It was the tweet heard round the world. A young British couple on their way to America to sightsee tweeted to some friends that they were going to “destroy” America. Destroy in current British slang means party.
And for that unpardonable breech of etiquette, the couple was arrested, jailed, deported and banned from visiting our diverse and tolerant nation.
It doesn’t matter that our borders are porous and our elected officials ignore millions of undocumented aliens. It doesn’t matter that we have untold numbers of enemies in this country who have sworn (and sometimes carried out) death and destruction, and whose threats we disregard in the name of tolerance and diversity. But let a couple of kids tell their friends their intent to party in America and they’re sent packing. I’ll bet we taught them a lesson, by jingo.
When my husband first told me about this British couple, my question was, “How did the tweet come to the attention of the feds? Did one of their friends turn them in?”
“No,” my husband replied. “The government reads tweets. There are certain key words that bring particular tweets to the attention of the authorities. The word ‘destroy’ in conjunction with ‘America’ doubtless raised a red flag.”
And there you have it. The government is looking over your shoulder even as we tweet … er, speak.
On the heels of this news story, I received an email from Google informing me of the following: “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.”
Google is quick to assure us that these new policies are all to our benefit (now we can share information more easily! now our Internet browsing can be “tailored” to our interests!). But if you look past the simplified schematics and cute cartoons, the changes are creepy. Bottom line, Google is expanding its ability to mine our information and track what websites we visit and the content of what we write to each other to allow advertisers to more effectively target us. Oh, and for added fun you don’t have the choice to opt out unless you stop using Google’s services such as Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, etc.
This week my husband made the decision to divorce himself from Facebook for reasons listed here. Part of his motivation includes Facebook’s tracking: “He learned that Facebook no longer simply archives what you said, and what you Liked and Disliked while you were on Facebook. It is now keeping track of where you travel throughout the Internet, even if you’re logged off Facebook. Naturally Facebook claims it keeps that information confidential, but because of Facebook’s close association with advertisers and the federal government, that information was available to anyone with the right credentials – or even the wrong ones.”
And therein lays the crux of the problem. Just how much of our information is in the hands of the government? How much of it is in the hands of companies? How much is in the hands of scam artists and hucksters? Answer: a lot. Otherwise that British couple’s tweet would have remained private and unread outside their circle of friends.
Call me paranoid, but all this connectivity and data collection makes me nervous. I have no doubt the government is delighted with the easy availability of all these personal and business data. After all, up to this point it had to resort to clumsy and offensive techniques such as the American Community Survey to peek into the intimate details of our lives. Now all they have to do is sit back and watch the data roll in, courtesy of naïve and oblivious Internet users and the active (and sometimes compelled) cooperation of some very big companies.
While our family is taking certain steps to safeguard our privacy – divorcing Facebook, using the search engine StartPage, controlling the “cookies” placed on our computers, no smart phones – we remain nearly as open to data collection as anyone else. The tentacles of privacy intrusion are becoming more convolute and invasive. It has metastasized into big business and is working hand-in-glove with federal spying on citizens.
The only way to avoid the constant data-mining is to live off-grid and offline in an isolated cabin in the woods, something like Ted Kaczynski … in which case the feds will keep a sharp eye on you because you live off-grid and offline in an isolated cabin in the woods, something like Ted Kaczynski.
Remember the list the FBI handed out that flagged potential domestic terrorists? Concerns about privacy are on top of that list. Objection to snooping is a big red flag.
As I noted in an earlier column, we’re all walking around with great big bull’s-eyes on our butts. Amerika has become a nation of pre-emptive suspicion – we are assumed to be guilty unless proven otherwise. Let an innocuous housewife in north Idaho write for a news source like WND and boom! She’s a domestic terrorist. Goodness, my government dossier must be getting longer by the day.
The kind of paranoia I feel used to be the province of the Tinfoil Hat Society, which, according to Wikipedia.org, “has become a popular stereotype and term of derision; the phrase serves as a byword for paranoia and persecutory delusions, and is associated with conspiracy theorists.”
Ha ha, quite amusing, no? But as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re wrong. At what point do conspiracy suspicions become facts when the evidence is there?
So what’s the solution to the data mining of this brave new world? There isn’t one. Short of getting offline altogether and shunning the information superhighway (which some rugged souls have done), the rest of us will just have to accept it. The tradeoff for having the world at our fingertips is the final removal of privacy.
So allow me to give a hearty “hi and how are ya?” to the charming folks down at Homeland Security who are presumably so interested in my every move. Our neighborhood potlucks are on Sunday evenings if you’d care to join us. Bring a dessert.