Snowden and surveillance: Any privacy for your phone calls?

If the intelligence agencies are not eavesdropping on our communications, they should. This is a game that they can’t afford to lose Photo: Edward Snowden AP photo

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., June 24, 2013 – Seems like the escalation game between Edward Snowden and the U.S. government is reaching its apex.

Snowden and The Guardian keep saying that they have more important information to divulge while the federal government has finally indicted Snowden for treason among other charges. To counter, Snowden has flown to Russia with the possible intention to seek asylum in a third country.

Edward Snowden was a mid-level analyst working for a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). Before his revelations, he was an employee of Booz, Allen, Hamilton (BAH) a well-known contractor for the federal government, working on government surveillance.

Curiously, when I was completing my graduate work and looking for a job, one of the other graduate assistants (who was also a BAH employee) recommended that I inquire with BAH. He alerted me that when I called to ask for him since the receptionist had been told to tell anyone with an accent that there were no jobs. Not the best recommendations for an employer.

After the revelations by Snowden were published in The Guardian, the media frenzy started. Everyone interviewed either believed these revelations were akin to Watergate or that Snowden was a 21st Century Benedict Arnold. A few looked at him as a naïve, well-intentioned, but misguided soul.

As most of the readers already know, the revelations by Snowden so far were that the federal government, specifically the NSA had been obtaining Meta data information on communications by our citizens.

Really? That’s big news? Isn’t it naïve to believe that in these paranoid times that all of our intelligence agencies have not been eavesdropping on just about anything that is available to them? In fact, from my perspective, if they’re not, they damn well should. What do you think they do in those billion dollar facilities that keep springing up throughout the nation?

While the Fourth Amendment guarantees a degree of privacy, once the information leaves the confines of your castle, it is available for anyone with the proper equipment and knowledge to harvest it. A federal agency tasked with our protection against hard odds would be very willing to gather it. To them this is not a game in which the rules are set to assure fair competition. It is a do or die proposition with many dead bodies to show if they are wrong.

The American concept of privacy is quite schizophrenic. While many of us are willing to post personal, embarrassing things on social media sites, we don’t want the federal government to know whom we call on the phone. Of course, to many this is a question of “principle.”  The Constitution guarantees my privacy and I have the right to demand it, but I guess I also have the right to choose how I exercise this right.

What we need to separate from all the hype is whether the information that was requested and then analyzed was used to protect us. If it was used for political ends then by all means let’s go ahead and get all wild about it. This is true now and it was true during similar disclosures during the Bush administration.

There is a simple test that we can all perform when we are releasing information (which is any time you get on-line or talk on the phone). Assume that it will be seen by anyone that wants to see it. While we hope that our financial information is protected from people intended to harm us, all other information is fair game. Anyone with enough interest can find out what you eat, what you watch, what you read, where you travel, where you gas up, how much water you use in your house, whether you speed, whether you have a criminal record, whether you visited a motel at lunch time, and many other things.

Should it bother us? Of course not. This is the price we pay for living in a connected society. Just make sure that if you have a secret life, you don’t use any services. If anyone wants to “violate my privacy,” they are welcome to be bored.

The reasonable thing would be for the government to come clean and clearly specify the limits of its surveillance and the checks and balances. The rhetoric that has resulted in the escalation of the Snowden affair should also be toned down so that a logical outcome can be negotiated about our right to privacy.

Mario Salazar,can be reached at http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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