If you’re reading this, humor me for a moment and open your front door. Look around on the porch carefully. If you don’t use your best powers of observation, you’ll probably miss it.
But if you’re thorough enough, you’ll see it: a small cube of brushed aluminum or shiny black lacquer that looks like it could have been made by the Apple corporation. Don’t touch it, and do not open this package under any circumstances. It is everything you don’t want masquerading as life-changing, progressive convenience.
What’s inside this box? Lots of big data that companies are using to make mountains of money off of you without paying you a single cent. Health insurers using sophisticated models to insure less people and only those who don’t need health insurance for maximum profits. Target knowing your daughter is pregnant before you do. Your car insurance company installing a GPS and accelerometer in your vehicle. The RFID tag in your passport announcing your presence within hundreds of feet of the correct readers. Vending machines that know when you walk by and what sodas you like to drink. Parents tracking their children’s physical whereabouts, online behavior, and phone usage. Cars that can’t crash and drive themselves. Free apps that fulfill your wildest dreams…for a price that you don’t care about, but definitely should. A race between the richest nations on Earth to build the world’s fastest supercomputer with the greatest storage capacity known to man. And all these systems are about to start talking to each other. Then they’ll talk to your boss, your spouse, your health insurer, Federal Goons, and hackers.
Tiny technocrats are crammed inside the box like sardines, calling the shots and designing the future without a scintilla of your input, in love with their own egos and the objects they create for the sake of creation, no matter the social or environmental costs. Whether you like it or not, someone will open their box before you wisely send yours back C.O.D., and this new world of hypersurveillance, vacuous Constitutional rights, and presumed guilt for everyone will be completely unfurled.
The NFL opened their package, and now you can’t take anything but a transparent purse to a professional football game anymore. So people that attend football games are treated with “reasonable” suspicion just as people who board planes are, or are unlucky enough to be riding a bus or train when the TSA shows up to say “Show us your papers…and anything else you got on you.”
What country do they think this is, again? How is our Government able to hire so many Americans who have lost their ways far enough to violate the privacy, freedoms, and Constitutional rights of other Americans?
This week the FISA court released an opinion written after the NSA revealed in 2011 that they had “accidentally” collected tens of thousands of private emails between American citizens. How many more “accidents” are to come? When Uncle Sam creates a panopticon and then requires humans to run it, isn’t human nature going to dictate that someone, somewhere always pries into someone else’s life to serve some kind of prurient interest? (And if you get a machine to run the panopticon then only the rules will respect the rules and the bureaucracy will become more nameless, faceless, inhumane, and Minority Reporty than it already is.)
Why are the Edward Snowdens and Bradley (Chelsea) Mannings of the word always white men? Because immigrants wouldn’t do the jobs that undermine the American experiment, because they moved here for our Constitution (and they wouldn’t be given security clearance, either). Snowden and Manning doubtless started off their careers just like every other white male American technocrat does: “OMG, just look at all the power I have and all the awesome things we can do with more technology!” And they cracked…because they were the two Americans left working in their industries who still had consciences. Here’s what DARPA needs to do to pre-empt any leakage of sensitive information in the future (fuck the future-sensing algorithm): hire people without moral compasses. It looks like the NSA and DOD only really slipped up twice on this rule so far.
Manning’s prosecutors alleged that his leaks caused the deaths of others, and then were unable to outline a single death directly caused by his information sharing with Wikileaks. They also argued that because of his leaks, the NSA won’t be able to use some of the tactics and techniques that made them effective, even though these are the very same kinds of things they should have never been doing all along. I’ve never actually encountered evidence that any of the NSA’s programs of suspicious legality have done anything at all for the War of Terror, and I read press like a wonk.
Bill Vollmer calls these goons that the Government hires to hurt other Americans the “Unamericans,” and he is absolutely right. According to the FBI, he’s gone from being a Unabomber suspect, to a suspected mujahadeen who traveled to Beirut to learn how to be a terrorist, to a suspect for mailing anthrax letters. All this is because he exercised his first amendment rights by criticizing the government and wrote art books. Each time the FBI investigates him they find nothing, but every time something bad happens in the War of Terror, they pay him a personal visit.
How many Bill Vollmers are there going to be before we realize that the jailingest nation on Earth that also has the most developed security and antiprivacy (aka SECRET POLICE) apparatus is a truly dangerous entity? And once we realize the threat we pose to the citizens of every nation (including our own) in our Government of the People, how long will it take us to shut it down? Remember, Stalin’s secret police helped keep over 30 million of his countrymen “safe” in the gulags. Why is it that the “safer” the NSA and CIA help us to get, the more dangerous and terrifying everything becomes and the more civilians become radicalized all around the globe?
And why can’t the boneheaded American public understand ethical slippery slopes? That what starts with a Hellfire missile sent to waste an American citizen without trial in Yemen because he runs a terror cell ends with a similar drone sending a similar missile down grandma’s throat because the Feds don’t like her homegrown medical marijuana?
Once again, we reach the familiar crossroads of but our Government has done horrible shit all the time. What about the BIA and delivering smallpox-inoculated blankets to Native Americans? What about (arguably) the killing of Che Guevara? What about the CIA-trained death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala that made entire villages disappear? What about McCarthyism? What about the Japanese internment camps during WWII? What about secretive, corporation-driven efforts made to prolong the institution of slavery? There are a thousand more questions to add to this list.
And the answer to any criticisms of naivete on the part of this author are that 1) our government has not done horrible, rights-violating shit historically to mainstream members of its own country (although the record shows we’re very adept at doing it to the poor, brown, black, yellow, red, and anyone else we manage to push to the socioeconomic hinterlands), and 2) we’ve never had the money or technological tools to do it at the scale that we’re doing it now. This is about bad shit done to everyone to a bad degree, and is precisely why some members of Congress feel better about stymieing any efforts to “get things done,” when “getting things done” in the legislative branch necessarily means criminalization and the abetting of a toothy, claw-bearing Levithian that makes the rest of the world sleep so poorly at night.
So, what to do about the box on your doorstep? Here’s my plan:
1) Donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
2) Print a bunch of extra copies of the 1st and 4th Amendments. Every time you walk through an airport security line, leave a copy of the 4th Amendment behind. If the TSA asks you to take it, tell them you had to give it up when you decided to travel by air. Send copies of the 1st Amendment in with your bills to your ISP, distribute them while protesting (especially when asked to leave), give them to your cable guy and the clerk at the Apple store, and attach electronic copies onto emails that you bounce back to companies that shouldn’t have your address.
3) Become a technocrat, somehow not get afflicted with the power knowing you can spend your shift watching hot chicks naked on their webcams that you secretly hacked into every frigging day, teach other technocrats that technology will not solve all problems, and that every technology creates its own problems that will have to be dealt with (and to leave the hot chicks’ webcams alone). If this is your goal, your life will be an upstream battle through shit, jizz, and testosterone poisoning, and you probably won’t get the stripper girlfriend or flat in Maui.
4) Tell the obstructionist congresspeople that they’re heroes and patriots. Then tell them why, because it won’t be why they think they are. You may have to use fake addresses or snail mail to get in contact with those who are not your direct representatives. Meanwhile, tell Grover Norquist that he’s also correct, but again, not for the reasons that he thinks.
5) Use the box as a paperweight, put holes in it and screw it to the wall as a toothbrush rack, return it to the unholy place from whence it came, check out and move to a cabin in the mountains, or write a book about it to raise the alarms. But whatever you do, don’t open the damn box!