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Opinion Beware of the meta data profile

George HasaraThe surveillance state has arrived, but does anyone care? The National Security Agency (and others) has its sensors on virtually all phone and internet transmissions made in this country as well as conducting extensive surveillance abroad. Many rationalize it as something they deserve, like someone trapped in an abusive relationship do. “Maybe it's not that great, but I'm kept safe.”

Back in March, NSA Director James Clapper was asked (under oath) during a Senate hearing whether or not millions of Americans were having any kind of data collected on them. He answered no. After whistle blower Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA were published, Clapper “revised” his answer without admitting to lying. He made a bizarre claim that he had given the “least untruthful" answer possible. Congress could save time by skipping oaths since perjury does not exist as a crime for certain people and agencies, especially for those who specialize in deception.

The White House claims that the NSA activities do not constitute a violation of rights. Americans aren't really being spied on, they are only participants in a mega program that collects “meta data." It is argued that the information trolling isn't directly violating privacy, at least not in the traditional sense. However, building a database on who calls who, when, from where and the duration of the conversations has endless possibilities for harassment and intimidation. The same can be said for visiting web sites or sending and receiving emails. Writers doing research or other curious individuals have the same meta data profile as the “bad guys.” After gathering information on how to put together a bomb, exactly how do you prove you weren’t going to build it and blow something up with it? Oh sure, the burden of proof should be on those making the claim, but times have changed.

There is the premise that Congress can decide for us what is appropriate and justifiable regarding the actions of Federal agencies. We vote for the members of Congress, who in turn make decisions on our behalf. Let’s go along with that logic for now. Congressional “oversight” of the NSA is based on what the NSA chooses to report, such as Clapper's surveillance fib. There is no serious independent investigation. The “investigative information” is spoon fed back to the investigators. Congress is given only as much information as the NSA wishes to give them. Imagine an employer, who accepted his employee's self-written evaluation. The employee could start out with good intentions of being honest. However, human nature being what it is, there would be a tendency over time to distort the truth in order to keep his job.

In post WWII East Germany, their secret police, the Stasi, festered out of control. It’s not that there were hordes of East Germans hell bent on overthrowing the government. The more bloated the Stasi became, the more it had to justify its existence. They lacked the high-tech snooping techniques of today but were creative with their old school approach such as having a separate division that specialized in examining people’s trash. I might even go for that today if they would also haul mine away. One of the most disturbing aspects of the East German spying was the extensive network of snitches. As efficient and impersonal as computer-based surveillance is, there is nothing quite like the human factor to instill fear and paranoia. It’s a relationship I would like to avoid, but one we are headed for.

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