Friday, July 5, 2013

What makes you think the government cares about your life?

Yesterday President Nicol├ís Maduro of Venezuela has extended an offer of asylum to Edward Snowden. 

For Snowden, the beaches of Venezuela offer a nice contrast to the transit zone of the Soviet-era Moscow airport. With a new destination in sight, his biggest challenge is getting to his promised land. 

The debate that was started by his revelations has made for interesting bedfellows. 

In hid bid to escape American justice, this advocate of privacy has found refuge in the shadow of totalitarian China and was sheltered by the Russian government, a state administered centrally from the Kremlin by a former lieutenant of the KGB. 

Snowden's supporters in the United States ranged from liberal intelligentsia to anti-government conservatives thus uniting people from the opposite sides of the political spectrum in a way Obama never could. 

Snowden unleashed a flurry of internet commentary, most of it filled with indignant condemnation of a government rapidly encroaching on the privacy of its people.

One angle of this privacy debate that I never saw addressed is a basic question of why the government would even need to violate your internet privacy? What would the government look for in your email account? In your smartphone? In your computer files? 

Do you spend a lot of your time re-reading your old text messages or emails? Sifting through your 2 year old facebook pictures? Do you think there is a government worker somewhere in a dull building who is eager to rummage in that trove of stale personal minutia? 

What makes you think that anyone in the Federal government's national security apparatus gives a shit about your life or has the time or the resources to violate your privacy? 

If someone was interested in your political affiliation, well, most of that can be easily deduced from your ethnicity, education, marital status and age range. No one would even need to try to guess your first Pet's name in the password reset field. 

Do you think the government wants to steal the Social Security Number (it gave you) so it can open a credit card in your name and use it to buy gift cards at Walmart or get a happy ending at a massage parlor?

When the government says that all it does is run massive searched in corporate databases looking for suspicious word combinations related to terrorism, many people knowingly shake their heads convinced that they're being lied to. 

I actually believe them. Not because I am a particularly gullible defender of the establishment but for the simple reason that in a country with a population exceeding 300 million people, it doesn't make sense for the Feds to spy in any other way. 

Even if I was a citizen of the People's Republic of China, as long as I was not a political activist, I would feel secure in the knowledge that my privacy was not violated. Simply because it takes resources and manpower to spy on people on an individual level. And even a totalitarian government only has the resources and the desire to monitor only these persons it considers a threat to its rule. 

There is something delusional and self-aggrandizing in an average person believing that they are being spied on. 

You can bemoan the sacrifice of your privacy in the post-911 age, but even if you offered your privacy as a sacrificial lamb -ready for slaughter- no hand would lift to take its life. 


There is a fad among some politically-active Americans to delude themselves into believing that they live in a totalitarian state. Liberals did it when Bush was in the White House, conservatives do it now that Obama is in charge. 

Its popular for people to say that they are afraid of their government. Of course, those with a misfortune to live in real totalitarian states would never say that they are afraid of their government Their fear is real, and the consequences for expressing it are serious. Carrying on about your fear of your government is another luxury of living in a liberal democracy. 

Snowden deserves credit for lifting the veil on the far-reaching distrust people have toward the methods their government uses for the sake of "national security." 

I don't object to real concerns about privacy. Privacy guarantees should be entrenched in federal law, with a constitutional amendment explicitly guaranteeing the right to privacy as the best option. 

I do dislike the hyperbole and the false sense of victimhood that accompanies this debate. 

Big brother isn't home, he's out trying to get to second base with a neighborhood girl. He doesn't care about the contents of your Happy Meal box or your Pokemon cards. He is on to bigger and better things.

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