The whistleblower Edward Snowden has been getting global attention lately for spilling the beans on the “secret” NSA program called PRISM, which allegedly siphons off data from most of the U.S.’s major internet service providers, both internet and telephone, into a vast database for later collating. As I’m sure you already know, Mr. Snowden suggests that at the click of a few keystrokes he can read all your personal data.
I’m quite sure this is real. I’m also quite sure this has been going on for some time. Growing up, I do recall the rumor that if you said the words “bomb” and “president” on the phone, an automatic system would record your call and pass that up to the proper authority for investigation. This was the 80s. I have no idea if this was true or not, but I do know that I had heard about the PRISM program long before Mr. Snowden “leaked” this information. In an interview in October 2012, I mentioned the “the gargantuan data center in Utah the NSA is building to track and store all of our communications.” I had heard about it through Slashdot.org, as I recall, and I believe I even Tweeted about it. My friend who works in IT told me that he knew some folks who procured the hardware the NSA uses to siphon off data.
My point is that the fact that the NSA is recording all our data is not new and it was most certainly not a secret before Mr. Snowden “leaked” this information to the public. But the public and media have reacted in outrage at this sudden revelation that all of our data could be read by some entity that has no accountability to anyone, and said entity therefore having great power.
Let’s put aside the legality and privacy concerns for a moment (and there are many; but the internet is aflurry with people discussing that, so I won’t add to that here.). Let’s consider the possibility that the world’s most secretive and powerful covert organization somehow allowed a thirty-year old hacker to reveal all its closely guarded secrets. Yes, it is possible, given the level of technology, that one man with one well-connected laptop might have the capability to see into anyone’s personal lives. But I wonder, given the NSA’s relative silence on this, if something else is afoot.
In military terms, a PsyOp, or Psychological Operation is a “planned operation to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.” (source: Wikipedia) We also know from the Iraq war that the US government admitted the possibility of using such coercive tactics against its own populace. In other words, we are a potential target of manipulation just as any foreign “entity” might be.
I’m not saying this is the case, that the Snowden leak is a PsyOp. I’m merely suggesting this as a possibility and evaluating the consequences if it were true. When considering if something is a PsyOp, that is, something created in order to influence mass opinion, I look at the results. What has happened now that Snowden has leaked his information? Well, there’s a lot of discussion of privacy, of legality, and moral outrage. But there’s something more sinister percolating under the surface: fear. What I’m talking about is the possible self-censorship that will now take place in such a culture of Big Brother is Watching.
Now with the Snowden leak, everyone in the world knows this: your government(s) are watching you. They are recording your every move, so be careful! Don’t do anything that might draw unwanted attention! What I’m worried about is this insidious kind of self-censorship, the individual who is curious about something but fears that accessing that something on the internet might lead to him/her being a “target.” This will result, when averaged over a large population, in a moderation of viewpoints, a narrowing of focus toward one ideal: that of what the state ultimately wants, because anything outside of what the state wants is subject to you being a target of their ever-watchful eye.
Now, this is pure conjecture. It may be that Snowden is a young, morally courageous man who saw something horrendous going on and felt the desire to speak out about it. It could be that all the facts presented to us are true at face value. But when dealing with the NSA and the kind of power they wield, I wonder if something else is going on. And I believe firmly that you should too. They’ve already admitted to lying to us.
Perhaps this is all paranoia. But I wonder which is worse, being suspicious of a government that just admitted to unrestricted spying on all its citizens, or brushing your suspicious aside and saying that there’s nothing to worry about. You know, keep calm and carry on. Just don’t visit that website, because you know who is most definitely watching.