Prism: It’s been hiding in plain sight

Well, here it is.  After weeks, months, and even years,   the scandal has arrived.  The scandal that may forever tarnish the Obama presidency:  Prism, the top-secret NSA surveillance program that has been harvesting data from nearly every social network service and the world’s leading internet companies.  Your personal information and mine and that of everyone you know is being hoovered up and examined and gleaned for whatever information the NSA considers pertinent.  This is governmental overreach at its worst. An overwhelming example of the “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” adage.

Even President Obama, who campaigned on being the antithesis of George W. Bush and everything he stood for, is not immune to its pull.  Had this occurred during Obama’s first term, I would have to give serious consideration to something I swore, from the day I turned eighteen, I would never do:  abstain from voting in a Presidential election.  This, to me, is an absolute dealbreaker.

And yet, I don’t feel the outrage that is very much justified coming from the media or the populace.  On Yahoo! News this morning the first Prism-related article was an astounding 55 headlines in, one of only three on the entire page, which seemed to be dominated by WWDC speculation and television gossip.  Network news has given it little more than a cursory glance.  On most of the major news channels the story garnered perhaps five minutes of coverage per half-hour, the ironic exception being the opinion programs of that liberal bastion MSNBC, which stayed on the story slightly longer.  Hours upon hours of news coverage has been spent on tempests-in-teacups like the IRS and Benghazi.  Now here’s the real thing being handed to them on a plate, and the response has been superficial at best.  It’s touched on briefly and then abandoned.

The reaction of the average citizen is even more frustrating.  Most people either just shrug as if to say “It’s not surprising but it’s out of my hands,” or they take the stance of  “Well, if that’s what it takes to catch the bad guys, so be it.”  Where is the attention and the anger this story deserves?  Is this the “boy who cried ‘wolf'” effect?  Have we all become so overloaded with pseudo-scandals that we fail to see the genuine article when it’s right in front of us?  Has Edward Snowden given up his life and, most likely, his freedom for nothing?  Is he martyring himself for the good of a public that just doesn’t seem to give a damn?

“NSA is focussed on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible… Increasingly we see that it’s happening domestically. The NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone, it ingests them by default, it collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time … While they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst at any time can target anyone…”

— Edward Snowden

It would be nice to think this is being done just for purposes of national security (although the effectiveness of this type of blanket surveillance is questionable), but honestly, do we really think it’ll stop there?  What else could this information be used for?  Could you suddenly find yourself under the scrutiny of your insurance company for a condition for which you haven’t even sought treatment?  Or perhaps for your choice of weekend past-time, such as rock-climbing or motorcycle racing?  The stories of the FBI tracking library records have been around for decades — what types of records could they be keeping now?  Is there a file on you out there somewhere, detailing your Facebook posts, your Google searches, the YouTube videos you watch . . . and the  other types of videos you watch?  This is the very definition of a slippery slope.

Right now this story is relatively self-contained, but the vastness of this violation of privacy is such that it   will be abused.  There are probably abuses and plans for abuses happening right now as you read this.  When those stories are exposed — when it finally becomes clear that your private life is anything but — will people’s indignation finally be awakened?  And will it come too late to spark change? I’m watching…they’re watching.

  1. NSA’s Prism Surveillance Program:  How It Works and What It Can Do
  2. UP with Chris Hayes on MSNBC
  3. Why Edward Snowden is a hero : John Cassidy @ New Yorker Blog
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