Big Brother really can be watching you


The National Security Agency, the top-secret U.S. electronic eavesdropping agency, has access to your e-mails, Internet searches and data files if you use Google, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook or any of the other major e-mail, search, video or communications services.

The program, called Prism, was revealed by The Guardian newspaper in London.  The Guardian also broke news of a secret court order to Verizon to turn over call records to the NSA.  Presumably this is the tip of the iceberg.   The call records will give the NSA clues on who to check, the Prism program will give the capability of surveillance.   I wonder if the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News use Verizon or some other service.

Julian Assange of Wikileaks, reviewing a book entitled The New Digital Age in last Sunday’s New York Times, wrote that Google’s technology epitomizes the death of privacy and the advance of authoritarianism.  He may have written more truly than he realized (or maybe not).

This same weak the court-martial of Bradley Manning began at Fort Meade, Md., home of the NSA.   The principle on which Manning was court-martialed is that the U.S. government has a right to keep its activities secret from the people.   The principle on which the NSA operates is that the people have no right to privacy from the government.   Neither principle is compatible with American freedom as I was brought up to believe in it.

Click on NSA Prism program taps into user data from Apple, Facebook and others for the Guardian Prism article by Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill.

Click on NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily for the Guardian Verizon article by Glenn Greenwald.

Click on Obama orders US to draw up overseas target list for cyber-attacks for another Guardian expose by Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill.

Click on On whistleblowers and government threats of leak investigations for Glenn Greenwald’s thoughts on what it all means.

Click on Invert Your Premise for pointed comment by “B Psycho” on what’s at stake.

Click on The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ for Julian Assange’s review of The New Digital Age.

Glenn Greenwald is an American constitutional lawyer who started a blog about civil liberties issues in 2005.  He became a contributing writer for Salon in 2007, and a columnist for The Guardian in London in 2012.   I think it is a scandal that no American newspaper had the wit or the nerve to hire him.

[Added 6/8/13]   In fairness, the Washington Post wrote an equivalent expose at the same time as The Guardian, reported some important facts not covered by The Guardian and has been doing excellent reporting on this subject.

Click on U.S., British doing data mining from 9 US Internet companies in broad secret program for the Post’s report.   The Post also reported the Verizon surveillance.

[Added 6/9/13]  I am not opposed to the National Security Agency or the other intelligence agencies.  I think they have a legitimate function, which they should perform within the law including the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

[Added 6/14/13]  Click on Edward Snowden and the selective targeting of leaks for observations by Jack Shafer of Reuters on how common and acceptable it is for government officials to leak secret information that is favorable to the government or to themselves.

[Added 6/19/13]  Click on You’ve Heard Government and Corporations Are Spying.  But Do You Have Any Idea How Widespread the Spying Really Is? for an extremely comprehensive report and set of links on the State of Globe web site.

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5 Responses to “Big Brother really can be watching you”

  1. Joshua Says:

    Mr. Ebersole,
    The timing of this revelation has coincidently/conveniently altered the terms of the debate between the Chinese government and our nation. It would be blatantly hypocritical for Washington to suggest that only those elements within the Chinese government are engaged in industrial espionage, when Apple has been captured by the NSA, along with Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and many others in Silicon Valley, according to an article typed up by John Gapper with the Financial Times. I can only picture the Annenburg house as a cloudy opium den with frank negations to anything top secret. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this.


  2. philebersole Says:

    You’re right. Americans lecture the Chinese government on the rule of law, international human rights treaties, tolerance of business corruption, the evils of cyber-warfare and so on, when the U.S. government does all these things.

    But I don’t think Americans who speak this way are conscious hypocrites. Rather it is the mental process that George Orwell called doublethink, believing two contradictory things at the same time. In one mode, we think of ourselves as a Constitutional democracy which sets an example for the rest of the world; in another mode, we think of the Bill of Rights as a utopian ideal with no relevance to the real world.

    I guess there are worse things than being a hypocrite. Most Americans think we still live in the land of the free because most of us are not personally affected, or not aware of being affected, by our emerging police state, except in minor ways (i.e., airport security).

    As long as we Americans pay lip service to the principle of the rule of law, we are not completely lost. The tipping point will come if and when we reject democracy and freedom in principle as well as in practice.

    The Chinese elite think that their authoritarian Confucian tradition is a better and more successful model than the U.S. system. Americans are not going to change their minds by lecturing them, but only by demonstrating in practice that our system is better.


  3. Atticus Says:

    Phil, I am so happy you posted something about this. From your experience is this unlike anything you’ve ever heard of? I mean this has to be off the charts in terms of Government intrusion and invasion of liberty in such a scale. I wasn’t alive for other events in history, but it just feels like this is something big, something unique. How do you feel about it or is this more of the same?


  4. philebersole Says:

    Atticus, back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, I would never have thought, at my most pessimistic, that the United States would be where it is today.

    I remember Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon and the Iran-Contra scandal. What’s different between then and now is that there was push-back (not always successful, it is true) against abuses of power. The charges on which Nixon was impeached seem trivial compared to what is going on today.

    In the American past, we have had slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, vigilantism, mob violence and arbitrary arrests of unpopular radicals, so it is not as if the United States has always upheld civil liberties.

    But the cold, bureaucratic, all-embracing Homeland Security state is something new in this country—at least it is outside my knowledge and experience.



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