Get PJ Media on your Apple

Faster, Please!

The Information Revolution and the Snooping State

July 8th, 2013 - 7:23 pm

One of my favorite bits of wisdom about the modern world goes “the information revolution happened and the information won.” We’re drowning in information. We can read most any newspaper and watch most any TV program anywhere in the world at any hour of the day or night. We can find out what so and so thinks about most anything, and we can even check to see if he has changed his mind over the years.  We can also find out virtually anything we want to know about a person’s health, income, job, diet, religion, reading habits…whatever.  I’m not talking about the IRS or the NSA-acting-as-FBI-proxy;  these data are all over the place, from Utah to Canada to Googleland (don’t forget that “Google is Hal”). (h/t James Burt, who commented on the MIT Technology Review site).

The good news, so to speak, is that there is so much information, our abilities to sort it out are overwhelmed.  Paradoxically, we’ve probably got more to worry about from the Department of Education than from the National Security Agency.

We are rightly enraged to discover that the IRS snoops into the reading and prayer habits of Obama’s political opponents, and that the NSA-acting-as-FBI-proxy intercepts and stores all the phone calls and emails it can get its virtual claws on.  But it’s not just the national security agencies and the tax men that do this.  Companies trying to identify likely customers do it.  They also do it to real and potential competitors.  Hackers do it, sometimes for their own excitement, sometimes on commission.  And “educators” do it too, even to kindergarteners.

Snooping is rampant. Sometimes it’s super high-tech, sometimes it’s traditional.  Sometimes it’s good for us, as when terror plots are found and prevented, and when fraud is discovered and the criminals are punished.  Sometimes it’s bad for us, as when some wicked person, in or outside government, uses our once-private information to shake us down, or intimidate us.

Or ruin us.

No person can survive a detailed biographical inquiry.  We’ve all done things we shouldn’t, and we’ve failed to do things we should.  Those stories, especially if artfully presented, can destroy any candidate or public official.  That’s why public figures don’t want their lives–the whole of them–presented to the electorate.  And it’s why there’s a profession known as “opposition research,” which engages a considerable number of IT-savvy people who search relentlessly for damaging information about their actual and potential political opponents.  And it’s also why famous people, like the president, have taken extraordinary steps to conceal certain details of their lives.

It didn’t start that way, but inevitably, like so much of our world, it became politicized.  Modern snooping achieved lift-off velocity in two areas:  commerce and national security.  The private sector found there was money to be made in that pile of data.  Once they knew “who you were” (that is, what you would buy) they could target you with offers to buy things that you were really and truly interested in.  And the IT guys could sell this information to the marketing guys.  Everybody could make money.  It worked.  It was irresistible.

The State couldn’t very well stay out of that game;  indeed, they’d been playing for decades, albeit on a smaller field.  When I was in government in the 1980s, we snooped a lot, or so it seemed.  I got a lot of NSA material dealing with subjects of concern to my work, and we, usually in tandem with the FBI, would sometimes ask for wiretaps on (almost always) foreigners we believed were out to damage the nation.  Yes, there was a FISA  Court, and that court usually approved our requests (not always, however;  I remember one case that flabbergasted us when we were denied permission to tap the phones of a foreign “diplomat” from the Soviet bloc).  But they were specific requests concerning specific individuals.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
This wouldn't be a problem of such magnitude if, as the means of gathering information has expanded into infinity, the national character hasn't been degraded into a small, puny nugget of sludge. It isn't the accumulation of personal data that's frightening us as much as the motives of the bureaucratic creeps who are doing the accumulating.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (35)
All Comments   (35)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Who could be concerned about the cover story of "we want to tailor our education to the needs of each individual student"? Really? Seems like maybe we want to be able to make sure we have all the information we need to control and or blackmail each and every citizen. BUT that wouldn't sell so like everything else that comes from these PROGRESIVES it is cloaked in a lie. It is afterall just for the children.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"these data"

Thank you for that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is the good side. If someone is to do me wrong, I can turn my cell phone on and record. Also, I think the police have had to change their methods; casual brutality is likely to be recorded. (And yes, there was a lot of that; it woudl be interesting to learn if civil rights and law enforcement really are compatible.)

Please remember the Linda Tripp, who life was ruined (among countless others) by the Clintons, was prosecuted at the insistence of the Maryland State Legislature using a law explicitly passed to protect corrupt politicians (as per longtime Baltimore newsman Fank Luber).

In many cases, the privacy laws should be loosened, not strengthened, so you and I can protect ourselves from government officials and others who might do us harm.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"No person can survive a detailed biographical inquiry. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t, and we’ve failed to do things we should. "

And please note that Hilary Clinton, who may be our next President, obtained ALL of that information on her opponents at the start of the Clinton presidency. Filegete, remember? This is fact.

It doesn't take high-tech.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Michael, how true to life was "The Brotherhood of the Rose"? It saw Robert Mitchum as a deputy director of the CIA?

Thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
dunno. i guess i better see it, huh?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It certainly was believable when a greenhouse that was used by Mitchum was blown up, and then he resigned from his post. It seems he kept a lot of information below it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"This (classic McCarthyite) campaign "


Um, Mr. Ledeen, I think you got this backwards. This is a Stalinist campaign.


McCarthy was right.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I’m just saying that having a list of all the phone numbers called by bin Laden or Zawahiri probably doesn’t get us useful information about their mafia."

Actually, that data set does get us useful information about their mafia. It's having a list of all the phone numbers called by your phone or mine that does nothing to prevent terrorism.

And unfortunately, the latter is what we seem to have signed up to with the Patriot Act.

Businesses get to see us as data sets and targets. They can't use force to make us do anything, and they can be prosecuted for misusing our information.

"Government" can't be prosecuted -- only individual officials can be prosecuted, and the US does no better at that than any other nation has -- but government can most definitely use force to make us do things. We signed up in 1913 with the income tax for government seeing us as a manipulable data set. But we shouldn't have. Government has too much power to be allowed to see us that way. Even when we're fighting terrorism, government should always be constrained to see every US person as a holder of unalienable rights, and not as something filtered out by a sifting of data sets.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
amen
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Slight correction: with the EXPANSION of the Patriot Act. Obama expanded it when he renewed it. Republicans went along, so they are culpable, too; but the Patriot Act we have today is NOT the same one Bush signed into law.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
true. but i worried a lot about the first one already. testified against it, in fact...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, it's not. That one was plenty bad enough, and the one we have is the predicted offspring of the original.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is absolutely egregious that Obama Inc feigns concern over terror to justify snooping/spying on ALL Americans. For if their intent was to thwart plots, then how come the most intrinsic piece to the puzzle has been gutted? - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/06/18/the-purging-an-omerta-re-islam-terror-within-americas-power-centers-eviscerates-nsas-domestic-spying-say-what-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/

So the question becomes:What are they up to? Does a "dissidents" list" sound far fetched? Not exactly.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My worry is that the IT types who built NSA's data collecting system either left a back door into it or the Soros Junta has opened a back door into it. I'm thinking all the stories about the volunteer nerds and dedicated college students building the database that made the Obama Campaign's GOTV in "battleground" states so effective was really just a legend to cover for the fact that the database is a highly centralized operation that mines NSA data and which is now in the hands of OFA. Funny how they got just the right number of votes in just the right places. It isn't much of a step to take such date and completely fabricate a person that "looks" real and have them registered to vote, vote absentee, or use that identity for the voting crews that ride around from polling place to polling place. The propaganda about how voter ID is suppressing minority votes has worn thin with 110% turnout in some minority precincts. They've now developed a way to provide authentic ID for fake voters. If that is true, there will never be another honest election anywhere in the Country. It would also explain why the Junta has been so dedicated to protecting HRC, the apparent chosen successor, and equally apparently a Soros asset though not a willing one. Remember it was the Junta that leaked the info about the IRS targetting conservative groups; heard much about Benghazi since? Ben who? If anything sticks to HRC that drives her poll numbers down too far, they can't credibly steal the '16 election and continue the "transformation" unabated. They have to maintain the illusion that we are still a functioning republican democracy while still being able to manipulate elections as necessary to always win, close, but convincingly. If HRC is at 30% in the polls, getting 51% on election day would strain the credulity of even LIVs and they wouldn't be able to so easily dismiss people like me as paranoid sexists and racists.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They don't need a back door, Art.

They own the front door.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Do they, really? This is classified stuff; it doesn't work the way the IRS does, not are the programmers and language experts likely to think the same way.

IAnd I can't imagine there woudl be a back door; this is NSA, not AT&T.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't know why you can't imagine a back door. There isn't a government computer system in the Country that isn't being used improperly by somebody either in IT or at the end user level. I always assumed that anything I wrote on a network computer would be in the hands of a union or political adversary before it got to the intended recipient. For most of my career, the only things I ever did on the network were final versions of formal documents that were to be released as public record and documents intended for deception and disinformation. By the time I was far enough up the chain to be involved in policy making, I resisted requests for briefing and decision memos and if forced to do them, did them either at home or not on the network and made canary copies so I could tell who leaked them.

Give me access to money, toys, or a pretty women with negotiable virtue, and I'll find some computer weenie to give up whatever I want. Background checks and security clearances are like locks; they're for honest people and dogs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
good comment, though hard to read. Paragraphs, my friend, really help these tired old eyes and slow brain.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The overstepping of bounds by government can always be corrected under Rule-7.62 -
sometimes that's the only way such corrections can be effective!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So even the "blood of patriots" people have gone metric?

That's scary.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To apply the 7.62 rule would be no solution, it would be the end of everything, the descent into the maelstrom, the failure of civilization, not its salvation. The only way to preserve a world in which my grandchildren and yours can live in some measure of freedom and opportunity is to hold the line as best we can by constitutional means for one more year, at which time we can elect a new senate - an ever greater likelihood - and then install a new president by constitutional means. If the election were held now, Obama could not win the office of dogcatcher. The rest of the Democratic leadership is getting old and have by now exposed themselves through the failure of their policies, on all fronts foreign and domestic. They have "PAST" written across their foreheads - even Hillary. The Republicans are full of youth and vigor, the Tea Party is winning - not losing - its cause and is more savvy now than ever. 2013 is the zenith of the progressive movement, 2014 will show it in retreat. As for the electronic snooping, we will never return to the lives of privacy that we once had, not without the collapse of the Electronic Age. The New Man will live in the New World, not in our world.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All