Monday, June 10, 2013

Computers and Domestic Spying

The US government's All Seeing Eye.
The big difference between J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, East Germany's Stasi, and 2013's NSA is the modern ability of computers. In the old days dossiers and wiretaps required human eyes and ears. The Stasi is estimated to have employed one-sixth of East Germany's population as informants. Information was stored on paper, even the most interesting wiretaps were transcribed to paper. There was a limit to how much data government could acquire.

Nowadays the information nearly unlimited. Your grocery store records everything you buy and analyses the data to predict what you will want to buy in the future. Amazon does the same thing with your reading material. MasterCard compiles your entire shopping history. Google records every single search you've done. Your ISP knows what websites you visited and how long you've been there. GPS allows your car to know everywhere you drove and your smart phone to know where you have been. Your phone also knows who you've talked to and for how long.

Then there is Twitter and Facebook where people voluntarily spy on themselves, informing those corporations of every intimate detail of their lives. The kind of information that would cause Hoover to orgasm repeatedly.

Did you notice the pattern here? The government initiated none of this datamining. Corporations did it all. They do it to sell you shit or to sell that information to other corporations intending to sell shit to you. Or, as is the case with car and phone GPS chips, they do it just because they can on the off chance the data will become valuable someday. All of this personal information about you and me is being mined and collated by corporations for their own very selfish interests. Sears doesn't care if you are a terrorist, they just want to help you find the perfect pressure cooker for your bomb building needs.

For government apparatchiks who believe it is their sworn duty to keep tabs on everything every American is doing lest somebody somewhere does something naughty, all this corporate information collection is better than Nirvana. They grab the data, usually not even bothering to pay for it, and build fancy search algorithms that even the corporations never dreamed of.

Of course there are hole in the data. Cash transactions are hidden as are people who use low-tech phones. In the end 99.9999999999% of the data is useless. Still, the government gathers it and studies it. And because so much is useless they gather more and more information about Americans. They hope somewhere in all that worthless dust there will be a few specks of gold.

And the price is, at any given moment your government knows more about you than you do yourself. But so do the businesses you use. Privacy is a joke. If you buy your condoms with a credit card MasterCard knows how often you have sex. Verizon knows who you are probably sleeping with. And Walgreens knows if you have missed your period. What corporations know the government can know too.

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