Turkey teeters on the brink of revolution -- because the government wants to build a mall in the middle of a public square in Istanbul.
What will we do about the PRISM conspiracy?
With due respect to the Turkish protesters -- with whom I agree -- PRISM is a trillion times worse than Taksim Square.
PRISM is run by the NSA and FBI.
The charter of the National Security Agency, a spy agency created to collect foreign intelligence, specifically states that it is prohibited from "acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons." Simple English. The NSA isn't even allowed to spy on Americans accidentally.
The FBI's self-professed mission is to "protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners."
The NSA claims that its actions are "consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties."
The darkest dystopian visions of the future -- 1984, Brazil -- have come to life. There can no longer be any illusion that the U.S. is a democratic republic. Everything we learned as schoolchildren was a lie. The U.S. government does not serve us. This is not a government by the people or for the people.
The Washington Post and the British newspaper The Guardian have broken a startling blockbuster, perhaps the biggest story of our lives. "The NSA and the FBI," writes the Post, "are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates."
This is a conspiracy so breathtaking in scope and ambition that it is scarcely comprehensible.
According to a classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by a patriotic intelligence officer said to be consumed with "horror at the capabilities" of the PRISM system, the U.S. government taps directly into the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Google, the biggest Internet company on earth, controlling 16 percent of global Internet traffic, pretended to stand up to China's clumsy attempts to censor the Web, but when the NSA came calling, they bent over.
Google could have litigated, called a press conference, leaked the threats. Instead, they turned over everything. Voluntarily. If you're online, Google has given your "private" information to the feds. "Don't be evil"?
If capitalism counts for anything, contracts have to be enforced. There is a universally understood implicit contract between Internet users and companies like Microsoft and Apple: they keep your data private to the best of their abilities. They might get hacked; a court may serve them with a subpoena. Stuff happens. But they're not supposed to voluntarily give every bit and byte to the government just because they asked nicely. The government trusts them. But now, can anyone else?
PRISM exposes the horrifying, galling partnership between the biggest Silicon Valley corporations and an out-of-control security state. No one is safe in a society governed by such powerful elites colluding so closely.
It also belies previous official claims that anti-terrorism and other security-based intelligence-gathering operations are specifically targeted at likely threats. To the contrary, the U.S. government is plainly interested in -- and has largely succeeded at -- intercepting, collecting and analyzing every electronic communication in the United States, and presumably abroad as well.
"According to a separate 'User's Guide for PRISM Skype Collection,' that service can be monitored for audio.... Google's offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms."
That's what they're calling the emails we send each other, our photos in the "cloud," our video chats, everything we do online. Offerings. They're offering us up.
Yeah, of course, we knew they were spying on Americans at an epic scale that the Stasi spymasters depicted in the East German drama The Lives of Others couldn't have dreamed of.
First came the 2001 USA-Patriot Act, which opened the door to sanctioned law-breaking in the supposed service of national security. In 2002 there was DARPA's Total Information Awareness (TIA), the Bush Administration's post-9/11 data mining operation, an attempt to "turn everything in cyberspace about everybody... into a single, humongous, multi-googolplexibyte database that electronic robots will mine for patterns of information suggestive of terrorist activity," in the words of Kendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker. After an uproar, Congress defunded TIA -- so its staff and activities simply packed up and moved to the NSA, where they continue to work today.
There was also AT&T's secret room 641A, the site of "clandestine collaboration between one big telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history." That story broke in 2007.
A few days ago, another sweeping violation of privacy came to light. This time, "the government has obtained phone numbers of both parties on every Verizon call, the call's duration, location data and the time of day the calls were made." That program is ongoing.
It doesn't take a genius to extrapolate from these stories to the massive scope of PRISM. But there's a big difference between knowing the government is reading your emails and looking at your dirty pictures, and KNOWING they're doing it. Now we KNOW.
So. What are we going to do about this?
First: we need a full, independent investigation. Not by Congress. By someone we can trust. It's hard to imagine who. Certainly not one of the big tech companies accused of betraying us.
Second: if this story turns out to be true, President Obama, Vice President Biden and the entire cabinet must resign and face prosecution: knowledge of PRISM, and authorization thereof, goes to the Oval Office. There must be accountability. Swift accountability.
Members of Congress, corporate executives of the Internet companies involved, and of any other companies, must be held to account as well. Prosecutions should come quickly.
Finally, we have some hard questions to ask ourselves.
I'd start with this one:
What does it mean to be an American? Are we citizens, free men and women? Or are we serfs, not vested in even the primal right to talk to our friends and family members without some goddamn government asshole listening in?
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