Right now, I’m sitting at the bar in Thorn Street Brewery in North Park, San Diego, drinking an American Strong Ale. B.B. King is on the radio, and a bartender is pouring pints, and she looks like one of the characters out of a Denis Johnson short story. This place feels like it’s about to turn into a juke joint, as they’re now blaring the “Mess Around,” glasses are clinking, and people are talking loudly over the music. The bartender is now shaking her hips, trying to tease the tips out of the wallets. What I’m thinking about is turning to the bald guy in the teal polo sitting on the stool next to me and telling him about a story I read recently in the Wall Street Journal, but I think he would end up thinking I was the neighborhood mad man.
Basically, I want to tell this guy next to me and the old woman drinking a beer in front of me like it’s a hot tea about the brand new American spy program. I want to tell them all about how “the Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers,” as reported by the WSJ. I want to tell them that this program has been instituted secretly since 2007, and it’s really freaking brilliant and scary and wrong and right all at the same time. I want to say this as I hear stiletto heels clomping along the hardwood floors and the bartender now complains how she is so hungover from her birthday last night.
Here’s what happens: the Cessna aircraft “mimic cell towers … and trick cellphones into reporting” their data in hopes of tracking down terrorists or drug dealers. The technology is so impressive that it’s reported to be able to pinpoint targets “under investigation by the government,” and it sweeps thousands of phones at the same time in order to nail down the targets exact location, even within a massive skyscraper, while pushing aside ‘innocent bystanders and “letting go” of their data.
Of course, the Justice Department is neither confirming or denying the report, but they are defending the action by the U.S. Marshals Service, as reported by several sources, and it’s in line with a much larger stance that our government has taken on data: Whatever works for the greater good and security of our country is within the Constitution and, yes, The Dark Knight.
But how many people were shocked by this news? I mean, Kim Kardashian broke the Internet, and it wasn’t the news of another American spy program. Now, relax, I’m not trying to get on a high horse here and discuss why it’s important that we pay attention to the news over celebrities showing their gorgeous and stunning booties (We only have one life [unless you're a buddhist], and if you want to spend it cramming your brain with celebrities asses and their petty relationships, then I support you; I watch plenty of ESPN), but what really just shocks me is that we still don’t care that our data is being harvested like Monsanto corn and that we still don’t see this massive data collection as an invasion of privacy.
I actually argued this in a Salon article I wrote after I heard that our government admitted to the existence of Area 51, and I’m still trying to make this point today. (People shredded my article on the comment boards.) As a country, we’re so used to our authorities lying to us, spying on us, fucking with us, playing with us, tricking us, mind-fucking us, that we eventually stopped being shocked, we stopped being scared, we stopped caring.
The truth is planes collecting our data on a massive scale with approval from an actual court system that is relatively secret isn’t thought of as shocking anymore. Think about it: we’ve since this well before Will Smith starred in I, Robot. Remember Enemy of the State? This isn’t even the only movie that shows how invaded our civil liberties are in terms of data collection. There are countless.
Our pop culture and news have reported on data invasion more times than Kevin Bacon has appeared in films. I feel somewhat bad for the WSJ. They broke a gigantic story, but it’s already old. It’s almost a footnote in the battle for civil liberties in the digital age. I mean, this is what the ACLU said in the WSJ article:
Maybe it’s worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect, but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples’ privacy?
So yes, I get it. I’m not an idiot. Advancing technology can have a gigantic impact on the protection of our country. Yes, it’s important to use these new techniques to capture dangerous criminals in order to safeguard our communities, our people, our children, our infrastructure, the very bedrock of the American people. It’s important that I can have the freedom and the safety to sit in this bar and criticize my government while B.B. King just seduces Lucille with so much charm and sex that it feels the sound is about to melt the walls. (Yeah, I’m going overboard with my metaphors, but that’s my right as an American [lol!].) I’m not trying to take the stance that data can’t be used to help fight crime, but I am against the idea that collecting my data isn’t an invasion of privacy.
When the U.S. Marshals fly over “most of the U.S. population” collecting the remnants of my cellphone, I take that personally. I read that as they’re literally snatching pieces of my unconscious and conscious thoughts. What I surf on my phone, my location, my texts, my browsing history are really intensely personal parts of my existence. It’s like when someone drives your car and rifles through your music collection or the police walk into your home and check your browsing history or that Spotify is sharing with the world what you’re currently listening to without fully being cognizant of this information.
I am my data, and when I was born as an American, I didn’t sign a freaking terms of service that allowed the government to invade my privacy. I take offense to my government collecting my data with planes and fake cell phone towers without my permission, without my knowledge. Perhaps I would be all right with this type of security if I was given the options and the collection of my data was guaranteed to be private, but I don’t trust my government yet. I believe that whatever technology the media reports on the Justice Department will already be 1,ooo steps behind what technology their currently using to “protect” our lives and invade them at the same time.
Wow, someone in the bar behind me just yelled, “you’re a fucking sniper.” Well, that’s it. I’m signing out from North Park, San Diego. Remember, your comments are always appreciated — especially if you disagree with me.