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Weissman writes: "What if we're wrong? What if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Constitution permits massive surveillance and unlimited data mining, as revealed by former National Security Agency technician Edward Snowden?"

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(illustration: unknown)

Make Big Brother Our Friend

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

22 June 13


hat if we're wrong? What if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Constitution permits massive surveillance and unlimited data mining, as revealed by former National Security Agency technician Edward Snowden?

In a less absurd world, those who communicate electronically might expect a right to privacy, as the Supreme Court established in 1967 in Katz v. United States, which required state and federal governments to go to court, show probable cause of criminal activity, and obtain a specific warrant to execute a wiretap, well within the letter and spirit of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Inevitably, it seems, such freedom was short-lived. In 1979, the Court gave law enforcement the power to collect without warrant the numbers we called and those that called us, and passage of the Patriot Act in 2001 and subsequent amendments now lets NSA scoop up as many as 3 billion individual telephone and email communications a day, store the "meta-data," possibly forever, and continue to mine them to uncover patterns and connections far beyond anything possible only a few years ago. Welcome to the worst dystopian nightmares of Franz Kafka, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell.

Snowden tells us that individual analysts can use the meta-data to call up, listen to, or read the full content of the communications. President Barack Obama, Senator Diane Feinstein, and NSA director General Keith Alexander all tell us that Snowden is wrong, but offer no hard evidence to back up their claims. Whom should we believe?

Clearly, our rapidly expanding technology requires new legal thinking and systemic protections hard-wired into the computer code to leave an audit trail of who has accessed the information and for what purpose, as Professor Lawrence Lessig has suggested.

As far as we know, NSA has no safeguards like that, and the current cases filed by the ACLU and Electronic Freedom Foundation may never force anything similar. Even scarier, a Constitutional judgment could turn out to be worse than nothing. As former chief justice Charles Evans Hughes put it in the bluntest possible terms, "the Constitution is what the judges say it is." Chief Justice John G. Roberts and his eight unaccountable associates get to decide, and a majority of them could easily call the current "ca ca" Constitutional.

What, then, do we do?

At the risk of going satirical, let me suggest a way forward. If President Barack Obama can embrace Big Brother as his enduring legacy, if he can describe the super-secret workings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as "transparent," and if he can call himself "Bush-Cheney Lite," why not grow up, get real, and follow in his soiled footsteps? Why not put Big Brother to better use?

1. Let Big Brother end Washington's gridlock. Former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who knew something of these matters, used to keep dossiers on everyone from yours truly to Martin Luther King Jr. to President Lyndon B. Johnson. This was why LBJ kept Hoover in office, saying that it was better to have him on the inside of the tent pissing out than on the outside of the tent pissing in. NSA records make Hoover's collection seem quaint. I wonder how many Tea-Party Republicans in Congress have long trails of telephone calls and emails to their lovers, male or female, or credit card purchases for expensive gifts. Just a mention of this information would go a long way to getting difficult legislation passed.
2. Use Big Brother against Big Money. Much of Wall Street's wealth and power comes from their access to inside information that the rest of us do not have, cannot get, and cannot act upon in a timely way. Prosecutors do not find most of this inside information illegal and rarely bring cases to court. They say they find it too hard to secure evidence that would convince a jury. Well, not anymore. With all those NSA records, the odds are overwhelming that prosecutors could find discussions between major Wall Street players and corporate leaders, along with the time-coded computerized buying and selling based on those communications.
3. Have Big Brother eat Monsanto. One of the more delicious secrets to emerge from Wikileaks was the enormous effort of U.S. diplomats to help Monsanto sell its genetically modified seeds against the vocal opposition of European consumers and several European governments. How do we explain it? Easy. Just write a simple algorithm to trace every one of NSA's saved phone call and email from people at Monsanto to influential people in government. Big Brother will completely eliminate any need for conspiracy theories.
4. Let Big Brother solve climate change. For several years prior to November 2009, climate scientists agreed in overwhelming numbers that our planet was warming and that humans added to the problem by burning fossil fuels. The debate then took a dramatic turn when the ubiquitous Wikileaks published thousands of files and emails that one or more computer hackers had surreptitiously copied from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Britain. According to polling data and other evidence, this Climate Gate data dump and the right-wing spin put on it significantly reduced U.S. and international support for efforts to restrict the emission of greenhouse gases. NSA records might well help us discover who stole that data, how major players like Exxon Mobil and Charles and David Koch were able to make such good use of it, and how the climate deniers continue to operate.
5. Use the massive surveillance and data mining to weaken the American Empire. If the United States has a major advantage in dealing with our European allies, it is our dominance of the new digital economy. If we have a major disadvantage, it is how our digital dominance threatens personal privacy, which Europeans value far more than we do. Snowden's revelations make this conflict all the more pressing, and are already complicating incipient negotiations for a trans-Atlantic free trade pact.

These five suggestions are 100% satire, which I offer to dramatize how loosely-wired and out-of-control our surveillance and data mining system continue to be. I can't wait to see your suggestions for how we could put Big Brother to use.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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