font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

NSA and Snowden activity have changed our online and telephone habits

I’ve just read a terrific article written by Suzanne Nossel from CNN. She discusses how the NSA and the Snowden affair have already changed the way that the public and writers have curbed what they discuss on the phone and what they put out over social media. I want to discuss the implications of the NSA and Snowden’s actions with everyone.

I don’t have an opinion on the actions of Mr. Snowden. I see pros and cons in the whole affair. What does bother me is the effect that it seems to have on the public and the press.

I agree with Ms. Nossel that Snowden probably had no idea that the fall-out, from his actions, was going to be this bad. Maybe he figured, naively, that it would get the administration to change their tactics in their intelligence gathering. To be sure, no one can read his mind. What we can discuss are the after effects and how they have changed people’s actions.

Nonetheless, there have been International repercussions that have embarrassed the United States. With the discovery that Heads of State, Angela Merkel for one, were having their cell phones gleaned for information, the International community has come to realize that a lot of this was done under the guise of mining for terrorism information. Because of these revelations, the United Nations has started an investigation into the U.S.’s actions. Yet, with the fact that we run the United Nations, NOTHING OF SUBSTANCE WILL EVER COME OF THIS INVESTIGATION.

Going into the time when Mr. Snowden revealed all his information, we all know that a good many of us were concerned over just what it was that the “G” was collecting and from whom they were collecting it. As the years went by, small “bits” of information were getting out that “Islamic fundamentalists” weren’t the only people the N.S.A. was “bugging” for information.  Initially, I think just about everyone was “on-board” with the new legislation that was enacted in order to fight the “War on Terror”. Yes, the A.C.L.U. was against the legislation, but that’s what they do. Believe me; we all should be glad that that is what they do. We need somebody to act as the “devil’s advocate” for things such as this. What most of us didn’t think about though, was the fact that once the “G” takes something away, WE NEVER GET IT BACK! NEVER! As much as we came to accept these laws, and as much as we figured that they were here for a while, I don’t think a lot of us understood that they weren’t coming off the books. Slowly but surely, Americans started to change what they said on the phone and what they posted on their favorite social networking sites. Most of us never even realized that it was happening. Over time, this “surveillance” has changed the way U.S. citizens express themselves! As the saying goes, “doing something for seven days makes it a habit” and most of us now don’t even realize that we “self-monitor” what we put out to even our closest friends. It’s automatic now.

According to a PEW RESEARCH survey, about half of Americans support the NSA programs of surveillance! Many people in favor of these programs seize on a survey like this to point to the fact that the American public is behind the NSA on this topic. What they forget is the fact that, if half the public supports these programs, the OTHER HALF DOESN’T SUPPORT THEM! Many of us realize that the information that is needed in this “War” could be seized with the same laws that we had in place BEFORE 9/11. This includes the “F.I.S.A.” law, which has been in effect since 1979. What we need to understand is the fact that over the last 15-20 years, the public has given up on trying to fight the Government. We’ve become complacent when it comes to issues that oppress us, the stealing of our Civil Rights. As Ms. Nossel so beautifully writes, ‘Some Americans' relative nonchalance toward the government prying into e-mails and calls we long thought were private may stem in part from knowing that we have already ceded so much of our privacy voluntarily. Social media, online shopping, and simple browsing have become semi-public acts. It's hard to know who can see what, and worrying about it can stand in the way of buying a birthday present, posting a great photo or getting your taxes done.’(under-lining added) And she’s right. But, just because I’ve decided to relinquish my right to privacy, doing something that I enjoy, doesn’t mean that I should accept the Government taking those same rights away because they want to keep tabs on every Tom, Dick and Jane that they chose! Furthermore, the chance that any average Joe will ever find out whether they were denied something, anything, because of what they’ve tweeted or posted to a social networking site are nil. We were lucky that the Church commission was able to uncover the information that the F.B.I. was keeping on people they considered radicals. Believe me; the government will NEVER make that mistake again.

Another point that Ms. Nossel makes is this; she writes, ‘When the Snowden story first broke, Obama claimed that the newly exposed programs had foiled 50 terrorist plots. After reading through a classified list of the thwarted assaults, Sen. Patrick Leahy called the figure "plainly wrong.”  In the few cases where details have been released, journalists and intelligence experts have argued that the evidence gathered through surveillance could have been obtained in other ways, or wasn't crucial.’ This again goes to the point that all the information that we need to fight this “War” can easily be done with the laws that were in place at the time of 9/11. What needed to be done was to put to an end the rivalries and the childish bickering that was occurring between the different intelligence agencies that were tasked with collecting this information. There were even rivalries between different F.B.I. offices that were thwarting the sharing of information that could have stopped this attack BEFORE it even took wings! A great example of this is the story of an agent in one of the western offices who sent a memo to a department head about certain men of “Arab” decent who were taking flying lessons. One of these men was so bold as to tell his instructor that he only wanted to learn how to take-off and fly the plane. He didn’t NEED TO KNOW HOW TO LAND THE PLANE!! Well, the instructor thought that something wasn’t right about this guy and he called the F.B.I. After 9/11, it came to light that this memo was left on the dept. head’s desk and never sent to the people that it needed to be sent to. All we needed was a re-vamping of the way all the info was collected and sent to the right people.

Let’s now discuss what these “surveillance” issues have done to writers and journalists. Many journalists have admitted to turning down assignments because they might be subjects that are too sensitive. They are afraid that something that they write about might be gathered in by the N.S.A. and they may be the subject of some kind of investigation. Now, many of us might say, “They are writers; they’re protected by the rights of the press.” Let me remind you of one of the tactics used by the police or any other agency that has the ability to take away your freedom, for weeks at a time, before you see a judge. They know that people don’t like to be inconvenienced. Therefore, these agencies threaten to arrest (even if they know you are innocent) anyone doing OR writing anything that they don’t like. With the fact that there is often no bail on any kind of “terrorism” charge, it could be weeks before that individual would see a judge who MIGHT throw the case out but most likely will be told NOT to do that AND not to impose a bond so that the person stays behind bars! Who, but some of the most incredible people of our time (Rosa Parks, M.L.K.), are willing to have their freedom taken from them like that. Believe me, it will and probably has happened. Journalists are the most important people in our society when it comes to keeping the “G” honest. When things like this are threatened, nobody is safe.

We know that most journalists have stronger constitutions (character) than the average person because exposing wrongdoing is what they’ve chosen as a career path. There are tons of examples, over the years, where the courts have protected the journalist from individuals or institutions wanting to curb their right to “free speech” or from having to expose their sources. Unfortunately, over the last 12 years or so, journalists have had these protections slowly vanish. The dangers of these new attacks on the press are starting to show. There are now subjects that some journalists simply refuse to examine. Who knows what the outcome will be, over time, as we “forget” about these situations that normally would have been exposed because of our unique protection of speech.

During the 2008 and 2012 elections, I honestly thought that electing another “old white guy” wasn’t going to change the culture of deceit that had become the Government of the United States. I also honestly thought that electing Obama would go a long way towards changing THAT culture of deceit. Boy, was I wrong! I simply FORGOT about ALL THE OTHER “OLD WHITE GUYS”, in the congress, THAT WEREN’T GOING TO ALLOW THAT CHANGE to happen! What I find so repulsive is the fact that, when you think about it, OUR government has lumped US in with the likes of IRAN, NORTH KOREA and the TERRORISTS! The citizens of the United States have their phones tapped and their social network sites monitored just like the Taliban! Because of our INITIAL sense of patriotism, we’ve slowly allowed our government, OUR GOVERNMENT, to highjack our rights. Rights, which we’ll never get back again. So much for, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people...”

And that’s, “As I understand it now... ‘til it changes”. Let me know what you think.

Thank you, Michael K. Stichauf