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You Don’t Seem to Care About the NSA Reading Your Emails. But You Probably Should.

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Thu, Aug 1, 2013

Accountability

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In our heart of hearts, many of us already awake to a transition into states of securitization, militarization, and surveillance, could have guessed that we are all being watched. Turns out we are not crazy! I wish there was more comfort in that thought. NSA specialists and all responsible intelligence agents (even throughout the duration of the Senate Judiciary Hearing on July 31st, “Strengthening Privacy Rights and National Security: Oversight of FISA Surveillance Programs” have enjoyed harping on the alleged fact that they cannot get personal communication information from the meta data collected by NSA programs such as PRISM and XKeyscore. Upon shedding the ill-advised acceptance of “Trust us! We have your best interests in mind. Love, the NSA,” we find that assertion to be dreadfully inaccurate. Once our beloved national security forces have an email address and a simple “justification” for looking into your affairs, they can conveniently skirt around those pesky safeguards of warrants, judicial review, and general accountability/transparency to access anything they so wish. It’s smooth sailing into email databases, browsing activity (searches, websites, etc) all social media accounts, private emails and chats, word documents, and phone calls (duration, contacts, and LIVE TIME CONVERSATIONS, people). They can even see all of those who have visited any website they want to check into. Essentially, they see everything. Frightened yet? Oh right, YOU have nothing to hide. I’ll get to that.

Our system is not set up to protect everyone equally. With that in mind, we have to consider the already existing systems of oppression and domination that are exacerbated when the powers that be are able to dictate who they find suspicious and worth investigation. People of color are disproportionately criminalized in the US, especially, for this context, when it comes to terrorist investigations and prosecutions. When a white man opens fire into a crowd of people, whether in a packed movie theater or school, he is deemed to be acting on his own accord, blaming it on psychiatric breaks, violent cultural influences like video games, and a background of bullying, among other external forces. Yet somehow, this is not categorized as “terror”. This term is solely reserved for the justification of the US’s ideological war. NSA and executive access to personal information through social media, phone, email, and personal documents benefits only a few. They have the power to selectively piece together a person’s identity to prove “extremist” and “terrorist” connections, despite how far-fetched.

OR, you can just google search pressure cookers for cooking your lentils and perhaps a little research on the Boston bombing and the po will show up at your place of residence! Comforting. What was that again about you not looking into my personals, NSA? And it happens more than you may think. Then again, I will be the first to admit that this story still has some facts up in the air. As the cherry on top, in case you needed a reminder, Obama recently won back the right to indefinitely detain people under the NDAA. Here’s to hoping you don’t get caught up with your Google searches because these days, they don’t even need a charge to hold you.

Today, August 1st, the NSA came out with a response to a Guardian article explaining the XKeyscore program, part of which states, “Continuous and selective revelations of specific techniques and tools used by NSA to pursue legitimate foreign intelligence targets is detrimental to the national security of the United States and our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect – our citizens, our war fighters, and our allies.” What a lovely attempt to demand that we stop searching for answers. It’s in our best interest after all. Meanwhile, as the NSA assures us that their information gathering is strictly for national security, multinationals are once again stepping in as the entities having the most to gain from human rights violations, with the power to bleed the world and its people dry. Chevron, figuring ‘hey why not take a leaf out of the NSA book and ask our friendly neighborhood service providers (Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo) to hand that information on over to us, since we know they have it and all.’ Shocking to nobody, they requested ALL of the information on the 100+ people, including environmental activists, lawyers, and attorneys surrounding the lawsuit against them in Ecuador where they are responsible for poisoning part of the Amazon Rainforest with toxic oil waste. What a petrifying precedent for Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court to set by ACTUALLY GRANTING this subpoena, all on the basis that because “they had not shown they were US citizens”, they are not granted constitutional protections.

Information is privatized and securitized, boarded up, while the rest of us hold a glass cup up to the wall hoping to catch a snippet of the real story. The worst part is that we continue to let it happen, giving them full authority to dictate in our absence. Private, handpicked meetings with little to no knowledge for the public continue to go on. The NSA is paying a British spy agency in secret funds. Yearly meetings and ongoing collaboration (beginning in the 1950s and paired with decades of denying its very existence) with the most powerful people and entities in the world are discussing the major issues facing our globe with ZERO press, agenda, or reports. This year in June, one of the bullet points that they so graciously provided to the public was “How big data is changing almost everything.” In the wake of the NSA leaks, we need to demand answers. Instead, they expect us to be comforted by their website statement, “thanks to the private nature of the conference, the participants are not bound by the conventions of office or by pre-agreed positions. As such, they can take time to listen, reflect and gather insights.” So much for accountability. I dare say I see a trend.

Let’s not kid ourselves about the reaching influence of this whole state of affairs. This is not solely about one leak or even the whistleblower responsible. The safeguards in place surrounding information and its proliferation on top of the vast lengths the US, among others, are signing off on to keep the public in the dark is of undeniable concern. It proves how valuable this information and the secrecy of the government programs are when they are willing to go to great lengths to track down and/or imprison those who seek to air their dirty laundry, important enough to stake out a bribery-laden manhunt, discounting nations’ sovereignty in the process So maybe, JUST MAYBE it’s important enough for us to pay attention to. Whether or not you believe in the power of the state as a body of power is an entirely different question but one cannot ignore the hypocrisy. This behavior will continue to be more of a threat to our national security than Edward Snowden and his leaks yet there’s no protection coming from the US. It mirrors the way this administration continues its drone strikes, despite evidence that killing innocent civilians radicalizes people against the US. However, we’ll save that discussion for a later date. For now I think we can agree that the master’s tools are a bitch.

Knowledge is being criminalized, hidden, and purposefully withheld. Funny how back in the times of the Cold War, the US mobilized the public by portraying the USSR as an oppressive, Big Brother state, the antithesis to our home of the free. Now we have our fearless leader telling us we have a decision to make between national security and privacy. It is quite convenient (and not terrifying at all) when the state seems to enjoy controlling our modes of thought for their advantage and overreaching hunger for imperialist power.

In the recent surveillance hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy opened by talking about the importance of having conversations about privacy and national security, making sure the government and its agencies are held accountable for surveillance programs that may intrude on the rights of US citizens. Sounds dandy. BUT in the next breath, he chastises the NSA for letting “a high school dropout” release classified information. What is it they say? You can’t have your cake and eat it too? I can’t say I’ve ever truly understood the phrase but I think it applies here. The reason that these conversations and hearings are able to happen in the first place is because of the information Snowden exposed. Instead of recognizing that, Leahy inquires whether or not anyone has been fired for this “slip up.” He should be thanking Snowden for being more honest than our intelligence/national security agencies and giving him the tools to be an educated public servant. But that would make too much sense.

“In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning, or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama Administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised – and it should be. – Edward Snowden July 1st, 2013. Keep in mind that Edward Snowden did not release all of the documents and is hesitant because of the direct threat to his personal safety. (Hooray for him being safe in Hong Kong as of today!) Who knows what else is going to come to light. Stay tuned. In the meantime, we know they will be doing the same, combing through your property currently being ‘protected’ by the Constitution. We should be outraged, as both citizens of the US and about these implications regarding our global family as compassionate citizens of the world.

Jessika Seekatz will be entering her last year at San Diego State University this fall, studying Women’s Studies as well as International Security and Conflict Resolution. She is currently interning with CODEPINK in DC for Summer 2013. 

 

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