Last week Edward Snowden, an NSA IT contractor, leaked confidential documents revealing that the NSA has been collecting data from phone companies like Verizon, as well as internet companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Apple. In an interview with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald expresses his motivations for releasing the documents.
"I don't see myself as a hero," he said, "because what I'm doing is self-interested: I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."I don’t see Snowden (or Glenn Greenwald, for that matter) as a hero, nor do I see him as a villain or a traitor. All of these descriptions are little more than pointles hyperbole from ideological hacks looking to get face time with their favorite echo chamber (FOX News or MSNBC). What I see him as is simply late to the party.
Back in 2006 USA Today ran a story on the NSA secretly collecting phone records using data from AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South. We’re talking information from tens of millions of Americans, most of whom are not suspected of any crime.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.And exactly how did we think they were going to “identify and track” these so-called terrorists. It’s not like they were going to go up to the NSA and say, “Hello, I’m a terrorist and I’d like to make a phone call to Yemen.” The only way they were going to find the terrorists is by tracking everyone.
The thing that gets me is that this is exactly what “we the people” asked for. No, we didn’t vote on it, hold a special election, or have some sort of referendum on whether or not we wanted the government to be all up in our business. But we did ask for this. We asked for it when we begged, pleaded, and beseeched President Bush to “keep us safe”, then refused to entertain even the notion of questioning the manner in which he did it. We decided that we were ok with the steady erosion of our civil liberties. We were ok with the increased scrutiny of our phone records and our internet use. We decided we were ok with having to take our shoes off at the airports and having TSA scan our private parts for “explosives”. We decided we were ok with the racial and religious profiling of Muslims, and having them pulled off of airplanes at the mere mention of the word “Allah”. And now everyone’s acting all “clutch the pearls” shocked and surprised that our government has been basically spying on us for the past 12 years (if not longer).
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned, angry, or outraged at this. I just don’t see the “shock value”. I don’t see why any of us should be surprised at something we simply should have assumed has been going on all along. I don’t see where there is any “there” there. What I do see is an American public finally waking up from it’s post-9/11 stupor and realizing the deal with the Devil they made when they asked the previous administration to keep us safe. And since the current administration has so far shown no desire to stop the NSA from continuing to scrutinize every phone call, e-mail, mouse click, blog post, or any other aspect of our on-line privacy, it's doubtful that this program is going away anytime soon. Sue all you want, protest all you want, blog all you want, this thing is here to stay. And worst of all...we asked for it. Welcome to the new normal.