No escape from surveillance

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.—George Orwell

Judging from all the reports, America’s National Security Agency (NSA) can do just about anything involving the communication of just about anyone.

They can tell who you’ve been calling by phone; and if they suspect you’ve been calling the wrong people, they can get an automatic secret permission from the secret FISA court to dig into the content of your secret calls.

You can be subjected to practically any type of Orwellian surveillance possible by the NSA.

It’s not just phone numbers and cell phones that provide fodder for surveillance spies. The Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA can spy on 75% of all Internet traffic.

That’s not all. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA has been intercepting laptops purchased online in a method called “interdiction.” After sending those to its own “secret workshops,” it then installs “malicious hardware” that gives the agency remote access.

Matt Blaze, writing in the Guardian, refers to “six months of news of the myriad ways our metadata and, in some cases, our content, is being routinely collected and analyzed, cloud services and communications providers being compromised, and security standards that should be protecting us being sabotaged.”

Ironically, he notes, “The sane reaction seems to lie somewhere between paranoia and despair.”

For those who haven’t been following the disclosures about NSA’s invasions of privacy closely, the London Review of Books has “a good summary of what the NSA can and cannot do.”

If you’ve been following the shenanigans of the NSA, you know the organization has gone out of its way to collect as much data on as many people as they can.

What started as technical development to head off terrorist attackers, like those accused of 9/11, grew into a monstrous technical Goliath with more than 30,000 employees. In 2013, the NSA had an estimated annual budget of 10.8 billion dollars.

The employee and budget figures alone support much higher estimates of the number of subjects this American agency is spying on.

Orwell himself reflected, “Men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be.” How good has America’s technical development of surveillance techniques allowed its many spies to be?

Currently, several arguments have addressed the issues raised by all of this American spying activity:

1. Are those who open such a Pandora’s Box, like Edward Snowden, legitimate whistleblowers deserving praise, or are they traitors to be prosecuted and imprisoned?

2. Should America’s spying be limited to surveillance of non-Americans or should Americans be spied upon?

3. Should the surveillance of foreign nationals include leaders like Angela Merkel in Germany and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff?

4. An issue that hasn’t yet been raised, with an educated guess that it will be: If you have applied for a visa to travel to the USA, you will be chosen for surveillance by the NSA.

According to Wikipedia “The NSA is tasked with the global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, including surveillance of targeted individuals on U.S. soil.”

Though it hasn’t yet been exposed, there’s no reason to believe that anyone from outside of America would not fit that task.

One interesting irony in the objections against surveillance: in the age of social media, like Facebook and twitter, privacy has already been sacrificed.

The irony isn’t complete, however. We can choose what we want to reveal of ourselves with social media. With the NSA, we have no choice.

Paul Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.

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