There’s an excellent story in the Wall Street Journal about the extent and nature of domestic spying. (The Wall Street Journal? Gee, do you suppose the White House will accuse them of endangering our lives, as they did the New York Times when they wrote about Swift?)
Here’s a taste of the WSJ story:
Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item — and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city — for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans — the government’s spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city [emphasis added].
Holy smokes. Forget six degrees of separation – you can monitor an entire metropolitan area because . . . well, there’s a lot of Muslims there and we got a lead . . .
But in the end, it’s all our fault for letting it all hang out on Facebook.
Donald Kerr, the deputy director of national intelligence, told a conference of intelligence officials in October that the government needs new rules. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he said, their identity shouldn’t need the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their “essential privacy,” or “what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs,” should be veiled, he said, without providing examples.
All of which reminds me of the brilliant introduction to Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s dystopian prediction, with flourishes by Tom Stoppard, where a fly in the typewriter changes one letter – and ruins lives as a result.