When I come to Paris, I try to put the United States and even world politics behind me. I relax, cook, walk, hang out in the local café, and contemplate my mortality with as much aplomb as I can muster. The world, of course, takes no notice that I am on vacation, and goes on outraging me comme ordinaire. So I think I have to say something about the recent revelations of Obama’s invasive spying on Americans [or at least on those of us who happen to have chosen Verizon as our cellphone service provider, which includes me.]
First of all, the spying is unconscionable, unconstitutional, inexcusable, and the direct responsibility of Obama. He is the former Con Law professor, after all. He chose to do it, he approved it [I am sure], he received reports of the results of it, and so far as anyone knows, he never raised the slightest question about it.
So I am appalled. I am also not in the slightest surprised. It seems to me to be a well-established truth that in the area of electronic data management, storage, and retrieval, if it can be done, it will be done. This is a time in which Google routinely keeps track of books I have electronically expressed an interest in, so that it can direct me to other titles it thinks I might be inclined to buy. My electronic shopping leaves tracks that permit all manner of retailers to deduce my buying habits, in hopes of getting some of my dollars. Expedia remembers where I usually fly from, and WORD obsessively corrects my spelling, whether I want it to or not. I have left so many cookies in cyberspace that I could open a bakery.
The White House says it only checked the numbers I called, not what I said after someone answered. Sure. If that is true, it is only for lack of enough storage and a workable voice recognition package. Give them a year or so.
Obama is the best we are ever going to get in the way of a President, so far as this sort of thing is concerned. So if he turns out to be no better than George W. Bush, I think we can stop imagining that Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or even, lord help us, Elizabeth Warren would be any better. If ever the notion of structural oppression has a usage, this is it. This use of technology to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens is baked into the structure of the imperial state. Anything any of us launches into cyberspace can be, and therefore will be, appropriated without our consent by all manner of people and governments with the technology to latch onto it.
All of this being so, should we protest? Of course. Will our protests stop the invasions from occurring? Not a chance. Who in government is ever going to want to have to say, “I could have stopped it [insert your tragedy of choice], but I would have had to listen in on a lot of phone conversations, and that would have been wrong”?
Should we demand that nosy bureaucrats get a court order first? Sure. Is there a federal judge in America who would deny such a request? Be serious.
It is possible, although inconvenient, to keep oneself separate from the Cloud [pay cash, don’t send emails, don’t tweet, stay away from Facebook and UTube, don’t text, don’t use a cellphone or even a landline], but although that will protect you from electronic surveillance, it will have no effect whatsoever on the general practice.
If it can be done, it will be done.