Friday, June 7, 2013

Nothing Surprising Here

The only thing that may be surprising about today's commentary, if you've been paying attention to the news over the last decade or so, is that we're not going to follow our usual Friday protocol today - in part because there's way too much to talk about.

Between the dangerously stupid racism and hatred of President Obama driving Republicans in the U.S. House to give immigrant DREAMers the proverbial finger, and Nebraska Republican legislators making life hell for legal immigrants who want a simple driver's license, and - of course - the monthly jobs numbers, the list of legitimate news topics most media outlets could cover today is already long.

Most of the media today, though, is going to still be breathing heavily over variations on a government spying program that has been going on in one form or another since 10 days after the Bush Administration took over in 2001.

You've probably heard about the NSA phone records program by now, and you may have even heard about the U.S. federal government's data-mining program that the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers released stories about on Thursday. Maybe you'd even heard that the NSA's program appears to have picked up credit card info too. What far too many of our colleagues have yet to bring attention to though, is that they - and most of the major figures in government and telecommunications - have known about these kinds of surveillance programs for YEARS.

Frankly, you also likely knew - or assumed - this kind of thing was going on too.

The NSA itself has been sucking up your phone records for over a decade. But "big guv'mint" didn't grab all that data by themselves. Every major tech corporation, from Microsoft to Google, and from Apple to Facebook, has also been sharing information with the government - or allowing their info to be skimmed and harvested - since at least 2007.

Unfortunately, this story is already being seen in some corners of the world as suspect, because the writer to whom the leaker spoke has a long history as an anti-American apologist. A real journalist, who cared more about the truth, would have known perception is as important as the facts themselves, and would have directed the leak to an unbiased journalist.

In part, because of that selfishness and unprofessional conduct, the story has already devolved into a blame game, of sorts - one where many people are laying far too much blame on the President's desk.

No, President Obama is not simply President Bush, redux. For one thing, under Bush, many of these surveillance techniques were illegal. After President Obama was elected, it was CONGRESS - not the President - who strengthened and made legal most of the questionable domestic spying policies first enacted under President Bush, at the direction of Vice President Cheney. If you have a problem with President Obama using powers of his office - powers that Congress legally gave to the office, while he was in it - yet you had no problem when President Bush used those same tools illegally, your hypocrisy invalidates any opinion you have on this matter. The same thing can be said if you hold President Obama more guilty than Congress for this mess. There is truly enough guilt for all in this.

In fact, writer and computer security specialist Bruce Schneier also made the valid point Thursday that Americans - and really computer users all over the world - have done this to ourselves. We are, in effect, our own 'Big Brother.' For years, we have all been sharing far more information about ourselves than most of us realize, usually in exchange for some convenience.

We've also been allowing both our government and corporations, in equal measure, to create tools that have some seriously dark side effects.

That's part of the reason Ezra Klein's Thursday column is so key to understanding the reaction to this latest controversy. In short, Klein notes that as the American people know more and have more direct influence in their government, they hate it more and can handle it less. Not everyone is designed to play the game of life at the level of depth Americans are currently insisting on and requiring of our government - and not everyone is willing to accept what the demands of living life at that level truly mean.

If you somehow thought the age of total information was simply whistles, bells, and gadgets that cost no more than the checkout stand price, then maybe you have actually been surprised. For everyone other than the digital Rip Van Winkles, get over it. You knew this was coming because people like us told you it would happen over a decade ago, long before this publication existed, when the Bush/Cheney regime initially opened this Pandora's box. We hated it and were worried about it then.

That doesn't mean any of this NSA spying is ok now. It just means you can't claim innocence, since you are just as responsible as the rest of us. Moreso, really, since members of our staff were working in the media back then, but were ignored on this issue.

Americans who feign surprise now - or who attempt to wrap themselves in the First Amendment, to protect them from any serious critiques - are as dishonest as the GOP's position toward immigrants. And they look just as stupid defending themselves that way.

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