Oh my God! The government is doing … exactly what we thought it was doing all along

NSA Data Transferring

As you must have heard by now, reports out this week reveal that the United States government is spying on Americans’ communications data.

The first report, published by the Guardian, shows that the National Security Agency (NSA) requires Verizon to hand over all call records on an “ongoing, daily basis,” according to classified documents obtained by the U.K. news outlet. The records do not contain the contents of phone conversations, but do include data about who called whom, when calls were placed and from where, and how long those calls lasted.

There is a difference between hearing about a dead body, and seeing one right in front of your eyes.

The second report, from the Washington Post and the Guardian, shed light on another top-secret surveillance program, called PRISM, which is operated by the NSA and the FBI and gives these government agencies “direct” access to nine U.S. Internet companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. According to the Post, this access allows U.S. spies to obtain “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs” sent over the networks of these companies by foreign nationals (but not Americans) – all in the name of protecting us from terrorists, of course. PRISM is so powerful, says the Post, the NSA “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”

All of the companies – save AOL and PalTalk – have denied knowing about the massive spying program, and say they do not provide the government with access to their servers. (Some speculate that the “direct” access is through Internet service providers, not the companies themselves, which is potentially corroborated by a report from the Wall Street Journal, which reveals that ISPs were roped in as well.) Update: The New York Times reports that these companies not only knew about what was happening, but complied with the government’s demands to allow access to our data, and were legally obligated to deny that the spying operations even exist. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, President Obama, and various Members of Congress all assert that the data collection programs are entirely legal and necessary for maintaining national security.

My response to all this? No shit.

And I would bet that’s your response, as well. We all assumed this kind of surveillance was happening. Now we know that it is. Are we disgusted? Maybe. Shocked? Not a chance.

So, will anything change? Will the public suddenly take up arms over violations of privacy – and our privacy is being violated, whether or not you agree that it’s justified – that we all figured was taking place all along?

Privacy died long before PRISM.

I doubt it. As much as privacy advocates like myself, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and many others want this week’s revelations to serve as a shocker that will jump start reform, I just can’t see the general public caring for more than a few moments, let alone doing what it takes to get these kinds of spying practices repealed. In the years since September 11, 2001, we have become both more willing to forego certain freedoms to protect our safety and infinitely willing to share a plethora of details about ourselves on the Internet. Privacy died long before PRISM, and anyone who wasn’t already mourning that loss will not suddenly be called to action.

Of course, there is a difference between hearing about a dead body, and seeing one right in front of your eyes. So perhaps this week will wake us all up to the fact that we have destroyed essential liberties – the right to not be spied on, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, to name the most obvious ones – in an attempt to maintain the semblance of normal life. Perhaps it will launch a vital public debate about the need for transparency in government, even on national security matters. Perhaps we will all get on the phone with our representatives in Congress and demand that they repeal the laws that made PRISM and all the rest “legal,” or else. Perhaps.

More likely, I believe, is that we will post our outrages on Facebook and Twitter for a day or two. We might even talk about PRISM with our friends, maybe complain a little about the hypocrisy of a country that sells itself as the land of the free, while listening in on people’s Skype calls. And then we will forget, it will all go back to the way it was before these reports surfaced – just good enough to keep us out of the streets.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.

Having enough RAM is important, but stick to these guidelines to save some money

Although not quite as exciting as processors and graphics cards, RAM is one of the most important parts of your PC. Not having enough can hurt performance. So, how much RAM do you need?
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Home Theater

Budget TVs are finally worth buying, and you can thank Roku

Not all that long ago, budget TVs were only worth looking at if, well, you were on a budget. Thanks to Roku, not only are budget TVs now a viable option for anyone, but they might even be a better buy than more expensive TVs.

Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

Smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, LG, Sony, and Motorola are releasing far too many similar phones. The update cycle has accelerated, but more choice is not always a good thing.

Do we even need 5G at all?

Faster phones, easier access to on-demand video, simpler networking -- on the surface, 5G sounds like a dream. So why is it more of a nightmare?
Home Theater

The Apple AirPods 2 needed to come out today. Here are four reasons why

Apple announced numerous new products at its October 30 event, a lineup that included a new iPad Pro, a MacBook Air, as well as a new Mac Mini. Here are four reasons we wish a new set of AirPods were on that list.

Razer’s most basic Blade 15 is the one most gamers should buy

Razer's Blade 15 is an awesome laptop for both gamers, streamers, professionals, and anyone else needing serious go in a slim profile, but its price is out of reach for many games. The new Blade 15 Base solves that problem with few…

Going to hell, again. The Switch makes 'Diablo 3' feel brand-new

I've played every version of Diablo 3 released since 2012, racking up hundreds of hours in the process. Six years later, I'm playing it yet again on Nintendo Switch. Somehow, it still feels fresh.

‘Fallout 76’ may have online multiplayer but it’s still a desolate wasteland

"Is Fallout 76 an MMO?" That depends on who you ask. Critics and players often cite its online multiplayer capabilities as a reason it qualifies. Yet calling the game an MMO only confuses matters, and takes away from what could make…
Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.