You can’t stare down a spy agency without being prepared to burn your life to the ground over the smallest grain of truth, because truth is the only thing they are afraid of. Truth means accountability, and accountability terrifies those who have gone beyond what is necessary. ~ Edward Snowden
I heard on the radio this morning that someone on the MGM board had been indicted by the U. S. government for wiretapping. Can you imagine? The feds want to convict someone for unauthorized invasion of privacy and theft of confidential information?
You used to need a warrant to tap a wire. You tap a maple tree to drain out the sweet sap that flows inside the trunk. You tap a wire to pull out the private information that flows there. Wire tapping is illegal when a private citizen does it. When the state gathers private information, the activity is routine, top secret, and legal.
Wire tapping and all its variants are necessary tools for surveillance. If you want to watch people, you have to gather information about them. If you want to control people, you have to watch them. If you want to gather the kind of information about people that leads to effective control, you have to watch them, all the time.
Why has surveillance grown so much during the last decade? The U. S. government watched Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, and countless other “suspects” in the 1950s and 60s. That was a long time ago. We found out almost forty years ago, via the Church committee, how habitual domestic surveillance had become. The FBI broke the law, as did the CIA. People said, “This has to stop.”
We know what happened since then. Surveillance has grown, until in 2013, the president himself brands anyone who discloses the true extent of his government’s crimes, a traitor and a spy. At least in the 1970s, we knew who the bad guys were. People who misunderstand government’s true nature think they know who the traitors are, but they are wrong. They do not remember what government has already done to prove its perfidy.
These reasons explain why wire tapping grew so much over the last decade:
- Technology for collection, storage and analysis has improved.
- The legal and cultural climate have supported increased use of wire taps. Fear in particular has made people willing to sacrifice privacy.
- Power wants to grow, and information is power.
We can conclude here for now. Remember Edward Snowden in exile, and Bradley Manning in prison. Remember all who have died as a result of government’s crimes.
When a scientist like Francis Bacon says that organized knowledge is power, the phrase means one thing. Science, through technology and medicine, lets human beings control natural processes. When a secret spy agency uses the same phrase as its motto, the literal meaning stays the same, but the social and political significance changes more than we can measure. Intelligence agencies, and the governments they serve, seek to control people. Scientists and tyrants do not think of power in the same way.
Our government used to collect information about people overseas. Now it does not distinguish between people overseas and its own citizens. All are equally suspect, all are fish in the same ocean. When a government agency collects information about you, in secret, then tells you knowledge is power, what should we understand by that? How should we respond? What kind of power could the agency be talking about?
It is not talking about making life better for you. Tyrants, spies, and criminals are not in government to improve your health, or find better ways for you to live. They rule to increase their own power. They understand that the more they know about you, the more control they have over you and your behavior. When a government agency denies that it has violated your privacy, take another look at its motto.
Paul Simon’s lyrics about Mrs. Robinson’s sanitarium now apply to the entire country:
We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home