Thursday night I found myself in my regular evening routine of watching Rachel Maddow, having already watched Wendy Williams -- so judge me.
Rachel and her colleague/lead-in Chris Hayes were breaking news that the Washington Post was reporting that the federal government has been tapping into our information from little known internet companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple (and, reportedly, "coming soon" to the list is online storage site Dropbox). They've been tracking our emails, instant messages, search queries, and probably the Trisha Yearwood broccoli salad recipe I looked up two days ago (she was on Wendy, then I watched her cooking show, judge me). The program is called Prism, it's apparently been in effect for years now and it allows the government to "watch [our] ideas form as [we] type them." The interesting twist is the above named companies have been coming out one-by-one denying any participation in, or even knowledge of, Prism's existence.
This breaking story, with its flashing red graphics, exclamation points, and capital letters in tow comes only one day after we learned the feds had seemingly been forcing Verizon to hand over its records on the calls being made by all of its customers, both domestically and internationally.
That coming only weeks after the Associated Press found out the government had been checking out the phone records of targeted reporters, compromising the sensitive information that would indicate highly confidential sources for some high profile stories.
The last couple of months have been rather hot with "leaks" of information around our government's vast intelligence community. If anyone still actually felt like they had information in the ether that was private, lately that notion has been all but shattered.
While learning all these things is frustrating, annoying, and deeply troubling to what I'd imagine to be most Americans, I find myself... well... indifferent.
Allow me to put this feeling in context for you: the ever-controversial Patriot Act came into existence when I was only in 11th grade. In my mind, anything I do in or on my laptop, smartphone, digital cable box, GPS, grocery store, library, or anything else connected to some satellite or internet service is being tracked, logged, and databased.
For more context: Before the Patriot Act, when I was in about 8th grade there was a Will Smith movie called Enemy of the State. As I remember it, the government was tracking down Smith's character Robert Clayton Dean, for having information he didn't even know he had. They were able to track his steps, his calls, I think they even saw him use the bathroom. Now, of course, this was a work of fiction for the purpose of entertainment, that didn't stop it from planting a seed in my teenaged head and having a profound effect on my beliefs about the capabilities of the government.
Seriously, it made me wonder who was being watched, why, and if I was one of them. I mean, I was a huge deal (to myself) in the 8th grade. I was a highly sought-after Conflict Manager, I had been voted into the yearbook's superlatives, and was one of the slowest weekly mile runners in the school -- surely I had sent off a red flag for someone, somewhere.
Then, when i was about 21 or so I got an iPhone after having had a BlackBerry for years. I remembered learning to use the phone's "Maps" app and seeing my location represented as a flashing blue dot that was accurate up to about 15 feet of my actual location. That was when the lightbulb flickered on and I realized I had (finally) become Will Smith.
After that, I basically threw my hands up in surrender. If Apple knew where I was at all times, there was no question in my mind that they were keeping track of what I was doing, if only on my phone, and who I was doing it with.
Now, seven years later, in a day where a large number of Americans check-in online at every location, upload a photo most every meal they consume, and update their statuses for their every thought, I'm exceedingly confident nothing is off-limits.
Then today, this news broke and I thought to myself, "well... duh."
And that is what I'm actually upset about.
I've become grossly apathetic with a side of blithe disregard for where my information is going, who has it, and what they can do with it. A couple months ago, my credit card information was stolen and used across the border to buy more than $100 worth of groceries. My bank notified me and cancelled the card within an hour and within another hour I had a brand new one. It was so easy that I went back to work, unscathed by the whole thing. It didn't even seem to bother me that there had been a potential major breech of my information and that someone could've had more than just that information.
Honestly, I think the feeling I have around the free-flowing movement of all my information and yours seems to be that it is like almost any other calculated risk we freely participate in. Google is never going to stop watching what I'm doing and getting away from the reach of them isn't likely -- as disturbing as that is. Facebook probably has more information on me than my mother -- and I've kind of grown less-than-comfortable while not-quite-excited about that -- but I still use it. Instagram probably has more readily available information on my most frequented locations than even me.
We love the conveniences and familiarity we've cultivated over the years with our email providers, various social media outlets, mobile devices, and loyalty cards to our neighborhood grocery stores. Even you, yes you, my beloved reader, you probably love Huffington Post, you're here and it's probably not the first (or last) time you've been here either. You reading this article, clicking that Trisha Yearwood article and opening it to another tab to read later -- all of it is recorded, even if no one ever has a reason to ever look at it. You answer questions with every keystroke and click of your mouse without ever even having been asked.
Accept it. The idea that we're going to have any online privacy is almost as ridiculous as the idea we're getting actually rid of the world's nuclear weapons -- well except Kim Jong Un's, of course. As much as we think we'd love to live in a world without the worries that are attached to these kinds of things, the government believes that to "keep us safe" someone, somewhere needs to have it, all of it... ya know, just in case.
I'd love to know how other people are responding in the comments below. I know I can't be the only one that feels this way... right?