Our Orwellian Hole
Apr 22, 2018 Read More Articles by J.D. Pendry
In the internet era, the amount of information we offer up about ourselves is staggering. No one has to dig around for what we freely give. We do it without much thought and seem concerned only when there is a breach revealing our credit card numbers and even then there is a thriving industry to cure that ailment. Practically every app we download to our phones asks us for access to virtually every piece of information we carry around or receive. Then, we appear shocked when our information is used for purposes we did not intend – like unwittingly helping out political campaigns. Now we are excited to spit on a Q-tip and give up our DNA as if every other piece of personal data about ourselves, our relationships and what we buy at the grocery store is not enough. With the advance of artificial intelligence, how long before even a hint of privacy becomes a fantasy. We have no one to blame but ourselves and our addictions to gadgets and social media. After all, it is exciting when Alexa’s soothing voice, always peering out at you through her camera and always listening through her microphone, gives you the weather, your appointments and plays your favorite music. The persistent questions are how far have we willingly gone down the Orwellian hole? And can we ever climb out of it? There will always be some willing to take a potential good thing and use it for bad purpose.
Within weeks of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, President George W. Bush signed into law the Patriot Act.
There was some debate, but with urgency an overwhelming Congressional majority passed it. There were concerns about electronic surveillance of Americans inside the United States in violation of their rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech. We trusted politicians and political appointees to do the right thing. Following the Ben Franklin axiom, we forfeited some liberty for promised safety.
On the subject, I was one of many fence sitters. I wanted our agencies enabled to collect intelligence and foil terrorist plots. I did not think it likely they would intentionally collect data on average Americans. My naivete also steered me to believe the Government of a free United States of America would never abuse this power to spy on Americans for reasons other than anti-terrorism and especially not political opposition during a Presidential campaign.
Back in 2005, when the political conversations heated up around the subject, I favored the Patriot Act because I chose political sides. If certain people came out against anything rigid thinking automatically compelled to be for it. My thinking has matured some since. Even though I made and received frequent international calls as the NSA was making bulk collection of phone records I expressed concern then that I feared Google more than the remote possibility the National Security Agency would capture my data illegally or otherwise.
Surveilling the landscape today I sort of feel like a prophet – at least as it relates to Google. I also believe that our government intel collection methods capture everything to sort out later if needed. How long before the Russians or Chinese hack them servers?
If you have a Google account, an Android cell phone in your pocket, and use the Chrome web browser you can probably hear the old 80’s The Police tune Every Breath You Take playing in the background.
Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you
Google not only captures but stores enormous amounts of data on each of us. Data we offered up freely. The potential for abuse of this data by criminals, unknown intelligence agencies (foreign and domestic), and political parties should concern every American. Especially in light of current events.
Over recent months, we learned unscrupulous people are willing to abuse the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to spy on Americans under the guise of monitoring possible foreign agents. It just so happens the foreigners being monitored were having conversations with members of an opposing political party during a Presidential campaign. We’ve also learned FISA court judges appear, with a 99.97% approval rate for warrants, rubber stamps. Google may actually do a better job protecting our data than the government. With our proven abilities to gather and store vast amounts of data, whose to say our government doesn’t already have its arms wrapped around Google and others. What’s the downside? Abuse of this power likely leads to legislation and regulation that hinders our ability to protect ourselves and restricts our ability to freely use the Internet. Or we become Mr. Orwell’s totalitarian state. For public consumption, what we write may end up being nailed to a tree.
As our founders reminded, our system of government is designed for law abiding people. With no exceptions, people proven to have illegally abused FISA and illegally spied on Americans must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The saddest fact? Most people consume only legacy news media and nowadays social media so are literally blind to this abuse.
And then there’s Facebook. Facebook also collects data offered up freely by people who decide the need for a Facebook presence – myself among them. It seems we want to be noticed so we readily give up many details about our lives and readily “friend” people we know nothing about giving them access to our personal information. It is something most of us would never do in a face to face conversation with a stranger.
By what you read, what you share, what you like, what products you search for, who you follow, who follows you Facebook can make a relatively accurate assessment of you and your social network. Facebook analyzes and uses this information for lucrative targeted advertising. When you are the world’s largest social media network, it’s an absolute gold mine.
In terms I can understand, a social graph is a chart that shows relationships between all the people in a community. In the internet era, it’s sort of like the universe. It’s massive and endless.
As of 2010, Facebook‘s social graph is the largest social network dataset in the world, and it contains the largest number of defined relationships between the largest number of people among all websites because it is the most widely used social networking service in the world. – Wikipedia
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