Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Hastings and Snowden

The problem with the "surveillance state," a term Michael Hastings used, and one in which, given the current NSA scandal, is that even if Michael Hastings' premature death wasn't a conspiracy, and I don't think it's absurd to use the term when discussing the FBI or CIA, if you know the history of these organizations (Chile, anyone?), you're liable to wonder if it was. I mean, when we have to really stop and contemplate whether or not our government secretly murders an American citizen while he's driving, we are in a bad way! It's like being in a relationship where you suspect your partner is cheating. If you don't trust your parter, you probably shouldn't be dating him/her. (Advice for all the girls asking, "Should I leave him?") However, our relationship with our government is not as easy to break - to say the least.

I don't know if he was assassinated or not. We know he stated shortly before his death in an email that the FBI was investigating him, though they have recently denied so doing. (Read more about the conspiracy theory here. Also, please note, conspiracies do happen. Read the email here.) I don't think the FBI, for instance, is beyond killing American citizens without a trail. (Our government has done that a number of times using drones.)  A more obvious assassination is likely the shooting of the Chechen immigrant linked to one of the Boston bombing suspects on May 22. (Law enforcement officials revealed the suspect was unarmed and the victim's father makes a great point that "there was no reason a handful of trained officers could not subdue a lone young man without killing him," cited from here. But don't worry, the FBI is investigating the FBI.)

But that's not the point. The point is it's difficult today not to be fearful and/or suspecting of the government if you are a reporter or just a regular person, knowing they have your whole life essentially recorded and all it takes is for you to (knowingly or unknowingly) piss off the wrong person who has access to your "book" in the "library" of data the NSA collects from everyone. Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, made a brilliant point in his Hong Kong interview. It's an opinion I've shared for quite some time. To paraphrase, it does not matter whether or not you have done or will do anything wrong. The people who say "I have nothing to hide" do not understand the power of the government with regards to this "library." Everyone has something to hide. It's called being human. Even if we don't do anything wrong, there are some things that we, nevertheless, don't want everyone to know. That's why we all (OK, most) take a shit with the door closed. And say you're Jesus and haven't done anything wrong. It is not difficult to imagine how a false narrative may be created. It is not difficult to, say, make you out into a racist because of some stupid joke years ago or make you look like you're cheating on your significant other by having a phone call or email to a past lover or current friend taken out of context.

This deception can be used against whistleblowers, journalists, or even political opponents. If there are no checks and balances to this immense power, then, since power is corrupting, it is very likely, I'd say absolutely certain, it will happen. (Obama, and others, have stated that a warrant is necessary for the NSA to access a specific person's "book," his/her life online. However, in 33 years, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has denied only 11 surveillance requests of 33,900. (Read more about this here.) More simply, there is no check to the NSA's power! That is what should scare you shitless. If it doesn't, I'm afraid you don't understand. That is not to say that we should live in fear, only that we can't help it.

The reason why Hastings and Snowden did what they did, oppose who they felt were tyrants, their own government, is that they wanted to encourage public discourse; "the public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong," Snowden stated. Everyone would have to agree, I would think, that it's hard to decide whether or not you agree with what your government is doing (regarding your privacy or killing Americans or unidentified people abroad, say) if you don't know.

So I think to show support to and solidarity with these brave men, your job is to talk and think and when you have something to say, say it. And, lawfully, "stand up and fight to change things."

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