This week, libertarian Republicans are aligned with liberal Democrats as the fight shapes up in the US Senate to block reauthorization of that most-despised post 9-11 artifact, the Patriot Act.
Elsewhere in Washington, lawmakers are weighing calls from lobbyists and constituents against campaign donations to decide whether to bring the latest generation of cyber encryption into the legislative arena.
Meanwhile, and far behind the curve, ordinary average Americans are finally beginning to comprehend the magnitude of cyberspying and virtually unlimited, quite out-of-control, collection and compiling and processing of data on every conceivable thing about every single one of us.
Back on Jan 11, 2012, Forbes magazine reported, "There have been so many examples of cyber espionage that it is now the norm to just accept... it..."
In cyber time, 2012 was way back when. Do you have a social media page or account? Did you read the permissions you were giving them when you signed-up, even if that was before 2012, or the last time you were forced to accept a mandatory "upgrade" that somehow never really upgraded anything for your user experience?
You may think your data is yours. Private. Personal. Unless you choose to reveal something by publicly sharing it. Wrong.
"If you're not paying [for it], then you are not the customer, you are the product."
Yesterday, Chauncy Bowers, a friend who is both a scientist and an artist, made that observation. Actually, he was repeating it. He's been offering it for a while now.
It is illustrative of one of humanity's ultimate collisions, wherein technology that has raced beyond civilization's codes of morals and mores has been seized for its profit-making capability, and seized by those who can afford to control it, with total disregard for its ability to destroy what we take for granted as our rights to privacy.
Certainly, it is about money, for a few who are prepositioned to get it, and who are unhampered by the kind of ethical constraints most of us have when we believe we have been entrusted with something.
This new phenomenon is examined in the 2013 article, "Cyber Espionage: The Greatest Transfer of Wealth in History."
Cyberspying, to compile data on ordinary people, for profit, has grown exponentially since that article was written. And it is clearly beyond our ability to comprehend just how universal, ubiquitous and intrusive it has become. Likewise for how far it goes beyond our reckoning of the implications it brings for the jobs we will hold, the access we will get, and the opportunities we will enjoy.
If that much does not surprise you, then you are likely among those who think that government is the source of the greatest risk. But that is actually rather far down the list.
Wednesday morning on Al Jazeera, a tech analyst guest was there to discuss the right-out-of-nowhere controversy over new encryption programs ready to reach the consumer market. The cops and the FBI want all such software banned, saying all manner of criminal activities would go unchecked because they would be undetectable.
Meanwhile, all the tech giants are poised to make a fortune by offering unbreakable cyber data encryption programs for sale to anybody with money.
The cyber guru guest was asked by the tv host, "Isn't this a double standard? You've got tech giants Apple and Google defending privacy for their customers [so they can sell this unbreakable encryption], yet both of them are selling all the data they collect on their customers, selling it like crazy, and making millions doing it."
The guest immediately replied, "True. Excellent point. Moreover, everybody's worried about what the government knows about you. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried that Google knows everything. They literally know every step I make and every breath I take. They know everywhere I go. They know everything I do. And more. More than I can imagine they know about me, or about you. On anybody. And they'll sell all of it. On anybody."
Of course, one tv exchange doesn't count for much. So let's go on.
Robert Scheer is the author of "They Know Everything about You," the most comprehensive book available that explores the unholy alliance of online "services" and cyberspying for profit.
Duane Thorin says of Scheer's book and the circumstances that prompted it, "This is not anything to be apathetic about. The government has funded start-ups for maybe 200 private cyber data collection companies, he says, and as corporations and government seem to be constantly merging into one big suffocating blob these days, we should worry about all of it, and start regulating madly."
That illustrates two points. One, that the traditional lines between public and private sector are easily blurred when public money goes to a private contractor. And two, that the role of government as regulator is the only way to reign-in something that business fonds profitable.
Duane adds, "It is alarming to me that something like Facebook, which is practically a public utility, is able to censor and cut off a critic like Franz for expressing an opinion. Very scary."
Okay, let's evaluate. Facebook is a "free service." Therefore, our quote from Chauncey Bowers — "If you're not paying [for it], then you are not the customer, you are the product." — is specifically where that caveat about using such a free "service" can apply. Whether or not you like it, IF you accept that such an exploitive business model should be allowed to apply anywhere, that's where it would apply.
And once you accept that, is it a stretch to think they are within their rights to pull-down or refuse to display your posts that expose them for doing that? If so, does that mean you will understand and accept when they edit your posts to remove something they find harmful? If it's a racial slur, or something libelous? But what if it's a specific revelation about them?
If they own the platform, and you are not, as Ronald Reagan famously said, "Paying for this microphone," is it a Freedom of Speech issue or not?
We don't accept the doctrine of a capitalism that trumps all. We do not accept that anything and everything should be for sale. And it's important, with profound implications. Because functionally, Chauncey's point must be recognized.
But what about the far more common situation, where you ARE the customer?
You are the one paying for your cell phone connection.
You are probably paying a lot, over the course of a year, for both your home isp and for your cell phone connection, including your smart phone's data plan, internet browsing, map program, search capabilities, text messaging, and accessing your private email account.
How come we are all paying to be spyed on, not by some nefarious government, but by ruthless capitalists who will sell their own grandmother after billing us to feed, house, and clothe her so she is plump and healthy and will fetch a better price?
So. How come we are all paying to be spyed on in each of these arenas, not by some nefarious government, but by ruthless capitalists who will sell their own grandmother after billing us to feed, house, and clothe her so she is plump and healthy and will fetch a better price?
It's important to recognize that it is illegal, under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, for government to do what these for-profit businesses are doing. And for-profit business is immersed in and obsessed with spying on you for only one reason: because the more interconnected, cross-connected, cross-referenced private information they can get on you, the more it's worth when they sell it — to anyone or anything that has the money and wants to buy it.
Obviously, that is a back door for one or another arms of government to obtain what they can't lawfully get on their own. Note, that's not limited to some mega-intelligence-gathering, black helicopters branch of the feds. It's FAR more likely to be your local government, where somebody who knows about you and your local activism will have a grudge or a reason to harass you or anyone else who threatens their little tinhorn corrupt payola bumpkinville empire of good ol' boys.
In the end, everything is connected to everything else. So, the largest database on the political values, preferences, beliefs, behavior — and susceptibilities — of ordinary average American citizens (EVERY ordinary average American citizen) already exists. With all its tools and models to predict what phrase uttered in what context, what gesture made by whom, what exploitable poster-child image, what factor — true or false — presented as fact, what two-word characterization of someone or something, negative or positive (usually negative), will produce what result.
And the incomprehensibly enormous database that enables all that to be done? It's not static. It is ever-evolving, added-to and reanalyzed multiple times every day. Getting expensive subscribers for the product of cyberspying requires that aggressive insatiability to assess the impact of events, both random and carefully crafted, for the purpose of quantifying measurable change and producing desired outcomes.
That immense database doesn't belong to the Republican or the Democratic party. It belongs to ones with far more money than any political party has ever had. That database and all its mechanisms belongs, for the moment, to Charles and David Koch. The infamous Koch brothers. Who, for whatever reason, are obsessed with knowing everything about you.
And you better want to know why.
They are corporate conglomerate owners. Think they'll hire you to make Brawny paper towels or Charmin toilet paper (they own both) if your politics don't conform to theirs? Court cases like that are coming. Job and hiring discrimination. And the plaintiffs will lose because the owners of the database already know everything about them, and will know how to use their individual weaknesses against them.
Of course, just because the Koch brothers own more personal information on you than anyone else, they are not the only ones buying every scrap and shred of personal information about you. Anyone with piles of money can do it. And plenty of them are. So it isn't just your mega-bank, where you have your little account, that will try to scare you into doing their bidding when a call is sounded to break-up the "too-big-to-fail" mega-banks.
All the self-serving, stock-manipulating uber-rich have the ability to buy data that exists because YOU paid for something — and are being exploited to limitless lengths because of it. Your money allowed its creation and feeds its expansion.
There's no getting around it. There's no opting-out. "Services" each of us PAY FOR produce data on each of us. We are paying to be exploited. Because all that individual, personal, supposedly private data is categorized, compiled, packaged, processed, and sold. Sold to others who analyze it for their own purposes — including an analysis of individual and mass susceptibilities — to know how to scare or otherwise motivate YOU to want what THEY want you to want. Which is, quite simply, what THEY want. Which is what's best for THEIR short-term profit-taking, corporate-raiding, or whatever exploitations and manipulations that enable THEM to amass more of the world's money (and therefore power) in THEIR hands.
The reach and power of wealth transcends everything. Now they know they can buy all they need to make public opinion, or to cause a crash or unemployment crisis or shocking increase in gasoline prices or some other manifestation of ruin that will obfuscate and distract when they can't make public opinion go the way they want.
Just a few years ago, demographic researchers couldn't get US Census data more detailed that the averages for a city block. "Census Block Data" was the basic unit for sociologists, economists, and anyone else doing research. Now, anyone with the money to buy it from a cyberspy can tell them what the US Census Bureau cannot. The cyberspy knows what shoes you considered buying online before picking what you want and price-comparing, on exactly how-many and which specific sites, how long you spent doing it, and what you paid for which shoes of which size, style, model number and color.
There was an old joke about needing to report your blood type and shoe size. It's no longer a joke. They already know that and immeasurably more about you.
Twice, I have been told, "Well, if you're not doing anything wrong, why do you care?"
The first time I replied defensively, "I'm NOT doing 'anything wrong!' I'm just outraged that anybody thinks it's okay to do this!"
The second time I tried to explain how sophisticated the manipulation of society has become, and how it has outpaced the comprehension of nearly everyone who has simply become increasingly dependent on the devices that gather all the information that is making a profit for those who are selling us out to our manipulators. I neglected to add what hadn't occurred to me is the basis of all of it: that it is the ultimate racket, since we are paying them to manipulate us.
What will it take to bring back privacy? Data encryption? It's probably only there to assure that another Sony Pictures Studios isn't hacked by another North Korea. For the rest of us? It's a ruse. They'll still know all about you from what they can learn by spying on your web browsing and social media posts and comments and likes. Still plenty thrre they can sell.
It will require something far more fundamental. And given that even innocuous social media can "disappear" your posts when their search computers detect certain content, it's probably too late to reclaim your privacy. The best you can do is start over, off-line, and close everything you ever linked online.
I know. You're not going to do that. Don't say we didn't telll you.