Keeping Secrets From Yourself
Dear Fellow Seeker Along the Road to Xibalba:
Earlier in the week, a reader sent me this article
from Monday's New York Times
about the government wanting expanded powers to wiretap the Internet, and asked what I thought was up. I had a feeling she was curious about the current Scorpio astrology covered last week
. Scorpio often has a sense of the covert, and Venus retrograde looks like a search for inner secrets of some kind. After I give you the background here, I have a question for you.
"Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is 'going dark' as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone," the Times
Basically, federal officials want Congress to require that all communication services, such as Facebook, BlackBerry and Skype, have prebuilt interception capability -- that is, to be plug-and-play ready for surveillance. "The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages," the Times
reported. Under the proposed law, new services and devices would be designed to have back doors built in, and existing services would need to be retrofitted. In theory, only the government would have the keys.
But the Times
relayed a story it heard from Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, about an episode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s. “I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Bellovin said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”
This is nothing new. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, we learned that the Bush administration was allowing wiretaps to be installed in the name of national security, bypassing a special top-secret federal court -- the FISA Court -- designed to oversee just that function. Historically, FISA was extremely generous with permission to wiretap, granting 99% of the government's requests. So if the administration wanted to go around the court, we can imagine it was something that would be especially inappropriate.
The Bush-era spy program seemed to be a revival of an older FBI program called Cointelpro that ran from the 1940s through the 1970s, spying on everyone from the Black Panthers to John Lennon to Howard Zinn. Well, it did more than spy on people; agents working on the program would destroy private relationships by leaving fake love letters in dresser drawers, try to get them deported, or in the case of Zinn (author of A People's History of the United States
), worked to get him fired from his teaching post at Boston University.
The website Raw Story summed it up this way: "The new Cointelpro records on Zinn show the government was obsessed with the Brooklyn-born university professor who served as a fighter pilot in World War II. He turned against the Vietnam War and led rallies in the 1960s and 1970s. One of his targets was government surveillance against anti-war activists. Did he know the government was spying on him? He probably suspected it."
In a paper published shortly before he died, Zinn encouraged activists to keep exposing these spy programs. Commenting on the FBI, he wrote, "They don’t like social movements. They work for the establishment and the corporations and the politicos to keep things as they are. And they want to frighten and chill the people who are trying to change things. So the best defense against them and resistance against them is simply to keep on fighting back, to keep on exposing them."
Now the Obama administration wants to be able to intercept your BlackBerry messages. “We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” we are assured by Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the FBI. He told the Times
, “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”
Aah yes, good old national security.
And Now For That Question
Why don't we care?
Do we believe these surveillance programs will help make our lives safer? I don't think anyone does, and besides, we don't need to spy on the entire population -- and that's not really useful.
Two of my colleagues said they thought that being spied on makes people feel more important.
Yours & truly,