By Nathan Barton
Ron Paul recently discussed the latest report by the NSA on their domestic surveillance program: they monitored half-a-billion domestic phone calls and text messages in 2017.
Now, that sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But after all, there are 330 million of us living here in the Fifty States. So that is less than one and a half messages or phone calls for each one of us. Of course, that includes men, women and children. And all those folks who don’t have phones or texting – a couple thousand at least! And even three-year-olds make phone calls, right?
So let us say that is only 200 million Americans that make/receive phone calls and send/get text messages. My, oh my. That means that the Feds (NSA is of course a federal alphabet agency) might be snooping on 2-3 conversations (on average) each year for each of us. (I sent/got more than 600 phone calls last month, and about 900 texts.)
That is not bad, but there are some big assumptions and caveats involved:
- Is the NSA really telling the truth? Maybe it is a billion or two billion or ten billion?
- Are they spying on everyone equally?
- If it is not equal-opportunity snooping, how are they deciding who to spy on?
- How many other alphabet soup agencies are also spying on us and get a half-billion (or more) hits on their snooping software?
- What do they DO with the information?
- What do other people/agencies/nations do with the information?
Don’t you think these are all worthwhile questions? Important questions?
After all, please name for me just TEN government agencies that don’t lie. Please! And I don’t mean the old chestnut about ‘Hi, we’re here to help you.” Government agencies and their bosses (especially their political elected/appointed ones) lie. It is part of their DNA. Really, even when they are telling the truth, they are lying much of the time.
(There are, I understand, three ways to lie: Don’t tell the truth, don’t tell ALL the truth, and tell the truth in a way that it appears to be false.)
And we know, by and large, that they probably aren’t listing in to Aunt Susy’s calls to the vet about Mittens, or looking at Bobby Jo’s sexting pictures to Joe Bob. (Except, of course, that there are perverts and cat-haters in federal agencies like anyplace else.) They are listening to a LOT of calls from a fairly small percentage of the population. (Certainly not more than 40 or 50%.) And very few if any from the vast majority of us. (Remember, these are federal bureaucrats and politicians: a landslide victory is 54%!)
And we know that they are sharing the information far and wide – both on purpose and because there are ALWAYS listeners listening to the listeners. (The NSA may not give two hoots for Mittens, but if NSA staffer GS-5 Guido’s Uncle Vinny is a lobbyist for the National Patriotic Association of Money-Grubbing Small-Critter Veterinarians… And of course the French and Brits and Mexicans and those guys that break people’s kneecaps when they get behind on the protection payments.)
We like to think that the numbers will protect us. “Who wants to listen to me as a small-mouthed pacifist rabble-rouser when they’ve got five million Islamists and two million neo-Nazis and whole Democratic delegation to Congress to listen to? They don’t have ten thousand guys wearing earbuds and glued to computer screens with feeds from Verizon and T-Mobile.”
But the truth is, the technology is there to filter out whatever they want. If you talk about how the latest concert of your teenage son’s garage band totally bombed, or even if it WAS “the bomb,” you could be several hundred of those billion conversations/messages all by yourself. Or if you casually mention to your mom how Abdul down the street is a dirty old man, and the NSA programmer’s boy-friend is a regular attendee at training classes down at the St. Dowud Mosque, you might find your name and address showing up in some interesting places.
With modern technology, there is not safety in numbers. C.W. McCall’s Convoy is not en masse protection from greedy bears and their scales and (electronic) ticket books. They will and do wait to pick you off when you are stopped with a flat on a lonely stretch of road 30 miles from the next town, or exit.
So take Ron Paul’s (and Mama’s and my) warnings seriously: we have no privacy from government that we do not create for ourselves. And not only not from government but from anyone who can hack or has a buddy in a government system. Or a special relationship with someone in Cairo or Tehran – or London or Madrid or Ottawa.
Ben Franklin’s advice, stamped on an early American coin, is sage: Mind Your Business.
Right. We should assume that our phone conversations and email are being captured, stored, and run through automated filters designed to identify people the government doesn’t like. Same, of course, with columns (whether written “anonymously” or not) and comments to columns (whatever name one uses to comment).
That’s the bad news. The good news is, secure message apps are available. Or one can PGP encrypt a file and send it. Or use steganography to embed information in a larger file, while concealing that anything is being hidden.
The tools available to the good guys (we the people) are actually more powerful than the tools available to the bad guys (government thugs). It’s easier to write and use a solid encryption/decryption program than it is to break into a well-encrypted data stream.