We can’t hide from prying eyes

Even lies are a thin disguise
Time for us to realize
There ain’t no way to hide from prying eyes

(With apologies to the Eagles.)

Just off Beef Hollow Road in Bluffdale, Utah, in conditions of extreme secrecy, construction workers are building a complex that, when finished, will be five times the size of the US Capitol.

It has two purposes: to break passwords and to spy on people, including the American taxpayers who are funding it ($2 billion in construction costs, $40 million per year to operate).

Digital pocket litter

According to an article by James Bamford in wired.com, the new Utah Data Center, as part of the National Security Agency, will monitor “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as … parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

A lot of this data is encrypted: “financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications.” Hence the password-breaking.

Yottabyte me

It’s worth reading Bamford’s article in its entirety – for a start, you’ll learn what a “yottabyte” is. In this post, I’ll content myself with raising a few questions.

Like, why should we bother to create fancy passwords? You know, the ones where you take a phrase like “how ironic that the National Security Agency is breaking my passwords” and abbreviate it – hittnsaibmp – and then change a couple of the letters to numbers and special characters: h1ttn$@1bmp.

Hacker-proof? Maybe. But child’s play for the NSA.

More ironies!

Can we spy on these stellar winds?

The US government’s program to spy on its own citizens — foreigners have been fair game for years — began after 9-11. Its code name is Stellar Wind, which sounds like a CD you’d listen to in yoga class.

Check out that Wikipedia entry too, especially the part where officials in the George W. Bush administration hound the Attorney General, while he’s lying semi-conscious in hospital, to make the spying legal. A bit like Newt Gingrich asking his wife for a divorce while she was recovering from breast-cancer surgery.

Don’t think you can hide from the US government in hospitals, people!

Tell us, Rhiannon, what are pizza cases?

That’s FBI slang for the first year or so of Stellar Wind activities, when lots of  “suspected terrorist incidents” turned out to be orders for takeout food. But agents did unearth some useful information. For example, we learned that Eliot Spitzer, then the governor of New York, was visiting prostitutes. Now, don’t you feel safer?

And no, Eliot Spitzer wasn’t a suspected terrorist. But he is a liberal Democrat, so you know. Fair dues.

Stellar Wind and the Utah Data Center are just part of the US government’s “Total Information Awareness” program. Have you noticed that right-wing people love absolutist words like “total”? Total Information Awareness. Final Solution. Mission Accomplished.

But isn’t security good?

Enigma machine: good code-breaking

It’s all about the context. Freedom to rape and pillage? Not good freedom. Security from pizza deliveries? Not good security.

Protection – which no amount of spying can ensure – from the chance that a bomb might kill you, while the government spies on your Facebook wall and locks up your brother in Guantanamo because they think (but aren’t required to prove) that he might be a terrorist? Not good protection.

Are we even a democracy any more?

The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the stellar wind.

The US government is running a deficit. We don’t have guaranteed health care. Millions of people are jobless. In my small town, some children come to school hungry. (Volunteers are on it.) At one elementary school, teachers noticed that a brother and sister attended on alternate days. Not only could their parents not afford breakfast, they had only been able to buy one pair of children’s shoes.

But we’re spending $2 billion for a paranoid spy center on Beef Hollow Road. How apt. The more we beef up our “security,” the more hollow we get.

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