Should We Care About the NSA?

In 2013, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA, exposing the fact that the United States government is spying on everyone, including its own citizens. The spying wasn’t news to anyone in the information security industry. The enormous scale of the NSA programs was news.

To everyone who isn’t a member of the info-sec community, it came largely as a shock, and then a shrug.

Even while I was doing casting for ALGORITHM, I occasionally asked the actors if they’d heard of Snowden, or what they thought. Most of them had heard the name Snowden but had no idea what he had done. Others were indifferent.

So, it comes as no surprise to me when quite a few advocacy organizations got very upset and have been doing their best to keep the issue on the forefront of the minds of the people. In her New York Times article The Day The Internet Didn’t Fight Back, Nicole Perlroth mentions the EFF, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and even Greenpeace being “The most vocal protesters…”

Even the major tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, etc…) some of which were so active against the Government during the Stop Online Piracy Act campaign, and which were themselves hacked into by the NSA (again, a revelation by Snowden), did little more than a token page with a forgettable banner.

The question: Do people care about their privacy? The obvious answer is no. That begs the second question: Should people care about their privacy? That’s a bit harder to answer. 

Anyone who lived through the Nazis or the Stasi, or who has studied history immediately screams “YES!” The reason for this is because information, even before computers, is power and power corrupts. Many people in the United States believe it was engineered to prevent such power from every existing, and, in the even that it comes into existence, that it’s hedged by the other two branches of the government.

The loss of privacy, and the realization that’s truly gone has another, perhaps more troublesome side-effect: self-censorship. Knowing someone is listening/reading/watching to our conversation tends to change the kind of conversation we’re going to have.

Think about it. Every sext we send, every politically dissident idea we have, every email we write, every website we visit, every Facebook/Twitter post you make, then delete, all stored, all accessible, all correlated, all usable against us, should we find ourselves in the disfavor of the powers that be. And then, there’s the accidental clerical error, which is becoming more regular.

The thing is, this used to be the stuff of conspiracy theories. It was thought too far-fetched, too extreme to possibly be real. Now, it’s just background clutter against the foreground news of how unhappy people are about the conditions of the hotels in Russia during the Olympics.

The standard advocacy groups are livid at what the United States has done and will probably continue to do. Because, on February 11, 2014, touted as “The day we fight back” the powers that stopped SOPA/PIPA did nothing of consequence.