kind of like someone who just stole a whole database of credit card numbers and got caught claiming he didn’t do anything illegal since he hadn’t used any of them yet.”

So let me now paint a picture of what could happen.  I base my scenario on my experience with computers and my knowledge of databases as well as a good imagination.  But this scenario is very possible.  In fact it has played out on smaller scales many times before.  The difference is that with the technology we have today, and with what the NSA is building, the ramification are far reaching and terrifying.  Lets start our scenario by assuming that the NSA has been recording and logging every phone call placed in the US.  To each of these phone calls is attached what we call metadata: phone numbers, duration, and the account holders of each phone.  Since our calls are not digital, its also easy to save an entire phone conversation as an MP3 music file on your iPod.  The NSA is actually building a facility with enough power to do this.  They claim they will only look at the meta data and only access the logged call if its part of a terrorist investigation.  (I will get to the legality of that later.)  Now lets look at the next presidential race.  There are 10 candidates that are running for president.  The current administration wants only one candidate to win.  Using the system that the NSA has built and all of the data that is logged, they run simple queries, or searches, on the metadata to pull all of the logs of each candidate for the last 2-3 years.  They then run additional voice recognition software similar to what is used in Siri on the iPhone to look for any mention of words like sex, drugs, love, illegal, kill, or other words that might pull up an interesting conversation.

“You think spying on candidates won’t happen in the United States? Read about what happened during the Nixon administration and Watergate. “

They simply go on a fishing expedition for skeletons in the candidates closet.  Believe me, everyone has skeletons or embarrassing events in their life that would affect either them or loved ones.  Whats more, considering that there are thousands upon thousands of laws I spoke of earlier, almost everyone has broken some law they didn’t know about.  So one by one they find dirt on each candidate and either “leak” it to the press or just simply outright blackmail the candidate to step down or they will hurt either them or a loved one.  Thus democracy is cheated and a dictatorship is born.  You think spying on candidates won’t happen in the United States? Read about what happened during the Nixon administration and Watergate.  Of course all they had were microphones and huge tape recorders not a huge data complex that has recorded every telephone and electronic communication in the world.  So now even though you didn’t do anything illegal, it has affected you.  You have lost your ability to vote.

So lets look at the legality of collecting this data.  From a Constitutional standpoint the government must have just cause to search you or your property.  Our founding fathers put this in the Constitution because they knew first hand from the British the problems of giving the authorities the ability to just barge in on fishing expeditions.  Even if they found nothing, they left the place turned upside down.  Now the Obama administration has said that they don’t look at the data unless they are doing a search.  Thats kind of like someone who just stole a whole database of credit card numbers and got caught claiming he didn’t do anything illegal since he hadn’t used any of them yet.  Just the act of gathering the data without permission is illegal.

The scariest part of allowing the government or any entity to create and collect a database like this is that there isn’t any real transparency and there isn’t any way of really knowing how it is being used.  Everything happens on a computer screen away from prying eyes.  Would we ever really know when this data was being used.  By simply accessing the system and typing in a query ANY user can access the data in seconds.  Its just not secure.  The mere fact that Snowden was able to walk off with any data is evidence of this.

Plain and simple this is a Pandora’s box that we don’t want open and the sooner we put a lid on it the better.  The only way this is going to happen is if our elected leaders fear being reelected by the people more than they fear the power of the NSA.




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Copyright 2010 Andrew McClary