Thursday, June 13, 2013

So Who Is Spying on Whom These Days?

For some reason, now forgotten, I was listening to a You Tube video of Iz (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow with What a Wonderful World.

For those not familiar with Iz, he was (is) a popular Hawaiian musician who died at the tragically early age of 38 as a result of his extreme obesity.  He weighed nearly 750 pounds at one point in his life.

When the video I was watching ended I closed the window it had been playing in and, behold, in the background a pop-up advertisement was waiting for me urging me to buy an alternate to liposuction. I suppose some quack remedy purveyor has somehow linked the advertisement of their product to any website that features obesity in any way.

A few days ago I did a search for a printer with a particular capability and since have been seeing advertisements for specific models of printers regardless of the website I’m visiting. Someone has garnered the information that I was, in some way, in the market for a printer. I just wish they had gotten the information that I have purchased one and am no longer in the market for their product. Perhaps I should be thankful that they haven’t found a way to gather those facts.

Gail Collins, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist remarks in a recent piece, that “we live in a world where you can e-mail your husband about buying new kitchen curtains and then magically receive an online ad from a drapery company.” That is not farfetched. We are being watched all the time by those who hope to profit at our expense.

The media is all in a lather at this time because it has been revealed (as though it wasn’t already known) that the government has been compiling a giant data base of phone numbers and internet activity, purportedly for the purpose of tracking down terrorists and saving us from violent attacks. Thomas Friedman, also a NYT Op-Ed contributor, in a column today, suggests that we should use caution in judging such surveillance as wholly malevolent. If a deadly attack were to occur, causing disruptions equal to those of 9/11, and the government had not pursued all avenues to prevent it, there would be an equal and opposite uproar. It is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils – loss of privacy or loss of life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.

Whether we like it or not, we are under constant surveillance. (I learned in Sunday School many years ago, via a children’s song, “There’s An All-Seeing Eye Watching You.”) I have never assumed that my actions could not be subject to government oversight. And, since the age of the internet and ubiquitous wireless telecommunication, I have assumed that anything I say or do via those avenues is likely to be available to those who have an incentive to know it.

Only the very naïve can ignore the signs of commercial snooping into our lives. Business enterprises have a present and compelling interest in knowing who we are, where we live, what our interests are, how much disposable income we have, what our tastes are in food, clothing, entertainment, politics, religion, and even sex if they can find out. Google Earth allows anyone in the world who has a computer and online service to examine your house, neighborhood, and any personal belongings that happened to be in view when the satellite snapped the pictures of your property.  We are at far greater danger of invasive snooping from the business world than from government . . . unless . . .

Of course, if we are engaged, knowingly or unknowingly, in activities (or with people who are knowingly or unknowingly engaged in activities) that violate the law or endanger the safety of our communities or our nation, then we invite Big Brother to tap into our network of communication and collect data on us.

Our world is not much different than those that preceded it. It has always been so that those in power – government and the commercial powers (often allied, or at least overlapping in interests) – can and will invade the privacy of those whom they suspect to be endangering the system that protects their existence. Even the ancient kings of Persia employed their satraps (eyes and ears of the King) to inform them of the activities of their subjects. Constitutional guarantees of privacy are useless in deterring such activity. At best they may serve as a defense in litigation, giving some hope that the victim may escape with his/her life and some fragment of his/her wealth. Most certainly they will not escape with their reputation intact.

So what’s to do? First, do well. Make sure that, to the best of your ability, you are living a reputable life that can be honestly defended in case you are caught up in some situation you fell into, either by mistake or by misfortune. It may not save you but at least you can go to your maker with a clear conscience.

And, of course, take as many precautions as you can. Hold personal information as close to your chest as possible.

Especially hold personal opinions to yourself.


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