Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

We give ourselves to BIG DATA with every trackable transaction and communication. ” Corporate competition to accumulate information about consumers is intensifying even as concerns about government surveillance grow, pushing down the market price for intimate personal details to fractions of a cent. “  Financial Times knows I cut and pasted the preceding quote and may even know that you, my reader, read the article I quoted from.  The BIG DATA industry is so big and data is so common, the supply beginning to outstrip demand, perhaps, that the per person price of data is dropping.  The FT article linked to includes a data price calculator that tells me my data is worth $0.1265.  We could, these days, speak not of giving our two cents of influence on events of the day, but have a number more precise, because we know what our data is worth and we can give it without opening our mouths or writing a word.

The very young will take this for granted, I suppose, having always lived with the technology that tracks us.  I find it very satisfying that young people, like Edward Snowden , can be outraged about government “systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data”.  We have known since 2006 that the NSA could track our telephone communications.  I have been wondering why the Snowden revelations were really revelatory, except that the young might have presumed from the president’s protestations and promises that such government invasion of privacy would stop.  Then I read that ” Most Americans back NSA tracking phone records, prioritize probes over privacy .”

Sixty-nine percent of Democrats say terrorism investigations, not privacy, should be the government’s main concern, an 18-percentage-point jump from early January 2006, when the NSA activity under the George W. Bush administration was first reported. Compared with that time, Republicans’ focus on privacy has increased 22 points.

This produces the almost but not quite amusing idea that worries about privacy depend on who the presidents is or what political party he represents.  Unless it reflects what Pete has been insisting on, that the young are all leaning to the Democrats.  This might mean that many of the Republicans who were in favor of government surveillance of citizens in 2006 were young people.  Perhaps they, the young, are the Republican holdouts for surveillance today?   I have my doubts based on empirical evidence from my circle of friends.  Among those, there is an inclination to see Edward Snowden as a hero, though there is some confusion about whether or not that is a good conservative position to take.  I see their dilemma.  If someone like Michael Mukasey says, ” Leaking Secrets Empowers Terrorists: The NSA’s surveillance program doesn’t do damage. Revealing it does ” then maybe we are at greater risk as a nation because of the news.  But as I said, we, and presumably terrorists, have known about such surrvellance since 2006 and there has not been such concern about secrecy about protecting America from terror activities since.
Further, the current administration’s promiscuous treatment of national secrets suggests that the current disclosures will beget others. Recall the president’s startling boast in May 2011 that Osama bin Laden ‘s hideout had yielded a trove of valuable intelligence, which alerted anyone who had dealt with bin Laden and thereby rendered much of that material useless. Recall the June 2012 newspaper stories describing U.S. participation in implanting a malware worm called Stuxnet in Iran’s nuclear facilities, reports that even described White House Situation Room deliberations. And summon to mind also the president’s obvious discomfort as he defended—sort of—the programs now in question. There is little doubt that we will be treated to further disclosures to prove that these programs were successful.

I would like to read those disclosures, since the terror attacks we do know about do not appear to have been preventable by such surveillance.  We do know that government collection of data has been put to political use.   You will all have read plenty of revelations about individuals persecuted by bureaucrats who didn’t like their politics, the IRS scandal about that being just the current big story.   George Will gives us a little of Lois Lerner’s history in government in ” Scowling Face of the State “. “Lerner, it is prudent to assume, is one among thousands like her who infest the regulatory state. She is not just a bureaucratic bully and a slithering partisan. Now she also is a national security problem because she is contributing to a comprehensive distrust of government.”

But that this is systemic is something the young seem to take for granted.  Data about them is collected not only by government but by everyone who is trying to sell them something or persuade them of something.  Daniel Henninger this morning quotes Sun Microsystems’ former CEO Scott McNealy,  “You have zero privacy. Get over it.”  I suppose that either we will have to get over it or figure out some way to combat it and right now I haven’t got a clue how to do that.  Do you?  We may have some protections under the Constitution, but if our elected representatives are going to see that document as an obstacle to progress, then those protections become moot.

Also from Henninger,

Consider what people are asked to absorb in the news flow now—some of it political, some not. Beyond the IRS audits and NSA surveillance we have a Department of Justice penetrating press activity protected by the First Amendment, stories about Iran’s hackers accessing the control-room software of U.S. energy firms, China hacking into everything, reports last month of cyberthieves siphoning millions of dollars from ATMs, rivers of email spam that fill inboxes alongside constant warnings to protect yourself against phishing and malware by storing industrial-strength passwords on encrypted flash drives, stories in this newspaper about social-media apps that exist mainly to collect your personal data for sale to advertisers.

Yes, that is a lot to take in and I think we must protest this form of progress as not propelling us to a future that we want to live in.  If we do not or cannot explain why, then the young will take such things as the collection of BIG DATA, which is partly our own small data, for granted and we will all have to “get over it”.


Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles