Click here for the NPR TED Radio Hour segment on privacy and the TEDTalks that inspired this post.
Alessandro Acquisti in his TED talk tells us why privacy matters in a world in which it is vanishing. "Privacy is not about having something negative to hide," he says.
Indeed, the privacy of all Americans is a matter of principle, enshrined in the Constitution. It used to be we had control of what we wanted people to know about us, good and bad. But not anymore.
As troubling as this assault on privacy is, the Edward Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance show that something even more dangerous is afoot. And it's about what the NSA can do with this information they are collecting on us.
I'm sure you've met someone who has said they don't mind if they are spied on because they're doing nothing wrong. But what is meant by doing something "wrong?" It goes way beyond actual terrorism.
I think there's another motive for the surveillance: to protect power and wealth from the majority of Americans who have neither. -- Joe Lauria
I argued in an earlier blog that the threat of terrorism in the U.S. is minimal and cannot justify NSA intrusions into our lives. I contend that the motive for surveillance is partly because it makes contractors rich and politicians powerful, and Snowden threatens both.
But I think there's another motive for the surveillance: to protect power and wealth from the majority of Americans who have neither.
Income inequality has very rapidly become an issue that's finally getting the attention it deserves. The Pope, President Obama and even the super-wealthy participants of the Davos Economic Forum are bringing it up. One percent apologists are talking too, defending inequality as "unrelentingly beautiful." They ignored the issue before but are now starting to feel the heat.
No society can remain stable with such an imbalance in wealth and power between a very few and everyone else. If that balance is not restored rationally attempts are made by people to restore it through revolt. That is the lesson of history. And today people are rising up around the globe.
Given the long history of government surveillance against activists in this country, and new facts revealed by Snowden, it is clear one reason for NSA surveillance is to potentially disrupt social protest against inequality in the U.S.
In the 1960's and 70's under Cointelpro, about 55% of FBI work was devoted to spying on activists, according to Betty Medsger, who just wrote a book about the burglary that seized FBI documents exposing Cointelpro.
Today, a Snowden document revealed that the NSA has tracked the porn habits of six activists who have committed no crime, but who may pose a future "threat." According to a report in the Huffington Post by Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher and Ryan Grim the NSA zeroed in on "six targets, all Muslims, as 'exemplars' of how 'personal vulnerabilities' can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target's credibility, reputation and authority."
The NSA is also targeting people who have nothing even remotely to do with terrorism, but pose a different kind of threat to the powerful and wealthy interests the NSA is defending: journalists, activists and human rights groups. Not to mention diplomats, U.N. officials and heads of state.
Knowing your exact location at all times, and being able to read email, text messages and listen to phone calls through hand-held monitoring devices, better known as smart phones, is an excellent tool to keep track of dissidents and disrupt plans for protest.
We have already seen the violent state reaction to the budding Occupy Movement.
The possibility of future American social unrest is not far-fetched, given the continuing erosion of the middle class in the face of manufacturing jobs shipped abroad to cheap labor countries and demonstrable greed by many employers.
It is chilling that NSA surveillance can be teamed with militarized police forces and the NDAA of 2011 which will allow the military to make domestic arrests of American citizens for the first time in more than a century if they are deemed "terrorists." And we now know that the FBI considers Occupy protestors as terrorist suspects. The FBI coordinated its operation with Wall Street, and Homeland Security also monitored Occupy protestors.
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