09 June 2013

Our Surveillance Society: What Orwell And Kafka Might Say & Newspaper Reveals Source For NSA Surveillance Stories 8&9JUN13

AS I said before, I love my country but I don't trust my government. I cherish the civil liberties, the rights and protections the U.S. Constitution provides for us, and I do not believe these should ever be sacrificed in the name of national security AND I definitely do not trust the people who advocate trading these rights, liberties and protections for national security. I speak as someone who has reason to not trust the government or these people. My government started an fbi file on me when I was in the 9th grade. THE FLIPPIN 9TH GRADE! So nobody is going to convince me the government is going to take away my civil liberties, my constitutional rights and protections for my own good, to keep me safe. Thank God there are still people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden around, people brave enough to blow the whistle on the abusive policies of our government! From NPR....

News about data collection by the government sounds uncomfortably like prophetic novels of the past.
News about data collection by the government sounds uncomfortably like prophetic novels of the past.
Alex Williamson/Getty Images
President Obama says he's not Big Brother. The author who created the concept might disagree.
Addressing the controversy over widespread government surveillance of telephone records and Internet traffic Friday, Obama said, "In the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we've struck the right balance."
But for many commentators, revelations this week that the federal government is sweeping up records of communications and transactions between millions of Americans sounds uncomfortably like the vision of the British novelist and journalist George Orwell.
In his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, British author George Orwell warned of the dangers of bureaucratic power run amok — but he also recognized that the protection of the state, while intrusive, is necessary.
Popperfoto/Getty Images
His novel Nineteen Eighty-Four portrayed a society in which the state constantly tracks the movements and thoughts of individuals. Its slogan is "Big Brother Is Watching You."
"Throwing out such a broad net of surveillance is exactly the kind of threat Orwell feared," says Michael Shelden, author of Orwell: The Authorized Biography.
The phrases "Big Brother" and "Orwellian" have been commonplace in news coverage and social media this past week. Orwell's novel, a bestseller upon publication in the 1940s, has remained a classic because it seems to crystallize what life under totalitarian regimes looks like.
Obama — and many others — insist that the U.S. is not living under such a regime. The government is not listening to everyone's telephone calls, Obama said on Friday, nor is it using the information to spy on innocent Americans.
And, even in the tradition of prophetic literature that warns of the dangers of bureaucratic power run amok, there is an awareness that the protection of the state, while intrusive, is necessary.
Based On Experience
Although set in the future, Nineteen Eighty-Four was based on Orwell's observations of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, as well as his own experiences as a broadcaster and colonial officer in the British Empire.
"He was so good at picking up on trends that he picked up our whole future," says Shelden, who teaches English at Indiana State University.
In particular, Shelden says, Orwell's time as a policeman serving in Burma showed him how governments seek to keep track of people and what they're up to — the more complete the file, the better.
"What he saw was that over time, surveillance would become pervasive," Shelden says. "He just took that idea and expanded it in Nineteen Eighty-Four to basically a police state."
Although Orwell's ideas struck some as paranoid, the British government in 2007 opened up its file on the author. It turned out the spy agency MI5 had tracked him from 1929 until his death in 1950.
Big Data = Big Brother?
Orwell certainly would have understood that officials would point to the unending threat of something like terrorism as a justification for ongoing, widespread surveillance.
"He could see that war and defeating an enemy could be used as a reason for increasing political surveillance," Shelden says. "You were fighting a never-ending war that gave you a never-ending excuse for looking into people's lives."
What would have surprised Orwell, he says, was not that governments are collecting huge amounts of data about individuals, but that private actors are as well.
Even if it didn't turn out that the federal government has a direct pipeline into Verizon, Google, Yahoo and other such companies, those companies would control huge amounts of information about Americans on their own.
It's not just the corporations performing surveillance. What Orwell calls the "proles" in his novel — the average citizens who help the state keep an eye on everybody — are also tracking and documenting each other's movements in real life these days.
With the advent of smartphones and widespread surveillance cameras, no conversation or movement in the public sphere can be considered private.
On Wednesday, a woman posted a picture of a man she said she'd sat near on a train, who'd been bragging with friends about affairs they'd had without their wives catching on. By Saturday morning, the image had been shared more than 170,000 times.
"We have the capacity now to be a huge nation of informers," Shelden says.
Kafka's Binocular Vision
Author Franz Kafka's writings include The Metamorphosis, The Castle and The Trial.
Author Franz Kafka's writings include The MetamorphosisThe Castleand The Trial.
Wikimedia Commons
Image collection by everybody can have its uses. The sharing of images of the Boston Marathon helped law enforcement quickly home in on the alleged perpetrators.
The mixed feelings people have about the balance between privacy and security would have been familiar to Franz Kafka, the famed 20th century author of novels and stories about bureaucracies that are out of touch and out of control.
There are many elements of the current situation that are Kafkaesque, says Stanley Corngold, an emeritus professor of German and comparative literature at Princeton University. Kafka raises questions not only about governments collecting massive amounts of information "like a giant vacuum cleaner," Corngold says, but what they do with it.
In Kafka's novel The Castle, the authorities can't find the document that would determine whether the person who's been brought in is wanted, or not.
"They have piles and piles and piles of documents, but they don't do anything with them," says Corngold, a Kafka translator and scholar.
But though Kafka is remembered for creating situations in which characters helplessly seek to appeal judgments when they're not even sure what the charges are, he also recognized that the people are often, in fact, guilty.
"Kafka has the uncanny ability to see the point of view of both parties," Corngold says.
In stories such as "The Great Wall of China," Kafka recognized that people look to the state to protect them from "barbarians," recognizing that they're not capable of fending off outside threats on their own.
"At times, he mocks the illusion of an effective, centralized authority," Corngold says. "At other times, he suggests that without its aid, we cannot cope with the 'barbarians.'"

Newspaper Reveals Source For NSA Surveillance Stories

In a 12-minute video on The Guardian's website, Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA talks about how American surveillance systems work and why he decided to reveal that information to the public.
The Guardian
The Guardian newspaper has identified the source for a series of reports it's published in recent days on secret U.S. surveillance activity as a former technical assistant for the CIA who now works for a private-sector defense and technology consulting firm.
The U.K. newspaper broke the story of the NSA's acquisition of phone metadata and monitoring of Internet data through a program called PRISM. On Sunday, The Guardian revealed Edward Snowden, who now works for Booz Allen Hamilton, is the source of the classified leaks.
The newspaper says Snowden, 29, asked that his name be made public as the source of the leaks.
In a video that is part of the Guardian's story, Snowden talks about his decision to come forward.
"I don't want to live in a society that does these sorts of things," he says in the video, dated June 6.
"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," Snowden says.
He says he's been a systems engineer, systems administrator, senior adviser for the Central Intelligence Agency and a solutions consultant.
"When you're in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator, for some of these intelligence community agencies, you're exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee," he says in the video. "Because of that, you see things that may be disturbing."
Snowden says felt compelled to become a whistleblower because "these things need to be determined by the public, not just someone who was hired by the government."
The Guardian writes:
"In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: 'I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,' but 'I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.'
"Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. 'I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.'"
The newspaper reports that three weeks ago, while Snowden was still working at the NSA office in Hawaii, he copied "final documents" that he intended to disclose and informed his supervisor that he "needed to be away from work for 'a couple of weeks'" for medical treatment of his epilepsy.
The report says he boarded a flight to Hong Kong on May 20, where he has remained since.
"He chose the city because 'they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,' and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the U.S. government," the newspaper says.
Update at 8:15 p.m. ET. Justice Department Statement:
"The Department of Justice is in the initial stages of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by an individual with authorized access," according to a statement from Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre.
"Consistent with long standing Department policy and procedure and in order to protect the integrity of the investigation, we must decline further comment."
Update at 6:59 p.m. ET DNI Statement:
In a statement, Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, referred the matter to the Justice Department, adding: "The Intelligence Community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures. Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law."
Update at 6:23 p.m. ET 'Did Absolutely Nothing Wrong':
Glenn Greenwald, the reporter on the Guardian story, was interviewed by Tess Vigeland, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered. In part, he said:
"His attitude is that he believes he did absolutely nothing wrong, he did the right thing in his view. ... and because he feels like he did the right thing, he doesn't want to hide in shame or try and evade public detection. He wants there to be a debate triggered around the policies that are very consequential and yet very secret."
Meanwhile, Booz Allen Hamilton released a statement on Snowden's actions:
"Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii," the statement said. "News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter."