I spy with my little eye
Truly, it was no revelation to many of us working for peace that the US government is keeping extensive records on all American citizens. There were enough hints for us. We have, after all, made it very easy for them to do so.
That being said, I must say that the peace workers I know are still most grateful for Eric Snowden's public disclosure of the extent of US spying on its own citizens.
I grew up during the Cold War and I remember one of the selling points our media and culture used in support of the “US against the Russians” was that the Russians kept files on every single one of their citizens. “Dissidents” -- those in Russia who spoke out against Russian government politics -- had especially large files. Whereas we in the United States of America could disagree publicly with our government without the fear of the government keeping tabs on us. Lucky us, huh?
(This by the way has made for another delicious “gallows humor” moment with Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the Russians to hand over Snowden as the legally right thing to do amid the US abuses of law at Guantanamo -- including the use of torture -- and its massive surveillance of its citizens. Some of the Russian reporters could hardly contain their glee. I expect soon we'll be known worldwide as the “United States of Horses' Patooties” if we're not already.)
I think previously I reported in this blog my summer of 2011 conversation with Colleen Rowley, former FBI agent and 9/11 whistle blower and Time Magazine's 2002 “Woman of the Year.” She told me over lunch in Saratoga Springs that the US government was building a facility outside of Salt Lake City that would collect every single electronic communication and/or transaction. Emails, cell phone calls, Internet searches and purchases, financial transactions. The last being redundant -- every bank in the US has what is called a “Patriot Server,” owned and operated by the US government, which collects every single nickel that goes through the bank as well as the person behind that nickel. This building would use more power than the entire city of Salt Lake City.
Said building has in fact been built and said nickel, with accompanying spender, is duly tracked.
What is amazing, astonishing and stupefying (as in I don't get it) are the people who tacitly accept this government behavior with a simple “it is for our protection from terrorists” and “if you're not doing anything wrong -- you have nothing to worry about.” Just read the letters to the editor in any local newspaper.
As far as the terrorism argument, here are some statistics gathered from a 2004 National Safety Council report, the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and 2003 mortality data from the Center for Disease Control:
You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack.
You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack.
You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane.
You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack.
You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack.
You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack.
You are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident than from a terrorist attack.
You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack.
You are 9 times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack.
You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.
You are 8 times more likely to die from accidental electrocution than from a terrorist attack.
You are 6 times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack.
In 2011 the U.S. Department of State reported that only 17 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide as a result of terrorism. That figure includes deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and all other theaters of war.
As for the misguided and naive charge, “If you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about...”. Let the government, any government, have enough information about you and you will have something to worry about. In fact you'll have lots of things to worry about.
Back in the days of the Cold War, just a few decades ago, we used to wonder, how could the Russian citizens let this happen to them? How could they accept this? How could this happen?
I don't wonder any more. And that has been the most frightening thing of all.