American citizens should be more worried than the terrorists.
Prism â€“ n. â€“â€œa medium that distorts, slants, or colors whatever is viewed through itâ€ â€“ Merriam Websters
Spying â€“v.- â€œobserve (someone) furtivelyâ€ â€“ Oxford Dictionary
I start this article with those definitions because it helps to set the foundation for the words which will follow. At the end of last week, the world was made aware of an NSA program called PRISM, which is a system (whose access is governed by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of major internet services such as Yahoo, Facebook, Google and others. For years, this program has been compiling a massive amount of information in the form of email, video and voice chats, photos,Â VoIPÂ conversations, file transfers, login notifications andÂ details from social networking sites from not only terrorists, but American citizens who are not under suspicion of any wrongdoing. In addition, we are now aware of the blanket collection of phone records for every call made on Verizonâ€™s network and most likely others.
Why this changes things
This is different because for the first time, there is documented proof of the targeting of American citizens as part of this program. Back in February, the Supreme Court threw out a challenge to the FISA on the basis that the plaintiffs (Amnesty International) had no legal standing because they could not prove that they had been individually targeted.Â The PRISM leak changes everything in that regards, and now gives people a new tool to fight back on these types of overreaches by the federal government.
But itâ€™s for our own good, right?
The reasons given in defense of programs like PRISM are nothing if not predictable. They are in place to â€œprotect American citizens and our way of life.” Sounds like a noble cause doesn’t it? â€œBut itâ€™s only metadata, just phone numbers, locations, and duration.â€ Sounds harmless huh?
Back in 2002, there was a movie based on a Philip Dick novel called the Minority Report. Some of his other works have been turned into movies that include Blade Runner, Total Recall, and the Adjustment Bureau. The basis of this movie was that in the future, there was a system in place (three psychics) that provided information so that police could arrest criminals before they committed any murders. A system that can tell you whatâ€™s going to happen before it happens and gives authorities the ability to stop it. Â Again, sounds great doesn’t it? Isn’t that the best way to fight evil, to be able to predict whatâ€™s going to happen before it does and pull bad people out of society before they can strike? Who should care about due process and other constitutional rights when we know they are going to do it? Itâ€™s to protect our way of life right?
But for that type of thing to become reality in the United States, at least of couple of basic things have to happen. First, the right type of information has to be gathered so that system resources can start doing analysis on that data and using predictive modeling (among other methods) to start making predictions of future events. Second, people have to be conditioned to give up their privacy and their rights and allow an organization to act on those predictions without being questioned or a fear of being stopped.
Why phone data is part of the first step
On the surface, the basic phone information sounds harmless but thereâ€™s a reason they asked for that data. Itâ€™s harmless looking enough to keep the typical sheep quiet about what the government may be doing, but itâ€™s important enough to give them the information they need for the first step. But wait you say, the government already has plenty data on us. Social Security records, Income tax filings, etc, they already know all they need to about me.
That is a bad line of thinking to fall into, and hereâ€™s why. Yes, the government has information on us that speaks to WHO we are. However, now they are compiling data to merge with the things to make up the WHO (name, address, job title, etc.) and use it to discover WHAT we are. In his last video for Amidst the Noise, Billy does a nice job of connecting the dots on those data points and how they can be used. Iâ€™m going to take it a step further.
Letâ€™s follow â€œStanâ€ through his life. Stan is born and gets a Social Security card. He starts working at 16 and as a young adult starts filing his income tax forms. Stan gets married at 25 to â€œSusanâ€ whoâ€™s 22 and they have three kids, who all get Social Security cards. This is all information on your income tax forms as you start filing joint instead of single, you add the kids as exemptions, and the cycle starts with them. Thatâ€™s the who.
Think about the simple data in those phone records. Just by who you call, when you call and where you call from, you can discover a lot. Over time, the system can determine what you like, when you like it, what your habits are, where you like to go, what type of people you tend to associate with, what doctors you see (which tell what medical issues you may have), do you have legal problems (from all those calls to your attorney) and use all that information to build a perfect profile of someone down to the psychological level. Itâ€™s better than DNA and thatâ€™s the what.
Now they are doing the same thing to Susan and building that same profile. Now put the profile of Stan and Susan together and you get a picture of what type of people their children may turn out to be. Take the childrenâ€™s data that you collect, merge it with the parents to validate and now you have a template of future generations which will be revised as they meet others and their profiles are merged to create new models. Within a couple of generations, you can have a system in place with enough profiles and models to build the perfect predictor of what will happen years before it does, giving authorities the ability to act long before the predicted event occurs. Welcome to the Minority Report.
Why is the name PRISM fitting? Because it will be used to distort or slant the information presented to it. No matter how they spin it, the government has been observing its citizens secretly and quietly to avoid being noticed. So by definition, our government has been spying on the American citizens whom it answers to. This is exactly the type of thing the founders of this country never wanted to see happen.
Plenty of people will read this and say, hey dude just take off your tin foil hat and trust the government. They have no intention of doing any of this. My answer, take your head out of the sand and look at the world being changed around you.
Yes, there are plenty of scandals at the moment but this is the worst, not only because of the future implications but the present use. This is not a pipe dream; this is a reality we have to face. The government has theÂ ability to use this system to identify and track those who politically disagree with them. For those of you who want to discount that and think this power won’t be abused, we have the IRS scandal as proof that it absolutely WILL and likely has been already.
We canâ€™t allow a society to exist where the government is modeling you and making decisions about you based on a â€œsystem outputâ€ and taking action. The bad news is they are already doing it. The good news is that we can bring about change if weâ€™re willing to fight for our rights.
That is truly protecting our way of life.