Though by nature an incurable optimist, it’s with a cynical smile that I observe the hand wringing and outcry over the Edward Snowden revelations that—gasp—our government is spying on us.
As breaking news, that is right up there with Washington crossing the Delaware.
Anyone who’s paid any attention to the events of the last 50 years knows that J. Edgar Hoover spied on pretty much everyone, mostly (though not always) with the full cooperation of the various presidents he served under.
And where were all these outraged people when the “Patriot Act” was being pushed through Congress, granting various agencies permission to tap phones and read emails? (May I also point out that anyone who is on Facebook lives in Fantasyland if you think that you have any privacy left?)
During the years right after 9/11, I was making nearly daily personal calls to London. We would often hear odds clickings and other noises during these calls—more than the usual long-distance static.
“Hi, Dick, how’s the family?” I would sometimes interrupt my conversation to inquire, on the assumption that Dick Cheney’s minions were very likely listening in.
As someone who has been involved in what used to be referred to as “the counterculture” since I was 14, I am way used to being spied on. In my early youth, as an organizer of the “Ms. California Counter Pageant,” a successful attempt to persuade my home town of Santa Cruz to boot the utterly sexist Miss California Pageant out of its smug annual visit, we looked up from the march and saw the cameras poking out of office blinds above the street. Later, the local alt-weekly ran a picture of a telephoto lens at one of those windows, fully justifying any paranoia we may have felt.
After a lifetime of marches, battles with huge corporations, and generally engaging in “subversive activities,” including working for this publication, I am well aware I have an extensive file somewhere in FBI archives.
But so, it’s entirely possible, do you.
A petition just started by Daniel Ellsberg (and no, I am not explaining who he is), states: “In 1975, Senator Frank Church, who led a committee charged with investigating and making public the abuses of American intelligence agencies, spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:
"’I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.’
“The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America's intelligence-gathering capability—which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era—‘at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left.’”
Ellsberg points out that that time is now here. Yet I continue to be amazed at the people who, apparently, simply do not care.
I do. I acknowledge that steps must be taken to ensure that nations are "safe.” There actually are people, groups and countries that are constantly planning attacks of one kind or another. And as far as Edward Snowden himself is concerned, I am very much on the fence about the way in which he released his information and the way he’s conducted himself since.
But—Americans have been sliding down a slippery slope of giving up privacy rights for so many years that way too many of us simply assume we don’t have the right to have those rights. Who has the right to collect this information and why? With whom are they sharing it? What type of activity inspires extended information collection? These are questions we have the right to ask, and the right to say no to if the answers are vague or dismissive.
If you have ever signed an “activist” petition, been in a civil-rights march or engaged in environmental activism, you, like me, are probably on file. Find out what’s in it by going to getmyfile.com and print out letters requesting—nay, demanding—your files.
I’ll be right there with you.