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Rich writes: "The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago ... Indeed, there's a considerable constituency in this country - always present and now arguably larger than ever - that's begging for its privacy to be invaded and, God willing, to be exposed in every gory detail before the largest audience possible."

New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich. (photo: New York Magazine)
New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich. (photo: New York Magazine)

When Privacy Jumped the Shark

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine

02 July 13


Note to Edward Snowden and his worrywarts in the press: Spying is only spying when the subject doesn't want to be watched.

ere's one dirty little secret about the revelations of domestic spying at the National Security Agency: Had Edward Snowden not embarked on a madcap escape that mashed up plot elements from Catch Me If You Can, The Fugitive, the O.J. Bronco chase, and "Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?," the story would be over. The leaker's flight path, with the Feds and the press in farcical flat-footed pursuit, captured far more of the public's attention than the substance of his leaks. That's not his fault. The public was not much interested in the leaks in the first place. It was already moving on to Paula Deen.

At first blush, the NSA story seemed like a bigger deal. The early June scoops in the Guardian and the Washington Post were hailed universally as "bombshells" and "blockbusters" by the networks. America's right and left flanks were unified in hyperventilating about their significance: Rand Paul and The Nation, Glenn Beck and Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and the Times editorial page all agreed that President Obama had presided over an extraordinary abuse of executive power. But even as Daniel Ellsberg hailed the second coming of the Pentagon Papers, the public was not marching behind him or anyone else. The NSA scandal didn't even burn bright enough to earn the distinction of a "-gate" suffix. Though Americans were being told in no uncertain terms that their government was spying on them, it quickly became evident that, for all the tumult in the media-political Establishment, many just didn't give a damn.

Only 36 percent of the country felt that government snooping had "gone too far," according to CBS News. A Pew–Washington Post survey found that 62 percent (including 69 percent of Democrats) deemed fighting terrorism a higher priority than protecting privacy. Most telling was a National Journal survey conducted days before the NSA stories broke: Some 85 percent of Americans assumed that their "communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use," was "available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access" without their consent. No wonder the bombshell landed with a thud, rather than as a shock. What was the news except that a 29-year-old high-school dropout was making monkeys of the authorities with a bravado to rival Clyde Barrow?

An ACLU official argued that the so-what poll numbers were misleading: "If terrorism was left out, it would change the polling results dramatically." In other words, blame the public's passivity on the post-9/11 cultural signposts of 24 and Homeland, which have inured Americans to a bipartisan Patriot Act regimen in which a ticking terrorist time bomb always trumps the Constitution. Obama, a Homeland fan himself, hit the point hard to deflect criticism. "You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," he said when alluding to the terrorist plots NSA spying had disrupted. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society."

The virtue of this rationale is that it casts not just the domestic eavesdroppers in a patriotic light but also the citizenry that valiantly sacrifices its Fourth Amendment rights to the greater good of stopping the evildoers. But that's letting everyone off easy and is hardly the whole story of the choices Americans have made "as a society"-and that were made before Obama or, for that matter, George W. Bush took office. Many of those choices predate 9/11 and have nothing to do with fighting terrorism at all.

The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago. Many of us not only don't care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets, and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don't, from the servers of Fortune 500 corporations to the casting directors of reality-television shows to our 1.1 billion potential friends on Facebook. Indeed, there's a considerable constituency in this country-always present and now arguably larger than ever-that's begging for its privacy to be invaded and, God willing, to be exposed in every gory detail before the largest audience possible. We don't like the government to be watching as well-many Americans don't like government, period-but most of us are willing to give such surveillance a pass rather than forsake the pleasures and rewards of self-exposure, convenience, and consumerism.

R.I.P. the contemplative America of Thoreau and of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, who "would prefer not to"; this is the America that prefers to be out there, prizing networking, exhibitionism, and fame more than privacy, introspection, and solitude. And while it would be uplifting to believe that Americans are willing to sacrifice privacy for the sole good of foiling Al Qaeda, that's hardly the case. Other motives include such quotidian imperatives as shopping, hooking up, seeking instant entertainment and information, and finding the fastest car route-not to mention being liked (or at least "liked") and followed by as many friends (or "friends") and strangers as possible, whether online or on basic cable. In a society where economic advancement is stagnant for all but those at the top, a public profile is the one democratic currency most everyone can still afford and aspire to-an indicator of status, not something to be embarrassed about. According to the Pew-Post poll, a majority of Americans under 50 paid little attention to the NSA story at all, perhaps because they found the very notion of fearing a privacy breach anachronistic. After the news of the agency's PRISM program broke, National Donut Day received more American Google searches than PRISM. There has been no wholesale (or piecemeal) exodus of Americans from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, or any of the other information-vacuuming enterprises reported to have, in some murky fashion, siphoned data-meta, big, or otherwise-to the NSA. Wall Street is betting this will hold. A blogger on the investment website Motley Fool noticed that on the day PRISM was unmasked, share prices for all the implicated corporate participants went up.

If one wanted to identify the turning point when privacy stopped being a prized commodity in America, a good place to start would be with television and just before the turn of the century. The cultural revolution in programming that was cemented by the year 2000 presaged the devaluation of privacy that would explode with the arrival of Facebook and its peers a few years later.

What we now call reality television had been around since the dawn of the medium. Allen Funt's Candid Camera had its television debut in 1948 (and had been on radio before that as "Candid Microphone"). But the everyday Americans spied on in Funt's wholesome Peeping Tom pranks were caught by surprise; they didn't volunteer for public exposure. The twelve-hour 1973 PBS mini-series An American Family (supported by funding from the Ford Foundation, no less) was a breakthrough because the troubled Louds of Santa Barbara willingly submitted to parading their travails in close-up on-camera. By the time MTV unveiled its series The Real World in 1992, the advent of video, digitalization, and compact cameras had made projects emulating An American Family much easier to produce in quantity and at greater length.

The Real World began as a somewhat earnest docu-soap of multicultural American youth wrestling with Real Issues. But by the end of the decade, sex and alcohol were being stirred profusely into the mix. In 2000, CBS took the genre a step further by airing an American adaptation of a Dutch television hit, Big Brother, in which occupants of a quarantined house are captured on camera 24/7, bathroom visits included, for three months as the participants are voted out one by one. Sure enough, the coinage Big Brother would soon become unmoored from George Orwell's vision of totalitarian terror and become known as the brand of a cheesy entertainment franchise hosted by Julie Chen. As it happened, Big Brother's second-season contestants were isolated in their San Fernando Valley barracks on 9/11, and one of those contestants was the cousin of a missing Aon worker on the 90th floor of World Trade Center 2. After some debate over whether the house's inmates should even be told the news in real time, which would be a violation of the show's lab-rat rules, the young woman with a familial stake in the attacks was filled in. She chose to remain on-camera with her surrogate reality-television family (and audience) rather than return to her real family in New York, which was still waiting to learn that her cousin was dead.

Big Brother began its fifteenth season last week. We now know that it was merely a harbinger of what was to come. In 2000, it and Survivor (also on CBS) were novelties. In 2013, more than 300 reality shows are airing on a profusion of networks, including some that have revised their identities to accommodate them. (History, formerly known as the History Channel, is home to Ax Men and Swamp People.) That count does not include YouTube, where home productions can rival the biggest TV reality hits in audience. The 2011 video of 6-year-old Lily Clem's reaction to her birthday present, a trip to Disneyland, attracted 5 million viewers in just its first three weeks.

Reality television is not a showbiz fad but a national pastime whose participants are as diverse as America in terms of class, race, creed, and ethnicity. If redneck subjects are now the rage-Here Comes Honey Boo Boo outdrew Fox News coverage of the GOP convention in the prime 18-49 demographic-the desperate urban middle class is at the heart of shows like the Vegas-based smash Pawn Stars (another History hit). Though some participants cash in-the Robertson brood of Duck Dynasty has transformed an already prosperous rural Louisiana business selling duck calls into a multi-platform entertainment empire-money isn't the only motive. Many reality-show performers receive nominal pay, and the workplace protections afforded to union members usually don't apply. The Kardashians notwithstanding, the payoff in fame also can be slight, not even fifteen minutes' worth on the lower-rated shows. More often, exhibitionism is its own reward. Many Americans simply want to be seen, even in financial or psychological extremis, by as many of their fellow citizens as possible. That the government may also be watching-whether in pursuit of terrorism, ordinary criminality, immigration violations, employee malfeasance, tax evasion, or whatever-seems no deterrent.

The same risk of surveillance is taken by the many more Americans who bare their lives online, trading off privacy for speedier transactions, self-expression, and self-indulgence. With the notable exception of Anthony Weiner, few are naïve about that bargain. It's no surprise that 85 percent of the country thinks it is being snooped on: Uncannily precise recommendations of products, friends, and followers stalk our every keystroke on the web. Given that Facebook's members are more than three times as numerous as the American population, all of them linked to multiple networks that often have little or nothing to do with friendship, it's a no-brainer that the infinity of data will be trolled by outsiders, whether flesh-and-blood or algorithmic, and whether the motive be investigative, prurient, mercantile, masturbatory, altruistic, or criminal. And that trolling is so easy! As Evgeny Morozov has written in The Net Delusion, the 2006 German film The Lives of Others is a potent reminder of "how costly surveillance used to be" for a totalitarian state in the Cold War era: "Recording tape had to be bought, stored, and processed; bugs had to be installed one by one; Stasi officers had to spend days and nights on end glued to their headphones, waiting for their subjects to launch into an antigovernment tirade or inadvertently disclose other members of their network." Ah, the good old days of government surveillance, when the spies had to jump through exhausting hoops to do their dirty work.

Whatever the fine points of the NSA's snooping, anyone who cared could surmise enough of the big picture to be wary long before the Snowden leaks filled in graphic details. The NSA is crying wolf when it claims that his disclosures are an enormous boon to terrorists, unless you believe terrorists are morons. There have been NSA leakers before Snowden, and they provided plenty of connectable dots. A remarkable two-year Washington Post investigation published in 2010 found that as of then, some 854,000 Americans had top-secret clearances-nearly one and a half times the population of the nation's capital. Nearly a third were private contractors like Snowden. The Post also discovered that after 2001, intelligence agencies began building 33 new facilities in the Washington area alone, with a total square footage (17 million) almost equal to three times that of the Pentagon. What could all these people possibly be up to? What was all that space needed for?

In March 2012, James Bamford, for three decades the most authoritative journalist on the NSA beat, provided answers in a Wired cover story prompted by a clandestine $2 billion NSA data center under construction in Utah. "Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private e-mails, cell-phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails-parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter,'" Bamford reported. Why? "The NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the U.S. and its citizens."

In fact, the prolific public clues about the NSA's intent also predate 9/11. In the Jerry Bruckheimer–Tony Scott movie Enemy of the State (1998), a fictional retired NSA officer played by Gene Hackman says, "The government's been in bed with the entire telecommunications business since the forties. They have infected everything. They can get into your bank statements, computer files, e-mail, listen to your phone calls." The NSA's then-director, Michael Hayden, was so concerned about this fictional leak that he tried to mount a PR offensive to counter it. Just a few months after that film's release, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy in essence confirmed it with his own famous dictum: "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

And so we did learn to stop worrying and love the promiscuous use of Big Data by business and government. Mark Zuckerberg was telling the truth, even if to serve his own interests, when in 2010 he explained his rationale for the constant, incremental loosening of Facebook's dense and ever-changing privacy policies: "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people." The Snowden leaks show that Facebook and PRISM had aligned six months earlier, and in 2010, as the Times recently discovered, the keeper of Facebook's secrets, its chief security officer, Max Kelly, defected to the NSA. But even as early as 2008, an internal memo at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had recommended that the agency's fraud office start exploiting social networks as an "excellent vantage point" for observing "the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners" suspected of wrongdoing. The memo-cited by the public-interest lawyer Lori Andrews in her book I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did-was nothing if not prescient. Facebook was a gift to surveillance that would keep on giving, it argued, because the "narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of ‘friends.'"

In the aftermath of the Snowden leaks, those who want to shut down dubious NSA programs have been hard pressed to come up with ways of getting that done. The ACLU is suing, and so are Rand Paul and Larry Klayman, the right-wing activist known for his quixotic legal battles against Bill Clinton in the nineties. Commentators at The New Yorker and The New Republic are calling for a national commission. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a fierce NSA defender, has proposed monthly hearings, presumably to bore the country into inertia. No doubt the Obama administration will toss out a few crumbs of transparency to satisfy its liberal base, but neither the president nor his party's leaders, exemplified by Feinstein, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, want change from the status quo. Neither would Hillary Clinton. The same is true of Republican leaders, despite their professed loathing of big-government overreach in Obamacare and at the IRS. That leaves Paul on the Republican side and the two Democratic Senate apostates, Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, who have been on the NSA's case for years. They have about as much of a chance of bringing change in 2013 as the former senator Russ Feingold did in his lonely opposition to the Patriot Act in 2001. Little short of a leak stating that the NSA is tracking gun ownership is likely to kindle public outrage.

Of course, there are some steps that ordinary Americans can take to cover their daily digital tracks and limit their vulnerability to snooping of all kinds. But there aren't many. In their new book, Big Data, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier observe that "in the era of big data, the three core strategies long used to ensure privacy-individual notice and consent, opting out, and anonymization-have lost much of their effectiveness." Their proposed workarounds are laudable-why not have "new principles by which we govern ourselves"?-but not exactly an action plan. Andrews calls for a new "Social Network Constitution" but for the short term points out that citizens of Facebook, the third-biggest nation in the world as measured by population, have "little recourse other than to leave the service." This would require asceticism on a mass scale unknown to modern America.

The easiest individual solutions for trying to protect one's privacy are the obvious ones. Quit social networks. Stop using a cell phone. Pay for everything in cash (but stop using ATMs). Abandon all Google apps, Amazon, eBay, Netflix, Apple's iTunes store, E-ZPass, GPS, and Skype. Encrypt your e-mail (which will require persuading your correspondents to encrypt, too). Filter (and handcuff) your web browser with anti-tracking software like Tor. Stop posting to YouTube and stop tweeting. As Big Data elucidates: "Twitter messages are limited to a sparse 140 characters, but the metadata-that is, the ‘information about information'-associated with each tweet is rich. It includes 33 discrete items."

So vast a cultural sea change is beyond today's politics; it would require a national personality transplant. What the future is most likely to bring instead is more of the same: an ever-larger embrace of ever-more-brilliant toys and services that invite more prying from strangers, corporations, and government. No sooner had Snowden's leaks landed than Instagram, owned by Facebook, announced a new mobile service enabling its users to post their own brief reality-television-style video nuggets much as the equivalent Twitter service, Vine, already does. Soon to ship from Microsoft is a new Xbox game console requiring a device called Kinect, which, besides monitoring bodily motions, listens to users even when the console is turned off. It's unlikely that fanboys (and girls) will shun the new Xbox any more than they will disdain the intrusiveness of the much-awaited Google Glass. If anything, they'll fight to be first in line.

Civil libertarians can protest about how the government will track us on these devices, too, but as long as the public and the political Establishment of both parties remain indifferent, the prospect of substantial change is nil. The debate would be more honest, at least, if we acknowledge our own responsibility for our "choices as a society." Those who complain about the loss of privacy have an obligation to examine their own collaboration, whether by intent or apathy, in the decline and fall of the very concept of privacy. We can blame terrorists for many things that have happened since 9/11, but too many Americans cavalierly spilling TMI on too many porous public platforms is not one of them. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+15 # 666 2013-07-02 17:04
sorry, this is tripe. when will the media stop talking about the "autonomous public" as if it really directed media and public policy (let alone opinion). it's all prolefeed. you tell us what the public says, the public doesnt. frank, stop being a handler for once and look around you. stop mouthing the party line.
+43 # jwb110 2013-07-02 22:11
The Patriot Act, the last bastion of scoundrels.
+11 # Depressionborn 2013-07-03 01:24

The Snowden episode is not about your e-mails Mr. Rich, it is about the world and our hubris. Both will never be the same now that NSA just committed suicide.

"Snowden had system administrator access to a whole bunch, if not all, of network and server equipment at the NSA"

Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Germans do not like being spied on.
+5 # bedleysmutler 2013-07-03 09:26
"Both will never be the same now that NSA just committed suicide."

Don't hold your breath, Pal.
0 # Depressionborn 2013-07-03 22:21
Why not, bedley? NSA must now assume Russia knows everything about everything?

If so, NSA must be somewhere in a total breath holding crisis center. Otherwise, (my suppositions are wrong), tell me who benefits. That would make Snowden a plant, and things really interesting.

Oops, a common sense risk analysis would have shown a Snowden likely? Holy cow.
+7 # futhark 2013-07-03 01:51
The default condition, Constitutionall y and ethically, is that people are entitled to their privacy. If they want to "hang out their dirty laundry", they have that privilege, but we are all entitled to presume that the powers of government will respect our privacy.

" long as the public and the political Establishment of both parties remain indifferent, the prospect of substantial change is nil." Articles like this one and the proliferation of "reality tv" are training Americans that they have no right to privacy. Also, the presumption that "both parties" are OK with privacy-violati ng practices presumes there are no alternative viewpoints. Where in the Constitution does it state that political power is and will forever be the exclusive domain of the Republi-cons and the Demon-rats?
+19 # turtleislander 2013-07-03 05:28
This IS Tripe, I agree. I've been around long enough to remember the Vietnam era, and know my history well enough to know that I myself, nor anyone I have ever known in the USA was ever asked whether or not we agreed with government intrusions, or any of the opinions that get expressed in the polls. Or the manipulative way poll questions are phrased. Or the way official numbers on the economy get reported. Best example: While the media uses the lowest possible figure for unemployment, the BLS "U3" which counts only people collecting unemployment, everyone out here knew from personal experience that something was understated by the media about unemployment. Now another establishment mouthpiece is writing for us that we agreed to 60-plus years of privacy violation? That we surrendered it because of a hunger for fame? No one knows why the Loud family or those who followed did what they did. Hunger for fame? sometimes probably, but curiosity about who we really are is more likely to be the truth. The point is that this article is putting the burden of choosing a snooping state on citizens when in fact we haven't made those choices at all. I dont recall voting for a $2 billion dollar intercepted data center in Utah.
+23 # lobdillj 2013-07-03 06:04
Here's the takeaway: No one remembers how Germany got taken over by Hitler or what he did afterward. No one remembers the McCarthy witch hunt and the damage it did. No one knows or cares about the Bill of Rights. Hell, they don't even know which amendments Obama and his predecessors are violating. After being caught spying on everybody in the USA Obama says "we" have to make choices as a society, and no one picks up on the lie. Not "we", but "he" made the choice for us.

You have pretty well described this nation's dumbed down state, but you're short on what to do about it, Frank.
+18 # samothrellim 2013-07-03 06:26
Maybe we are all exposed, but must we spend billions on the so-called "Homeland" security network which is supposed to protect us? Where's the cost/benefit analysis?
+1 # nearmiss 2013-07-03 22:55
Most cost/benefit analysis describe a hard benefit you can see, touch, experience. Our government generally describes the benefit of their meta data collection as 'keeping America safe', which appears to be priceless. Google a word, "dog": limitless options. Create an algorithm that identifies patterns: what you buy, who you communicate with, and the field narrows, but still a big crowd. Keep drilling down, but unless the pattern captured 100% in the first place, you can reach a dead end, or miss someone(s). Obviously it didn't work on the Boston bombers. But maybe it worked for other potential bombers. While I find Frank's piece provocative, I'm somewhat at a loss as to how our "show off" culture is the cause or the excuse for so many Americans not being alarmed, actually accepting the loss of privacy. I tend to think it's that belief that it may not work all the time, but it's good enough if it works part of the time: keeping America sort of safe = the benefit. Fear sustains it. Fear pays for it. No end in sight.
+8 # maverita 2013-07-03 07:25
Frank, thank you for your well articulated take on the situation. It helps me to understand. At least it helps me to understand why I don't understand. I am not an exhibitionist and do not get why anyone would court notoriety like these pseudo-reality shows. But even the young people I know, who hate having their parents friend them, seem totally accepting of government surveillance. Thanks for the insight.
+1 # Mark 2013-07-03 07:39
It was refreshing to read others comments if only to validate my own belief that once again we were getting party line pap from the corporate media, even if it was from the paper that prints "All the news that's fit to print". How true that statement has become when read from the government's view point!
-3 # RobertMStahl 2013-07-03 07:50
Openness (and intelligence) is the solution. Bleach is what this has become, bleach and covert, if not overt, murder. Evolution is substitution, not tradition. All morality is based on tradition. Thus, will PRINCIPLE overtake morality? Is there an epistemology missing altogether (Bateson)? When will spherical principles replace moralistic bubbles?
-4 # RobertMStahl 2013-07-03 07:55
After all, Indira Singh, now missing in action, taught us that the progressive technology, not the modern, does support the commonwealth. It turns out, however, SWAT is owned and operated by the terrorists. So, what DOES it mean? A second grade education would be able to see what they are keeping from our senses, but form is not a human pursuit, just words. "In the beginning, all was mush and without form." Never was it written, "In the beginning was the word." Guess that where we missed our calling as a structurally coupled creature with the dimensions we occupy.
+6 # Arden 2013-07-03 08:44
Your quote that "Many of us not only don't care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets, and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don't" is a LIE. And I will tell you why.

Ordinary, everyday people use the internet to communicate because it is the modern, easy way to keep in touch. They don't keep up with the truth or lies being told, or even try to. They care about their own lives and don't realize the spying is actually hurting them, too. But the rest of us, who care about everyone's lives, are hampered, because we know TOO much about how things really operate now?

In my own case, I don't want you to snoop, but if Edward Snowden was the one doing it, I am grateful. Otherwise, this peace-loving, non-violent PAPER CARRIER, who is NO threat to ANYONE, might become the victim of a set-up.

Are they really so afraid of ME, or YOU, that they would put a block on our access to a Kevin Barrett interview? Snowden would have fixed that for me, I suspect, so that I could have the access. I really appreciate that. I hope there is someone equally benevolent who will take his place, but so far, not, according to my experience today.

See if YOU can access this interview because I AM furious:
+3 # nearmiss 2013-07-03 08:54
The algorithm rules, capturing each and every one of us. I spend half an hour each morning "unsubscribing" from unsolicited solicitations, only to find 10+ more by evening. The "lie" also lives, forever. Cyber stalked by a disgruntled maniac starting in 2005, who manufactured layer upon layer of lies about me, I googled my name for the first time in 2007 and found these lies at the top of my google page, which also included in the top ten items "white pages" with my home address, phone number, and promises of providing my social security number. I spoke with a Google VP last year, asking how blatant lies could be removed. He said they can't; they live forever. The only solace about the government collecting all this data is the pure magnitude of it makes it impossible for them to actually pay attention to what the "little" people are doing, TMI takes over. Opting out is no longer an option for individuals, government, or corporations. Everyone is on some list. Even here.
0 # Arden 2013-07-03 09:38
They are shooting us all in the foot, but especially themselves.
+6 # jimfreeman 2013-07-03 09:54
My concerns are elsewhere, Frank. They focus on the cloud that government surveillance casts on opinion and dissent.

It wouldn't surprise me to find that the NSA and (possibly) President Obama are delighted to have this widespread notoriety. It stifles dissent to know that every comment made is watched. Bloggers, journalists and commentators are more and more likely to watch their words and soften criticism.

Bottom line: The public may not care, but public debate suffers. If you think public debate is not at risk, the Tea Party problems with the IRS are evidence of criticism being attacked by government.

Its a race to the bottom for an informed America to simply throw in the towel.
+10 # Gnome de Pluehm 2013-07-03 11:28
It is of no use to lay this at Obama's door, except that he is the current president. I doubt that we have had an honest government since Eisenhower. The agencies are uncontrollable and the top middle management careerists do things to make them look effective regardless of the legality in hopes that in the confusion no one will notice this fact and their careers will be advanced. To see this without our own political urgings watch the Engish TV series "Yes Minister" and its follow-on "Yes Prime Minister."
+6 # Thomas Daulton 2013-07-03 11:46
Well it's one thing when everybody wants to put their dirt on Reality TV. But above and beyond that, what really troubles me is that nobody seems to expect the scrutiny can possibly go the other way. A lot of the problems that Frank Rich bemoans here might be mitigated if our big institutions like banks, energy companies, political donors, and even unaccountable quasi-governmen t offices like Fannie Mae were subject to the same "transparency" (read: surveillance) that Americans are willing to subject their personal lives to. For example, since the NSA is already collecting all this data, why should we tolerate insider trading, public bid-rigging, or energy price-gouging for one minute longer? Yet Americans just shrug and say "the banks are too big to fail, the energy companies are corrupt but what'cha gonna do," and so forth. If we _really_ had a panopticon society, we would demand that the investment bankers who wrecked the entire world economy a few years ago be subject to the same wiretapping and analysis that we are. After all, the PRISM technology for matching patterns of small clandestine transactions is a perfect fit, and the NSA is _ALREADY_ collecting the data. It's just a matter of giving the SEC and State AG's, among others, access to the same, existing, database. has a large amount of discussion and evidence.
+9 # hardtraveling 2013-07-03 11:57
A point missed by Frank is the fact that the Government very highly prizes its own privacy (secrecy) with regard to its actions of mass surveillance; otherwise why would the Administration be upset over the whistleblowing by Snowden? And why would it make so many intra-Governmen t communications "classified", and "top secret?" Privacy is apprently a one-way street, an example of a grievous double standard. When government spies on its own citizens, we should all be alarmed.
+6 # cmp 2013-07-03 12:39
This logic, claim or argument makes about as much sense as:

"Too big too fail.."
"Americans don't want those jobs.."

How does an "honest" person make a eulogy of this proportion and not mention that Internet Corporations are lobbing everyday for more and more of our personal identities?

Knowing, what we know now, how can Frank not mention that gmail, google, bing, microsoft, facebook, etc., were clearly set up as business models, where the "price" was our 4th Amendment..

Why won't Frank mention that in 99.999999% of our Internet activity, their is absolutely no reason for anyone to record and store our IP addresses, etc.?

Frank, you make about as much logic as when, Richard Murdouk said, "pregnancies resulting from rape were something that God intended to happen.."
0 # RHytonen 2013-07-05 15:42
BTW, do you have any idea how often you are REASSIGNED a different IP address?

It's not built ("hard coded") into the hardware y'know.

Reboot your modem/router often, if you care about that.
But I assure you 'they' don't - for that reason.

It disturbs me that the adamantly ignorant presume to have opinions.

OTOH- now look up "MAC Address."
Class dismissed.
Next week: Border routers.
0 # RHytonen 2013-07-05 15:31
Evidently in America, laziness and apathy, trump even greed for profit.

I did not think that was possible here.

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