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Data Rape


by Robert Scheer

Give me bargain or give me liberty. Do Americans love shopping more than they value their individual freedom, or is buying stuff the only freedom we cherish?

Think about it. Why in the past decade have we squandered our legacy of privacy, the Constitutionally protected right to per sonal space, to be left alone with our thoughts and passions and totally empowered to define who we are as individuals as long as we don’t deny that right to others? That was the founding assumption of this great republic of ours, enshrined in the Bill of Rights and with rare exceptions honored until the coming of the age of the Internet and the wired revolution.

In terms of sacrificing privacy, the past decade has witnessed the most sweeping change in human history. Sacred notions of the sanctity of home and family, not to mention even the most intimate details of one’s personal life, are now an open book for anyone with online access. “We know where you live”—the dreaded warning once reserved for particularly efficient and vicious gangsters and agents of a totalitarian regime’s spy apparatus—can now be applied to anyone, nutcase or hustler, who means you harm, as well as to those who just want to sink you into deeper debt by selling you junk.

And most of us think this rape of the private self is just dandy when all of those online ads pitching a product instantly linked to some subject line in whatever we are reading pop up. Interested in gun control? Your computer screen suddenly winks back at you with some cutie message like “I have a snazzy assault weapon you might be interested in. And while you’re at it, why not join a group to protect your right to own a weapon designed to create mayhem?”

That’s the world we welcome into our lives every time we agree to the fine print of some new software convenience—and even when we don’t. There is no accountability for what the Internet search giants will do with our data—and certainly not for the government agencies ostensibly devoted to protecting your rights. This is truly a case where government is not the solution to the problem: It is the problem!

As was confirmed by the leaks concerning the supersecret National Security Agency’s massive surveillance and data-sorting activities, the government on both federal and state levels views the private info-collection outfits— led by Google and Yahoo!—as massive vacuum cleaners sucking up every bit of our personal lives.

This is information that those purportedly private companies are required to turn over to just about any government agency—from the CIA to your local police department—to be sorted, manipulated, cross-filed and made available to just about anyone with some kind of security clearance. That means just about anyone capable of breathing who can sport some sort of badge.

Booz Allen Hamilton, with more than $11 billion in federal contracts, had full access to your records that the government had obtained from Google and the others. Even more disturbing, the for-profit company—which has had a cozy relationship with the intelligence community since World War II—was authorized to bestow official government secrecy clearances on its own employees. That practice came to bite Booz Allen in the ass when one of them—a high-school drop – out named Edward Snowden—decided to leak a mother lode of classified documents detailing the NSA’s extensive phone and Internet eavesdropping.

The government and its private-sector agents get away with doing this because they claim that in the end it makes us safer. It’s the old Big Brother argument: Trust us to enter and monitor every aspect of your lives and totally destroy your freedom. And in return we will guarantee that you will be free of a terrorist attack.

It is a garbage argument because all of that snooping has an ulterior motive: In order to get increased funding to feed its enormous appetite, what is basically a national-security industrial complex has to continue telling us that we are in imminent danger of yet another attack.

The hyping of fear has become a way of life in our country, but we don’t object or even notice because we are too busy shopping.

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