Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Big Brother Online

For several weeks I’ve been following the various snooping scandals engulfing the Obama administration. The hacking of news reporters’computers, phone records, e-mails; the IRS intimidation of Tea Party participants and various other political opponents; the NSA/Big Brother data storage complex in Utah that we still wouldn’t know about if it hadn’t been for a whistleblower. It’s a lot to take in, and judging from the polls, Americans are none too pleased with their president.
But I have to say, none of it surprises me. For some time now, we have been living in the brave new world of electronic monitoring, and the technology is too enticing for those in power to leave lying fallow. If we use a computer or a mobile phone—and virtually all of us do so--probably most, if not all, of our daily lives are recorded somewhere.

I’ve been awaiting revelations of privacy destruction for years. As an example, since September 11, 2001, I’ve been interested in buying a copy of the Koran. I’d like to read it for myself and see just what America is up against in her murderous Islamist enemy. But I have never purchased it. I’ve always been apprehensive of my transaction being relayed to some Office of Black Boots, followed by badges knocking on my front door. Even if I paid cash, what about those surveillance cameras at the bookstore?

And speaking of cameras, last year I began receiving snail mail from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It seems they had “observed” my car on its daily commute and wanted me to participant in a long-term transportation survey. I ignored the first two communications, but reconsidered after receiving the third. The Feds already know my home address, license plate number, and daily travel route—not to mention every other iota of personal information going back to my date of birth. It might not be a good idea to irritate Big Brother, I reasoned; I may end up being audited by the IRS. So I decided to play nice and take the survey. I’m being rewarded for my time with two gift cards, one at the start of the survey and the second upon conclusion. Consequently my reading habits are now also duly recorded for the the Federal government’s scrutiny. And if they've drilled down to monitoring individual Kindles, I hope they're enjoying my progress through Book 5 of the Game of Thrones series.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, my political views lean firmly to the right. I’ve always understood that entails a certain amount of personal risk and probable surveillance, but in the spirit of ’76, I’ve persevered in my pursuit of free speech and expression. So, most likely at some future date, when I need a hip replacement or a heart stent, my name will be dropped to the bottom of the Obamacare list—if it appears at all. Well, we all have to die of something. If I had to choose, I'd just as soon die on principle.

I don’t know what, if anything, is to be done about loosening our electronic chains. But I do know the fact that I was so well prepared to receive the news of government snooping and subterfuge saddens me. Benjamin Franklin, upon the birth of the United States, remarked that what we have is "a Republic, if you can keep it.” As we are learning, that's a very big "if."