A young reader suggests not-so-much:
I have to disagree with the outrage of your readers (and the general Internet masses) on the impact of the NSA data collection. I think everyone needs to come to grips with the realities of the Internet. It is an enormously useful tool and information exchange that is kept free and open, as it should be. It is not an extension of your private space. The government collects data on what you do and say on the Internet? No shit. Private companies do too, as do hackers, foreign governments, and basically anyone who is good at googling.
Several months ago I googled a Boston hotel to get the address of where my girlfriend’s parents were staying. For months adverts for the hotel popped up on most sites I visited. When I google addresses with generic street names the one in my city always comes up first, probably because of the location of my IP address. Information on the Internet is open and there for the taking, and if you are worried about your emails being read maybe all the examples of leaked emails by persons who received them, hackers, etc. should send a jolt of reality through your system.
Look, using technology and the Internet is ingrained in our lives but remains completely optional and discretionary. And if you say “Wrong, I need this to live” then you should be worried about more than just having your metadata mined. We have fought hard (and rightfully, I think) to keep the Internet as an open and free forum. If you say or do something in an open and free forum, it is out there for the taking. Plan your actions accordingly. You don’t NEED to tweet, google, email, instant message, or post anything you don’t want to be known. And quite frankly if you are over-sharing your life and secrets on the Internet, I feel sorry for you.
By the way, I am 26 and far from the only millennial who I know feels this way. So we should not assume that the proliferation of private information available for the taking is going to be permanent.
Like you, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed with Snowden. I’ve been trying to figure out why it doesn’t bother me, but I suppose it’s because this is just the latest in a long line of surveillance activity colliding with modern technology. I’m sure you remember the big deal that was the ECHELON program, right? There was a right-wing kerfuffle on this being an invasion of privacy during the Clinton administration. What set it apart from Bush’s warrantless wiretapping was that it adhered to FISA. But ECHELON was still “capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of communication bearers including satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks (which once carried most Internet traffic) and microwave links.”
PRISM is just a step further out from ECHELON. It’s using anonymous data collection (just like Google, Yahoo, Amazon or any other place that monitors your internet searching activities) before going to get a warrant for suspicious activity. You can think of this as an invasion of privacy, or that there’s a camera on you in any grocery store, one from which the feds can ask for footage, if so inclined.
I grok the concerns of civil libertarians like Greenwald. It’s just a creepy feeling (if the federal government really wanted to, they could connect a few dots and find out my taste in internet porn). It may be lawful, but imagine how easy it would be to abuse. That’s worth discussing. But it’s not worth pretending to be shocked (shocked!) that your Internet searches don’t just disappear into the ether. They call it “being on the grid” for a reason.