With all the recent news stories regarding the data that U.S. intelligence agencies are collecting, at home and worldwide, my brain has been hosting a not-entirely-unpleasant ear-worm of the old Leonard Cohen song, “Everybody Knows.” It’s from his 1988 album I’m Your Man, but some of the words sound especially timely right now.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
What we’re experiencing is a belated “catching-up” to where it is that the technological changes of the past 10-15 years have put us. It has all happened so quickly. When it comes to conventional telephone calls, it is well known that the NSA has been snooping on those (internationally) for decades. What has changed so quickly is that so much of everyone’s ordinary life is online; it is transmitted, recorded and preserved in digital format. One’s personal communications, one’s banking and bill paying, one’s shopping habits, one’s political inclinations, one’s philosophical and religious beliefs, one’s embarrassing predilections, one’s health problems and concerns … all of this and more can be found out by crunching the data on one’s internet use. With the alleged and/or potential reach of an agency like the NSA, all kinds of sources of material could be matched up together with data filters to obtain a complete and intensely personal portrait of the individual, with information that could be “abused” either by an oppressive government authority or simply by an unscrupulous employee who happens to be able to access it. Continue reading Everybody Knows (Starting with the N.S.A.)