Say hello to the surveyors

Jam of the week: “Rosslyn’s Crypt” by Dirty Art Club

I had a whole weekend planned, but then I had to add yet another page to my scandal scrapbook.

Several days ago, the British newspaper, The Guardian, broke the story that the National Security Agency, NSA, has been collecting vast amounts of personal user information from several major websites. A top-secret presentation that was given to The Guardian says these companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and more willingly gave the NSA access to their systems dating back to 2007 and allowed the NSA to access E-mails, videos, photos, text chats, stored data and more.

The presentation provides dates for when each company began allowing data collection for the NSA’s PRISM program. AOL was among those, and allegedly began allowing data collection in March of 2011. I really hope the information from the remaining four AOL users helped the government track down some bad guys. Apple was the latest added to the program as of Oct. 2012, which makes sense, because it’s just so expensive to buy an Apple product early.

As this story is developing, the NSA is building a $1.2 billion data analysis center in Utah. NPR reports that the center will have five zettabytes of storage. That’s five sextillion bytes. I’ll give you a paragraph break here so you can go look up how large a sextillion is, since my editor would know I’m just filling space with that many zeroes.

Really big number, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice if we went back to a simpler time, where we didn’t rely on computers to communicate? That would solve all of this, assuming you’re not a Verizon wireless customer. It was also revealed several days ago that the phone company allowed the government access to the metadata of callers. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the meta content collected did not contain the actual audio of phone conversations. So the government just wants to know when, how often, and what numbers you call. I think I dated someone who was paranoid like that once.

It’s not direct wiretapping, and thankfully, Sen. Lindsey Graham recognizes that. As a Verizon customer, Graham said he didn’t mind them turning over records, saying, “I don’t think you’re talking to the terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So we don’t have anything to worry about.” Thank you, Lindsey. I appreciate the vote of confidence.

The surveillance programs are so sweeping, even Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the republican author of the Patriot Act, said the program is overreaching. That’s like the pot calling the kettle a potential terrorist in an internet chatroom. It brings up and interesting point though. The most apparent similarity between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is how vocal and polarized the people who don’t like them are. However, both Presidents have now fostered some sort of secret surveillance program, warrantless wiretapping for Bush, and have dealt with backlash after those programs went public.

In the aftermath, we find companies saying they were unaware of the PRISM program and had no direct ties to it. We are also left with the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who is in hiding. While I find it hard not to root for the underdog here, I’m going to say that I hope the government finds him. With all that surveillance infrastructure, it would be pretty embarrassing if they didn’t.