Big Brother Wants You

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Yves here. The public is still digesting the implications of the Snowden surveillance state disclosures. Quite a few press reports have mentioned the degree to which the NSA uses contractors, usually to shake fingers at “how could they not expect businesses to cut corners and hire a guy like Snowden?” But there’s been less discussion of how these contractors fit into the surveillance ecosystem. This piece by Pratap Chatterjee helps fill that gap.

Remarkably few people were paying attention when we gave our privacy away. I had a colleague who was acutely protective, with his excuse being that he’d annoyed one too many people in Russia and was still traveling with some frequency to Eastern Europe and the ‘Stans. Given how he did everything he possibly could in cash, I had a sneaking suspicion he had other motives as well. He was way too knowledgeable about encryption (as in he had a strong point of view on which versions of PGP were any good). He refused to have an internet connection at home well after it had become common (he’d use the Internet at local coffee shops and the Bloomberg library, often using their devices rather than his laptop). He’d make international phone calls using prepaid phone cards rather than having the other party’s phone number appear on his phone records. He refused to have a cell phone for the longest time. And he thought people who shopped on the Internet were insane: “Why would you give away all that information?”

He’s not looking as nutty now as he did then. And it’s hard to know what if any measures to take in our Brave New World of all surveillance all the time. The part I like the least is the idea my movements can be traced. I was already in the habit of leaving my cell at home a lot (and turned off to boot) because when I leave my computer, I often want to take a real break, and I’m doing that even more than I used to.

By Pratap Chatterjee, the executive director of CorpWatch and a board member of Amnesty International USA, and author of Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books) and Iraq, Inc. Cross posted from TomDispatch

Big Bro is watching you. Inside your mobile phone and hidden behind your web browser are little known software products marketed by contractors to the government that can follow you around anywhere. No longer the wide-eyed fantasies of conspiracy theorists, these technologies are routinely installed in all of our data devices by companies that sell them to Washington for a profit.

That’s not how they’re marketing them to us, of course. No, the message is much more seductive: Data, Silicon Valley is fond of saying, is the new oil. And the Valley’s message is clear enough: we can turn your digital information into fuel for pleasure and profits — if you just give us access to your location, your correspondence, your history, and the entertainment that you like.

Ever played Farmville? Checked into Foursquare? Listened to music on Pandora? These new social apps come with an obvious price tag: the annoying advertisements that we believe to be the fee we have to pay for our pleasure. But there’s a second, more hidden price tag — the reams of data about ourselves that we give away.  Just like raw petroleum, it can be refined into many things — the high-octane jet fuel for our social media and the asphalt and tar of our past that we would rather hide or forget.

We willingly hand over all of this information to the big data companies and in return they facilitate our communications and provide us with diversions. Take Google, which offers free email, data storage, and phone calls to many of us, or Verizon, which charges for smartphones and home phones. We can withdraw from them anytime, just as we believe that we can delete our day-to-day social activities from Facebook or Twitter.

But there is a second kind of data company of which most people are unaware: high-tech outfits that simply help themselves to our information in order to allow U.S. government agencies to dig into our past and present. Some of this is legal, since most of us have signed away the rights to our own information on digital forms that few ever bother to read, but much of it is, to put the matter politely, questionable.

This second category is made up of professional surveillance companies. They generally work for or sell their products to the government — in other words, they are paid with our tax dollars — but we have no control over them. Harris Corporation provides technology to the FBI to track, via our mobile phones, where we go; Glimmerglass builds tools that the U.S. intelligence community can use to intercept our overseas calls; and companies like James Bimen Associates design software to hack into our computers.

There is also a third category: data brokers like Arkansas-based Acxiom. These companies monitor our Google searches and sell the information to advertisers. They make it possible for Target to offer baby clothes to pregnant teenagers, but also can keep track of your reading habits and the questions you pose to Google on just about anything from pornography to terrorism, presumably to sell you Viagra and assault rifles.

Locating You

Edward Snowden has done the world a great service by telling us what the National Security Agency does and how it has sweet-talked, threatened, and bullied the first category of companies into handing over our data. As a result, perhaps you’ve considered switching providers from AT&T to T-Mobile or Dropbox to the more secure SpiderOak. After all, who wants some anonymous government bureaucrat listening in on or monitoring your online and phone life?

Missing from this debate, however, have been the companies that get contracts to break into our homes in broad daylight and steal all our information on the taxpayer’s dime. We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry whose tools are also available for those companies to sell to others or even use themselves for profit or vicarious pleasure.

So just what do these companies do and who are they?

The simplest form of surveillance technology is an IMSI catcher. (IMSI stands for International Mobile Subscriber Identity, which is unique to every mobile phone.) These highly portable devices pose as mini-mobile phone towers and can capture all the mobile-phone signals in an area.  In this way, they can effectively identify and locate all phone users in a particular place. Some are small enough to fit into a briefcase, others are no larger than a mobile phone. Once deployed, the IMSI catcher tricks phones into wirelessly sending it data.

By setting up several IMSI catchers in an area and measuring the speed of the responses or “pings” from a phone, an analyst can follow the movement of anyone with a mobile phone even when they are not in use.

One of the key players in this field is the Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corporation, which has been awarded almost $7 million in public contracts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since 2001, mostly for radio communication equipment. For years, the company has also designed software for the agency’s National Crime Information Center to track missing persons, fugitives, criminals, and stolen property.

Harris was recently revealed to have designed an IMSI catcher for the FBI that the company named “Stingray.” Court testimony by FBI agents has confirmed the existence of the devices dating back to at least 2002.  Other companies like James Bimen Associates of Virginia have allegedly designed custom software to help the FBI hack into people’s computers, according to research by Chris Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The FBI has not denied this. The Bureau “hires people who have hacking skill, and they purchase tools that are capable of doing these things,” a former official in the FBI’s cyber division told the Wall Street Journal recently. “When you do, it’s because you don’t have any other choice.”

The technologies these kinds of companies exploit often rely on software vulnerabilities. Hacking software can be installed from a USB drive, or delivered remotely by disguising it as an email attachment or software update. Once in place, an analyst can rifle through a target’s files, log every keystroke, and take pictures of the screen every second. For example, SS8 of Milpitas, California, sells software called Intellego that claims to allow government agencies to “see what [the targets] see, in real time” including “draft-only emails, attached files, pictures, and videos.” Such technology can also remotely turn on phone and computer microphones, as well as computer or cellphone cameras to spy on the target in real-time.

Charting You

What the FBI does, however intrusive, is small potatoes compared to what the National Security Agency dreams of doing: getting and storing the data traffic not just of an entire nation, but of an entire planet. This became a tangible reality some two decades ago as the telecommunications industry began mass adoption of fiber-optic technology.  This means that data is no longer transmitted as electrical signals along wires that were prone to interference and static, but as light beams.

Enter companies like Glimmerglass, yet another northern California outfit. In September 2002, Glimmerglass started to sell a newly patented product consisting of 210 tiny gold-coated mirrors mounted on microscopic hinges etched on to a single wafer of silicon.  It can help transmit data as beams of light across the undersea fiber optic cables that carry an estimated 90% of trans-border telecommunications data. The advantage of this technology is that it is dirt cheap and — for the purposes of the intelligence agencies — the light beams can easily be copied with almost no noticeable loss in quality.

“With Glimmerglass Intelligent Optical Systems (IOS), any signal travelling over fiber can be redirected in milliseconds, without adversely affecting customer traffic,” says the company on its public website.

Glimmerglass does not deny that its equipment can be used by intelligence agencies to capture global Internet traffic.  In fact, it assumes that this is probably happening.  “We believe that our 3D MEMS technology — as used by governments and various agencies — is involved in the collection of intelligence from sensors, satellites, and undersea fiber systems,” Keith May, Glimmerglass’s director of business development, told the trade magazine Aviation Week in 2010. “We are deployed in several countries that are using it for lawful interception.”

In a confidential brochure, Glimmerglass has a series of graphics that, it claims, show just what its software is capable of. One displays a visual grid of the Facebook messages of a presumably fictional “John Smith.” His profile is linked to a number of other individuals (identified with images, user names, and IDs) via arrows indicating how often he connected to each of them. A second graphic shows a grid of phone calls made by a single individual that allows an operator to select and listen to audio of any of his specific conversations. Yet others display Glimmerglass software being used to monitor webmail and instant message chats.

“The challenge of managing information has become the challenge of managing the light,” says an announcer in a company video on their public website. “With Glimmerglass, customers have full control of massive flows of intelligence from the moment they access them.” This description mirrors technology described in documents provided by Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper.

Predicting You

Listening to phone calls, recording locations, and breaking into computers are just one part of the tool kit that the data-mining companies offer to U.S. (and other) intelligence agencies.  Think of them as the data equivalents of oil and natural gas drilling companies that are ready to extract the underground riches that have been stashed over the years in strongboxes in our basements.

What government agencies really want, however, is not just the ability to mine, but to refine those riches into the data equivalent of high-octane fuel for their investigations in very much the way we organize our own data to conduct meaningful relationships, find restaurants, or discover new music on our phones and computers.

These technologies — variously called social network analysis or semantic analysis tools — are now being packaged by the surveillance industry as ways to expose potential threats that could come from surging online communities of protesters or anti-government activists. Take Raytheon, a major U.S. military manufacturer, which makes Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Maverick air-to-ground missiles, Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles. Their latest product is a software package eerily named “Riot” that claims to be able to predict where individuals are likely to go next using technology that mines data from social networks like Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter.

Raytheon’s Rapid Information Overlay Technology software — yes, that’s how they got the acronym Riot — extracts location data from photos and comments posted online by individuals and analyzes this information.  The result is a variety of spider diagrams that purportedly will show where that individual is most likely to go next, what she likes to do, and whom she communicates with or is most likely to communicate with in the near future.

A 2010 video demonstration of the software was recently published online by the Guardian.  In it, Brian Urch of Raytheon shows how Riot can be used to track “Nick” — a company employee — in order to predict the best time and place to steal his computer or put spy software on it. “Six a.m. appears to be the most frequently visited time at the gym,” says Urch. “So if you ever did want to try to get a hold of Nick — or maybe get a hold of his laptop — you might want to visit the gym at 6:00 a.m. on Monday.”

“Riot is a big data analytics system design we are working on with industry, national labs, and commercial partners to help turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation’s rapidly changing security needs,” Jared Adams, a spokesman for Raytheon’s intelligence and information systems department, told the Guardian.  The company denies that anyone has yet bought Riot, but U.S. government agencies certainly appear more than eager to purchase such tools.

For example, in January 2012 the FBI posted a request for an app that would allow it to “provide an automated search and scrape capability of social networks including Facebook and Twitter and [i]mmediately translate foreign language tweets into English.”  In January 2013, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration asked contractors to propose apps “to generate an assessment of the risk to the aviation transportation system that may be posed by a specific individual” using “specific sources of current, accurate, and complete non-governmental data.”

Privacy activists say that the Riot package is troubling indeed. “This sort of software allows the government to surveil everyone,” Ginger McCall, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Open Government program, told NBC News. “It scoops up a bunch of information about totally innocent people. There seems to be no legitimate reason to get this.”

Refining fuel from underground deposits has allowed us to travel vast distances by buses, trains, cars, and planes for pleasure and profit but at an unintentional cost: the gradual warming of our planet. Likewise, the refining of our data into social apps for pleasure, profit, and government surveillance is also coming at a cost: the gradual erosion of our privacy and ultimately our freedom of speech.

Ever tried yelling back at a security camera? You know that it is on.  You know someone is watching the footage, but it doesn’t respond to complaint, threats, or insults. Instead, it just watches you in a forbidding manner. Today, the surveillance state is so deeply enmeshed in our data devices that we don’t even scream back because technology companies have convinced us that we need to be connected to them to be happy.

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  1. Banger

    Lately, I’ve had this intuition that I need to disconnect everything. I feel we’ve gone too far in connecting to the internet, to mobile devices and to technology itself. It has nothing to do with the fact we are being spied on by officials and, worse, private companies.

    What is bothering me, I think, is that technology itself has become God-like and an entity unto itself–is the government and companies that profit from information spying on us or is the emergent whole of technology and AI doing so for its own purposes to be articulated in the coming Singularity?

    1. Adriannzinha

      Regarding the plugged-in angle and more succinctly, the notion of being overly so, look at the recent SF shooting on the muni train. The alleged shooter openly brandished his gun several times, even wiping his nose with it before killing a passenger at point blank. Up until the actual shot was fired, the passengers are entirely engrossed in their devices. This doesn’t even address the mass and nonstop surveillance angle.

      The topic is well worth exploring though it is a subject of something far beyond a comment. Still the underlying thought is unsettling and disturbing, even if the root cause is a bit less tangible.

      It could be that this is the new opium for our masses.

      1. Banger

        Shelley Turkle addresses these issues in Alone Together worth a read or at least checking out her TED talk.

        1. Adriannzinha

          I’ve seen the Turkle discussion on Ted and it’s a good starting point. A lot of it is anecdotal but I think it’s understandable in that there comparatively much less factual evidence of the effects of such media and ‘connectedness’.

          I think in many ways, there is a big social-political experiment being conducted with the rise of smartphones, social networks, and the like. I’ve seen a few tidbits and studies such as those who use facebook most tend to show patterns of isolation, etc. Still that strikes me as preliminary.

          Like automobiles in the early half of the 20th century, I imagine we haven’t begun to see the real and full impact of this huge paradigm shift. The surveillance, social isolation, and other effects are just starting to bubble to the surface.

          1. jrs

            they probably go on fb because they don’t feel connected otherwise and well it’s something – you can have lots of “friends” even if you have none (although you usually do need to have some aquaintences, coworkers, distant family, someone you met at a party once, to even have those “friends”).

          2. anon y'mouse

            even more alarming, the new paradigm being constantly shoved down our throats in college is ad hoc collaborative (ha!) work, project oriented employment (no stability, no guarantees), juggling multiple jobs, internships & volunteer spots and trying to keep one’s social life afloat all while attending school

            they are conditioning these young students that both a smart phone and a laptop/tablet are essential. without one, how would you ever get your ongoing “project” (read: work, not school) done in the snatches of free time you have between obligations. also, a car is still almost absolutely necessary to deal with far-flung meetings, half of which are timed at the last minute (no regularity in schedules)in no set location.

            to someone who likes stability, this is chaos. to the rulers, this is the ultimate in flexible workforces that they are training up here: always on call, always working, and always connected (by necessity). also, heavy training on assuming the organizational aspects on their own shoulders (you don’t have a manager. you have a task. figure out who is going to be manager on your own–generally the most anxious about the outcome). one can almost guarantee that the financial compensation for all of this is not going to be commensurate with the effort involved.

            many of my school projects are already like that now-considering the hurdles one overcomes in the organizational realm of everyone having no set place/schedule and competing obligations, the grade received is paltry even if the task is laughably easy.

            how are they selling this? being tied to a job is old-school. wanting a regularized, “normal” life is resting on one’s laurels or the new “lazy union” mentality. they want all of these people to behave just as actors do–when they aren’t in a job, they are struggling (“negotiating”) to obtain one while studying/training to maintain peak condition at mostly their own expense.

            atomized workers will not try collective bargaining. your personal network will be important, but beyond that every (wo)man for themselves, dog eat dog, and no stability.

            1. Banger

              Good comment–helps me understand a bit of what y’all are facing. My own profession (I’ve left it) was IT and we would get these projects work with people, then leave often for inexplicable reasons and not just because projects ended. Management churns, someone starts something then someone up the ladder changes course because the situation changes or a new paperwork regime demands ridiculous overhead because nobody trusts anybody—then maybe managment changes or you get bought by new investors who strip you down and then it gets bought up by some big corporation and things change again.

              Workers are jerked around and develop a bunker mentality–your job: hold onto your job and avoid change and the market, the upper management people are always pushing and pulling. Weird inexplicable things happen–projects are trashed after big investments and you’re on the street wondering WTF.

              This is the face of the new feudalism. We become serfs not to one lord but to a whole nest of them. They jugggle the spreadsheet and stuff happens.

            2. fajensen

              The rulers may overlook the fact that pretty much the same skillsets and transient, disorganised, “living on the edge”-model of working that the students are learning are also essential skills to anyone pursuing a succesful criminal enterprise, industrial espionage, subversive political movement, violent revolution, terrorism, e.t.c. – or – they may not.

              We watched the Finance Industry turning fraud into an enormously profitable businesse model, maybe we have an emergent trend here?

      2. Waking Up

        History may show that the “baby boomers” were the last generation to comprehend the importance of human contact, human interaction, and “unplugging” since many at least grew up “unplugged”.

    2. diptherio

      Disconnect everything??? Surely you jest, sir. How would you mediate your interactions with other people if you didn’t have a screen and keypad to communicate through? Your only choice would be to interact face-to-face which, I am told, is a highly unsanitary procedure. Imagine, being able to see, smell and touch the people with whom you’re communicating…and for them to be able to see, smell and touch you…ick, I feel a little queasy just thinking about it.

      Plus, imagine all the extra personal hygiene you’d have to engage in if you had to be physically present everywhere you wanted to be. How annoying! For instance, I still haven’t brushed my teeth this morning, but thanks to the interwebs that fact needn’t bother either of us. For all I know, you may not be wearing any pants, but thanks to technology I don’t have to concern myself with such matters. Truly, this is a wonderful time to be alive…[/snark]

    3. Garrett Pace

      “I feel we’ve gone too far in connecting to the internet, to mobile devices and to technology itself. It has nothing to do with the fact we are being spied on by officials and, worse, private companies.”

      I think the root problem applies universally – how passive we are in our role as a producer and consumer of digital information. They are quick to show us what we are getting by plugging in, but never to think about what we are giving up.

    4. sue

      “god-like” (surveillance);

      At one sister’s graduation from Seattle U., the keynote speaker was Peter Blatty, author of “The Exorcist.” He began by defining an earlier character, as a lesson to graduates going out into life-in less controversial, therefore less successful prose, who entered the seafood restaurant, sat down, picked up the ketchup, squirted a thin red line across his throat, fell over backwards and screamed,
      “Don’t order the swordfish!!”

      (as this gained audience attention-a great many were still entering-he began what he described as “serious dissertation”, to the great relief of good fathers assembled.) Blatty began, “When mankind finally comes together, it will not be to end hunger, or to establish world peace, it will be because they have built the world’s greatest computer. And, having built, it must be asked the first question; which will not be how to end hunger or establish peace-rather, IS THERE A GOD!? Lights will blink, numbers will flash, teletype will click-the answer will spit out of the machine: NOW THERE IS.

      With that, Blatty disappeared from the platform, to never be seen at Seattle U. again-surely never invited to keynote another graduation.

  2. Richard Lyon

    Even if there were the political will to roll back the surveillance state, which seems to be seriously lacking, I am dubious about the possibilities of exerting effective controls over the technology. By the time that regulations got developed to curtail the use of existing snooping devices, somebody would likely have come up with something new that makes those regulations obsolete.

  3. JEHR

    Yes, indeed, we in Canada owe Snowen a debt of gratitude for his work. Our spying agency, CSEC, is busy spying on the Brazilian ministry of mines and energy ( )

    NC once indicated that Canada’s mining companies were more “benign” than most or words to that effect. Apparently, 75 % of mining companies are based in Canada! ( )

    The Canadian mining industry is not an entirely responsible entity when it comes to observing human rights in countries that they work in ( )

    I don’t think that CSEC was created for industrial espionage which is what occurred here and it will take only a small step to begin spying on the residents of Canada if it is not already doing so.

    1. Adriannzinha

      Probably the most ironic twist in the entire US/CA spying on Brazil scandal is that the Brazilian administration of Dilma Rousseff categorically denied Snowden asylum. Yet here Ms. Rousseff is clutching Snowden’s leaks to prop up her flailing domestic reign in the face of justifiable public opposition while now diverting anger towards the US & CA. Not that the leaks aren’t relevant, they are, but it becomes a tool for another regime to divert public attention from its own failings.

  4. Susan the other

    Fools or knaves? “They” have known for at least 2 decades that the TBTFs have been committing massive, blatant securities fraud and other felonies. No, this is not just “immoral” behavior – this behavior is criminal. And They clearly knew all about it. Either that or they are so stupid we don’t need to worry about them. And the volatility in the stock market, or any movement in it’s corpse at all, has to be 100% synthetic or they just aren’t very good at taking action on what they surveil and their claims are BS. We already know from factual occurrences, like the hard to miss Great Financial Crisis, that everything is rigged. We have heard bits and pieces about how; and how it is all for the benefit of privateers. Where’s our benefit from all this fabulous surveillance? This could be a vast new business – using surveillance to actually protect us.

    1. Adriannzinha

      FWIW, there are a couple of pro-privacy apps that allow you to take photos on a smartphone without the usual automatic attachment of location information.

  5. Teejay

    I’m stunned and overwhelmed at the degree to which I need to be informed in order keep up with all the ways that business and government is trying to capitalize on my lack of knowledge about what’s going on around me. It seems no matter how much time and effort I put into being an informed engaged citizen, I’m way behind the curve and losing ground fast. How does the 99% ever catch up in this
    information-is-power race?

    1. jrs

      Yep and that’s just being informed, aware of what’s going on. If you’re actually supposed to do something about it, yet more time and energy. And guilt for not doing enough, and so yet more energy drained for useless guilt. It’s BS of course, you consented about as much as someone totally plastered consented to be raped, which is not at all. Meanwhile the responsible feel no guilt at all (let’s give a standing ovation for a mother we just killed).

      Still our mutual inactivity, while infinitely understandable, is not to our credit. But really this should jell into movements or nothing. You can encrypt and that non political battle might actually be worth fighting, but if everything is going to be fought piecemeal and individually we can’t win. Real movements or nothing.

      1. jrs

        If that was all a bit too vague. In concrete terms the subject was the surviellence state, we didn’t really consent to the NSA by using FB, or gmail, or not following every story years ago on Echalon or whatever.

        There’s a case to be made for not using them now that we know everything we know now, but you and I know it’s not going to change the world, don’t post on FB but they will be ever so interested in our NC posts, don’t use gmail but they’ll read all emails we don’t encrypt anyway, encrypt and they’ll try to crack it though I don’t know if they can which is why I said encryption has some promise. That’s why except for encryption, these piecemeal battles will drain all our energy and accomplish nothing. And we’ll still be paranoid about the security state and wanting out of it.

  6. cooljj

    The most frightening part of all of this is that instead of using this information to actually stop hard crime, the government instead would rather put hackers behind bars for 20-30 years as seen in the Twitter hacking incedent (where 3 football boys were accused of rape and acquitted but a benevolent hacker was given 20-30 years after publishing incriminating photos from the boys twitter and fb pages). Clearly, this information is being used in way to promote the government to an all-knowing entity, and to prevent any one individual from attempting to disclose hidden information.

    Looking at the new wiki-leaks propaganda….i mean movie…its all to apparent that as we recede from the year 1984 we are becoming more and more like 1984.

    1. fajensen

      If the surveillance state actually stopped serious crime, eliminated terrorsism and even kept the “wee uns” safe from molestation, then there would be no growth opportunities left for it!

      Every Failure is a Win to “them” – It provides the justification for More Ressources, More Star-Trek Offices, More Powers, Less Oversight, More Streamlined Secret Justice … and whatever the hell else “they”/”it*” want.

      We even have the Obama-government supplying terrorists in Syria directly presumably to secure a steady future supply to have his “war on terror” with!

      *) Maybe somone brute-forced a strong AI already and it is growing it’s processing space like e-coli while making its flesh-slaves very, very rich (and secretly weakening the opossition for when the robot-apocolypse is ready).

  7. aletheia33

    i find it helpful to live in a quasi rural backwater and adopt a somewhat laggardly mentality.

    i’ve become more and more wary of the internet itself as a double-edged sword. how it seduces… into what? i’m no geek, i don’t even have a TV, and still i have become alarmed as i’ve noticed myself truly spending less and less time with actual people. i doubt i’m the only one this has been happening to.

    i am now more actively resisting the snowballing trend of the melting of everything solid into air. humans cannot live by pixels alone, but we seem to be determined to learn this the hard way.

    i find that unplugging the wire to the online universe and stashing it in my car except when i truly need it helps me retain the sanity of staying close friends with nature and the outdoors, my body, plants and animals, and the perversely desirable constant headache that is other people.

    i don’t carry a cellphone. this is easier when a lot of your neighbors and fellow citizens in your town don’t carry either.

    well here i am on NC again connecting with likeminded readers all over the world. and i love the way my online banking system tames the nightmare of doing my taxes.

    sometimes i fantasize that if the FBI ever knocks on my door and arrests me for subversion due to the online company i’ve been keeping, i’ll welcome the opportunity to … well, join a rank of human beings i never really expected to gain the honor of belonging to.

    to keep up with what is happening out there in a world that is becoming more and more difficult to perceive with what used to be thought of as clarity, i find it helpful to seek out the company of people who are actively keeping up with same. present company, virtual or no, is invaluable.

  8. TimR

    “the perversely desirable constant headache that is other people.”

    I’m always intrigued by historical loners.. for instance I read that Edward Gorey would not answer his door for anyone(?) or at least didn’t make it easy to see him. I think that went for people he “knew,” not just curiosity seekers…

    Thorstein Veblen could care less about having company, I’m told. He was even supposedly wildly attractive to some women (as a brooding loner maybe?) but didn’t care one way or another about their attentions.

    Slavoj Zizek said somewhere that most people were just so *boring*, that it made them difficult to take. So geniuses (or demi-geniuses?) may be natural loners.

    As they say, you can be lonely in a crowd – it’s difficult to find one’s “kind,” especially if you’re a reader in a non-reading society. I asked a bookseller at B&N recently if they had Franz Kafka’s “The Castle” in stock. “What was that name again?” she asked. “Frank Kafka?”

  9. Banger

    As I understand it, countries around the world were threatened with trade restrictions and worse if they gave Snowdon asylum

  10. Brooklin Bridge

    Fascinating post. But I quibble with your conclusion, Today, the surveillance state is so deeply enmeshed in our data devices that we don’t even scream back because technology companies have convinced us that we need to be connected to them to be happy.

    They have convinced no one that happiness depends on being monitored. Rather, they have convinced most there is nothing practical they can do about it.

  11. jfleni

    Big brother’s snooping is very largely a self-inflicted wound! Only a frantic and irrelevant propaganda campaign based mainly on fads and faddish behavior have made “Butt-book” and “Twitchy” essential to the cognoscenti!

    Cellphone snooping is different and a serious problem, but without the first two, it would be mostly be a collection of speech fragments almost impossible to resolve or connect.

    It’s the whole malevolent system together that is the significant and important danger!

  12. Game Over

    Snowden is Neo. The rest of us–every single one of us–are still plugged into the Matrix. Deal with it.

    1. Newtownian

      Nice to see the Matrix mentioned.

      Here downunder, those who remember the film still get a highly ironic reminder every evening.

      Neo’s boss at ‘one of the tope software companies in the world’ pops up with the same confidence spruiking ‘Wealth Management’ nonsense for the local Macquarie Bank – our home grown equivalent of the Vampire Squid Goldman Sachs.

      You couldn’t write this stuff as fiction.

      This post’s focus is on Big Brother NSA/FBI and private support – but you have to wonder about what the private internet information exchanges networks are doing which doesn’t involve government and how deep that rabbit hole goes. It is touched on here but I cant help but feel we are only seeing the tip of an even bigger ice-berg.

      But you cant turn your Internet off because that would necessitate no NC. And that is too valuable to not have access to even if you cant change the world by yourself.

  13. Mcmike

    Alas, your credit card and id (rfid) and car (gps, black box, license plate readers) can spy on you.

    Hell, even your own face and voice will rat you out if you leave your home.

  14. Mcmike

    My approach is what I call “Kafka roulette.”

    I live my life – visiting peaceful resistance, civic freedom, free information, and other “subversive” sites and dialogs, and generally behaving as an active informed citizen in a way that no reasonable agent of a democratic freedom system could find fault with – but of course fascists aren’t reasonable.

    So it is simply a matter of getting on the wrong side of bad luck, arbitrary bureaucrats, or vindictive sociopaths… one day you wake up and you are on the no-fly list or your bank accounts have been frozen, you are frog-marched out of your home in front of your family and neighbors, and the authorities launch a smear campaign and prosecutorial dog pile on you; and they seize your house and car, and lock you up in sensory deprivation torture chamber (solitary confinement: “for your own protection”) as well. Movies and books don’t capture the reality of it.

    There’s not a damn thing you can do to prevent it or to stop it. Hell, they are going to pull stuff out of context or simply make it up anyway.

    So live your life.

    That said, I do avoid Facebook and Google data services. But that is mainly part of my approach of opting out of the corporate cattle pilferage system. You can’t opt out of the national surveillance state. But you can withhold participation from parts of the corporate plunder system.

  15. cripes

    Hell, my friend was on yelp and sees a picture of her living room she doesnt remember taking. Cellphone- camera hijacking? I have tape on laptop webcam and disabled audio but how effective is it really i have no facebook, twitter or linked-in, will employers and landlords deny me right-to-live because i’m not plugged in? NSA? They can see what you you had for lunch, without checking your receipt, if you get my drift. This will not end well.

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