Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cyber Thriller

Reuters image on Yahoo.
“I don’t understand why so few people seem to care or fear these invasions of privacy.”

My friend Ilse is talking about the current government spying scandal let lose by NSA (National Security Agency) consultant and whistleblower Edward Snowden.  The government has been monitoring our phone and internet data with the help of Google, Facebook, Verizon and other communications giants, he claims. Big Government and Big Business are in cahoots to spy on Americans.

I guess it’s just not surprising.  I must say I’ve been pretty nonchalant about it.  Maybe my expectations are low.  Nor am I surprised that NSA could be so invasive --  not because I keep track of security issues, but from watching that movie I’ve been referencing a lot lately, “Enemy of the State,” with Will Smith and Gene Hackman.   

yahoo image,
Smith’s character, a DC lawyer, inadvertently but decisively becomes the target of an NSA official who uses the full force of the government’s surveilliance power to get him.  It’s a thriller with a message: the US government has the capability and the willingness to strip our identity and spy on us, no matter where or when or how or why, and there is no stopping it. Unless that is you are a super genius cyber guru like Gene Hackman.
Not only that, but NSA can act on it’s own, without oversight, and let it rip, from spying to murder and mayhem. 

If this was the 1950s and the throes of the Cold War we might all be heading for bomb shelters.  Now we tweet and post messages about it on facebook and other social media. “What a shame,” we say, knowing there’s not much we can do, and hoping maybe the government can do better. We know darn well that Google and facebook et al know all about us, down to our daily purchases and every click we make on the computer.  

Why aren’t we angry and scared and screaming about this espionage exposure scandal? Could it be because we expect it? Is it because “the Millennials,” which is my grandkids’ generation, don’t see it as a problem?  Do they blithely trade privacy for the goodies of their smart phones?  Heck they are growing up totally wired and cyber savvy.  Even my youngest grandson Chase, approaching two-years-old, loves playing on his brother Josh’s iphone and yes, games on the computer.  He points and clicks with ease, and a big grin on his face. Don’t know what comes after the millennials, but Chase is right there. Also my 6-year-old great-grandson Philip. The Cyber Generation I’d call them.

Meanwhile the government is pursuing Ed Snowden, now in Hong Kong.  Like it did the Will Smith character in Enemy of the State. Why? What did he do wrong?  Snowden says he’s in Hong Kong not to hide from justice but to expose criminality.  “I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”  He spilled to the British Guardian and the Washington Post.  Did he make this stuff up?   

Sounds plausible to me, but then I don’t know if we’re in a thriller movie or in real life and real time.

The president is reviewing the matter. The FBI and CIA are in on it. The director of NSA, Keith Alexander, will be questioned by Congressional committees I read.  He is, by the way, also head of something I had never heard of before, “US Cyber Command.”  Holy cow.  A US Cyber Commander?  What is this person's responsibilities?  I wouldn’t want to mess with this guy, anymore than Will Smith and Gene Hackman wanted to deal with NSA bad guy Jon Voight.          

Is it a cliché to ask if the government can come up with tighter controls on domestic surveillance? A balance between privacy rights and national security?  Who's watching NSA? Who are the bad guys? Who are the good guys?

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