Some days, I love Facebook. I like to see what is happening with my friends, I like the articles I read on the various pages I have liked and I like the cool ideas and information I gather from various sources. I even like the cute cat pictures everyone seems to want to post. There are also days that I really HATE Facebook. Today was one of those days.
I have friends that come from all kinds of political, religious, and social circles. It isn’t all that unusual for me to disagree with something someone has posted and I can usually just skip on by because most of my “friends” on Facebook are friends because of some specific common activity or ideal. I don’t expect everyone I have “friended” to post things I agree with 100% – that would be ridiculous. Some days, though, I see a never-ending parade of things I just can’t get past. Today was one of those days.
I grew up in a simpler time. If you wanted to send someone something, you wrote a letter. If you wanted to call someone, you had to call them on a phone connected to a jack in the wall. We didn’t have Ipads, Ipods, Computers, Laptops, MP3 players, WOW, 197 channels on the TV, or instant access (in stereo) to every event that occurred all over the world. If the President wanted to address the American Public, he did so on all three channels and it was BIG news. You usually only had one source of print news (unless you lived in a larger city) and you usually only had one choice when it came to national news (always on at 5:00pm). You trusted the reporters that reported that news to be fair, unbiased and “just the facts”.
Times have definitely changed. Now we do have Ipads, Ipods, Computers, the Intertubes thing, and 197 channels on our TV bringing you instant updates on every little issue all over the world in living color. You can hear about everything the President does in nice little slices on Twitter downloaded automatically to your cellphone and you just KNOW what is going on because your favorite news personality has told you what to think about it. You have constant and instant access to every opinion, “fact”, conspiracy, scandal and lie anytime of day, anywhere you are.
I avoided getting a cellphone when I worked at Intel. In fact, I swore I would never own a cellphone. The idea of someone being able to call me anytime, anywhere was simply too much an invasion of privacy for me to even consider. As I type this, I am wearing one on my belt. Granted, it is armored so I won’t break it, and it doesn’t have a big screen for surfing the Internet, but I could if I wanted to. It even has a GPS locator so my wife can keep tabs on me if I get my silly ass lost in the woods when I am hiking.
We take these things for granted now. Our kids grew up with the damn things and they know more about how to use them than I ever will. You can listen to music on them, you can remotely access your computer on them, you can use them as a walkie talkie, you can text instant messages back and forth on them and that is just for starters. My daughter pointed out to me that my phone even has a cool, built in pedometer in it (all the while looking at me as if I was some kind of retarded child for not knowing that in the first place). It actually is a technological marvel if you consider it for a moment.
Sadly, the cellphone has also completely changed the landscape of National Security. They provide instant communication to anyone, anywhere in the world. They can be used to coordinate operations, locate targets, give advance Intel for operations, upload and download operational information, take pictures of targets or classified information and send them anywhere in the world… the list goes on. There are quite likely even more things they can used for by people intent on causing death and destruction to the United States of America that I haven’t even begun to consider. They are also really useful for setting off bombs…
Herein lies my dislike of Facebook today. Everyone seems to want to talk about the current “scandal” over the US Government seizing the records of one of the largest domestic and international wireless company in the world. You would think the very sky was falling and we should all climb into the holes we have dug in our backyards. The Government is coming to get us all. Load up the AR’s, pack up all your belongings into the bugout vehicle and make your getaway. Except for a few facts that need to be pointed out….
1) On Sept 11th, 2001, a group of terrorists belonging to the Muslim Extremist group, al-Qaeda, seized a number of passenger jets and flew those jets into the World Trade Center buildings in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington DC. Another group attempted to hit a third target but the plane was brought down in a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers attempted to take the plane back from the terrorists. This changed American society in ways that we are just now beginning to understand- the most important one being that we learned how to really be afraid. One of those changes was the enactment of the Patriot Act. This Act created the Department of Homeland Security and it gave the US Government special powers – many of which arguably violate the Constitution of the United States. Let me be clear here, while I personally disagreed with the Patriot Act at the time it was enacted, it was supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans. It was a piece of legislation that was enacted out of fear and it wasn’t to be last such fear driven piece of legislation.
2) Between then and now, the Federal Government has used the Patriot Act to seize records for communication companies on many occasions. Just how many is still unknown because the Government is not required to inform the public of these seizures. Usually, the public finds out about them because someone in the Government leaks the information to the press for some kind of political gain. It happened multiple times during the Bush Administration (the largest one to my knowledge being when AT&T handed over more than 3 terabytes of data on it’s customers to the US Government without even requiring a warrant) and it has happened multiple times during the Obama Administration. To date, NONE of these seizures have been done illegally. They have all met with the requirements put forth in the Patriot Act, they have all met the many legal challenges made against them and they were done in the name of National Security.
3) On April 15th, Two brothers successfully exploded two pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon. While a relatively small number of people were injured or killed, because the attack was terrorist in nature and because of the possibility of it being done by Muslim radicals or al-Qaeda, the national reaction to this event was again highly publicized and politicized. To make matters worse, many radical Muslim leaders have called for other American Muslims to enact similar terrorist attacks on American Soil.
If you consider these three things, it suddenly becomes very clear why the United States Government might want to examine phone records from one of the largest domestic and international wireless company in the world. Suddenly it becomes clear why they would even consider mining all that data. They don’t care if you are banging the woman next door, they aren’t looking to see if you own guns and they certainly aren’t preparing to round us all up and put us in FEMA camps. In fact, it is obvious that they are doing EXACTLY what we told them we wanted them to do after September 11th, 2001 – protect us from the mean, nasty terrorist that want to kill us all and rape out women.
Consider for a moment just how much data we are talking about here. The average person makes about 14 calls a day on their cellphone. I use mine a lot less, some people seem to use theirs nonstop, but the average (according to the data I can find) is 14 calls a day. Given the 10′s of millions of Verizon customers, that makes hundreds of millions of calls a day. Multiply that by the number days covered by the warrant (and the reports are conflicting on just how many days the warrant covered), you are talking about tens of Terrabytes of data. It will take months to even begin to mine that data even if they have a sophisticated algorithm to do the number crunching.
So who do we get angry with when we read that Verizon handed over the records they were REQUIRED BY LAW to hand over? Do we blame the President for doing the job we hired him to do – protecting our nation from all threats, foreign and domestic? Do we get mad at Verizon for following the law when faced with a Federal Warrant? Do we get mad at the Congressmen who failed to kill the Patriot Act when they had the chance?
I say “BULLSHIT”. If you really want to get all butthurt about it, then get butthurt at the people who are really at fault… ourselves. We demanded that the Government protect us from the mean nasty Muslim people who brought down the Towers. We demanded that the Government use the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and all those other three letter agencies to root out these threats and keep us safe. We never stopped to consider just how they would have to do that – which brings me back to the that cellphone sitting within easy reach of your hand 24/7.
Unlike a landline, a cellphone is almost impossible to track – especially if the owner is moving. If the cellphone has a GPS locator and the authorities know the number, they can always have the GPS locator turned on remotely, but that takes information and time to accomplish. It certainly isn’t as easy as CSI:NY makes it appear to be. Moreover, a cellphone can’t be “tapped” like a landline. You can record the number that the cellphone called, the length of the call etc, but you can’t listen in on what is said. It is a numbers game. If you have enough data to work with, and you have a list of phone numbers that are likely linked with badguys, you can use an algorithm to try to identify suspicious calls. That is pretty much it. To make matters worse, anyone can walk into the neighborhood grocery store or department store and for the low price of 29.99, you can walk out with an untraceable, throwaway cellphone.
The fact is, we don’t have many real facts. We know that the Federal Government presented Verizon with a Federal Warrant for phone records between specific dates. We do NOT know what Federal investigation this was for and the Federal Government CANNOT legally tell us. In fact, there is very little the Federal Government can say about the investigation without violating the law. Those trying to make a big deal about this are using that simple fact of law to make this a much larger scandal than it is. We may never know what the investigation was about – that is a simple fact of National Security. I am quite sure we never find out about a LOT of Federal investigations. Anyone that tells you they have the facts about this situation is LYING to you either for profit or some kind of idealistic gain. Use your head and don’t give into the fear being peddles by either politicians for political gain or the media for financial gain.
Now let’s be clear… I am a Verizon customer. I do NOT like the idea that the data captured from every phone call I have made over the period of time covered by the Federal Warrant in now in the hands of the NSA/FBI. To me, it is an invasion of privacy. That said, I know that the law was followed, and the Government is currently authorized to do exactly what they have done. Until the law changes, this was not the first time this has happened and it certainly won’t be the last. Sadly, given the technology that exists today, I am not sure what a better answer would be on how to deal with that technology.
Let me make one more thing perfectly clear. Any politician that wants to make this about the President of the United States over-reaching his authority has lost all credibility with me. It was CONGRESS that gave the Executive Branch the authority when it passed the Patriot Act and then voted to extend it. In fact, every single Congressman making a big deal about this voted to either pass the Patriot Act originally or voted to extend it, making them world class hypocrites.
Don’t give into the fear that has pervaded almost every aspect of our lives. It sickens me just how much we fear EVERYTHING today. I remember a time when we weren’t so afraid and I miss those days.