Warning: This Column May Be Bugged

By Bob Gaydosstock-photo-eye-spying-trough-a-computer-monitor-85320868

Hi there. Thanks for clicking on this article. I feel obliged to warn you right off that you and I are probably not alone in this seemingly intimate connection. Odds are this interchange is being monitored by some government or private computer for the purpose of, well, maybe for the sole purpose of demonstrating that it can be done.

And it is done, routinely, to anyone and everyone who uses a computer, lap top, tablet or cell phone. Privacy has become a quaint concept, an anachronism, in the computer era. The very tool that has freed us to a world of instant information and communication has also stripped us of something we cherish, our privacy.

Let me amend that. The tool is not to blame. It’s the people using it. They have entered our lives — admittedly often at our initial invitation — to such an extent that savvy technicians can put together accurate profiles of us in short order. Mostly, these people work for private companies that want to sell us something based on our computer behavior. Of course, those with malice in their heart can and do use their skills and the gathered data for nefarious purposes such as identity theft or simply installing a computer virus for no apparent reason.

This is not news to you, I’m sure. What’s perhaps new and most troubling to me is the extent to which our own government is involved in spying on us. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden of a massive cell phone data collection program run by the National Security Agency targeting average American citizens has been followed up with revelations of the extent to which the NSA also has used popular Internet service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Apple, Facebook and YouTube, to compile information on private citizens.


Why national security, of course. There could very well be potential terrorists lurking out there among those cute cat photos and it is part of our eternal war on terrorism to try to find them among the billions of clicks per day on computers.

That’s the company line and there is a small element of truth in it. But we can’t assess how valuable the snooping has been because the government (the White House and Congress) won’t tell us anything that can be verified by uninvolved parties. (And the head of the CIA lies to Congress without getting fired.)

Mostly, though, I have come to believe (and this is why I warn you this column may be bugged) that our government snoops do this kind of thing because they can and they really don’t see it is an invasion of privacy and most certainly do not consider the massive potential for abuse it presents. This is scary. When the computer spies forget that they, too, are American citizens and also suffer from any erosion of individual privacy along with the rest of us, the slippery slope to total control of the citizenry has begun. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness lose their meaning.

Too alarmist?

Well, consider the reaction of President Obama when Snowden subsequently revealed that the United States was snooping on countries in the European Union and elsewhere. These are our friends, mind, our allies. The EU folks erupted with indignant surprise. They were outraged, etc. Obama said, in effect, what’s the big deal? Everybody does it.

Which is in large part true. The EU huffing and puffing was largely for show. They knew they were bugged and some of them also bugged official United States locations for the purpose of … what?

The nonchalant nature of the practice on an international scale bespeaks an inability and/or unwillingness to trust friends at their word or to get some kind of edge on them in international diplomacy. So I ask, why would this attitude not translate into domestic spying? It’s no big deal. Everybody does it. National security, you know? Trust us, we mean you no harm.

Really? Well then, why is the entire process sealed in secrecy, with a special court granting rubber stamp warrants for the government bugging private citizens? Why is the court answerable to no one in the public? Why are its rulings free from challenge? Why are private contractors (Snowden was one), not actual government employees, given access to such highly classified information? What happens to the data collected on U.S. citizens who turn out to be really just “average” Americans connecting with friends or venting frustration on Facebook? Why are most of our political leaders focusing on Snowden’s release of “classified” data rather than on the enormity of the spying effort on private citizens?

And why should we not be concerned that instructions are available on line on how to turn computer cameras (yes, Skype, too) and cell phone cameras into devices that can spy on their owners, a weapon that obviously could be used by serious government computer spies? And probably is. (Put tape over the lens without actually touching it. Shut it off in the bedroom.)

We “average citizens” have definitely been complicit in creating this situation, but most of were also a bit naïve: I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry about putting personal information on line? That may have been a valid view at one time, but it ignored the reality that those with a certain amount of power inevitably seek to expand their power.

Our government is supposed to protect us from this. When it is the offending party, we need to challenge it. We have no choice. We must do this peaceably, but vigorously, through public demonstrations (as the Occupy movement tried), petitions, messages to elected officials, support for candidates who want to shine light on such programs and eliminate abuses, rejection of candidates who support the spying, protest to and boycott of companies that cooperate with spying efforts, And by voicing opinions of protest on line.

Which is where I came in. Thanks for reading this. Don’t bother deleting; Big Brother already knows you were here.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Warning: This Column May Be Bugged”

  1. Bennett Weiss Says:

    Mr. Gaydos asks the key question. “Why are most of our political leaders focusing on Snowden’s release of “classified” data rather than on the enormity of the spying effort on private citizens”? Because it is a distraction, that’s why. And the media has played along. Even the conspiracy addicted lunatic fringe has taken their eye off the ball with wild speculation about Snowden being a part of an NSA false flag operation.

    Well this purposeful blurring of the issue has been quite effective. The general public is safely clueless.

    Copied below are the note I wrote a few days ago regarding my July 4th efforts to start conversations about this subject.
    I was in the wrong place today. Almost none of the thousands there cared a whit about the literature I was handing out. Only about a dozen signed my petition. And very few took my offer of a free button when the I told them that all I asked was that they wear it for the rest of day.

    Now a foreign visitor, say from Ecuador, might have assumed that this was a crowd that would have been drawn in droves to the sign that hung from my folding table: SAVE THE FOURTH AMENDMENT ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. After all, so many of these patriots were wearing American flag T shirts, some with a faded out text of the Preamble to the Constitution serving as background for the American Eagle in all its fierce glory. But if that same Ecuadoran tourist had spent even five minutes with me at the table, he would have been flabbergasted at the disinterest of most and the imbecilic ignorance of some. This is especially true at a time when his country is so bravely taking a principled stand to protect Snowden who helped alert US citizens about gross government intrusion into their rights.

    Now mind you, the flyer I offered was not terribly controversial. It simply contained the text to the Fourth Amendment. Nothing more. No pontificating, no propagandizing, Just the text, period.

    And the petition, although of course more pointed, was not calling for anything extraordinarily radical. In fact, after writing a few sharply worded drafts, I opted to use the minimalist language of MoveOn petition: Warrant-less eavesdropping is a violation of our rights under the Fourth Amendment. I call upon the Federal Government to dismantle the surveillance state.

    And to make signing it less threatening, I only asked for a signature. No address, phone number, or email. Just a John Hancock in the style of , well, John Hancock.

    And the button, was even simpler. It read: Fourth Amendment, Est 1791, sorta in the form of sign outside an old saloon.

    My goal was simplest of all. Get these people to think, even if ever so fleetingly, about one of our key founding principles on a day when they were ostensibly celebrating the Nation’s birth.

    I’ll spare you a long list of the low-lights (there really were no high-lights as I was all but ignored), but allow me share the most depressing. And no, it was not being told on two separate occasions that I should be out supporting the Second Amendment, not the Fourth. After all, as these deep-thinkers informed me, without the Second Amendment, there would be no Fourth as we know it today. (I suppose that they were right in the sense that without the second, the fourth would have been the third, but I think they had something else in mind.)

    No. The most deflating moment came when I noticed a rising star of democracy, or should I say Democratocracy, the bright young State Assemblyman from Woodbury, walking in the direction of my table. Here surely I would find a home for one of my neglected, lonely buttons.

    I hawked out to him, “Now you sir, look like a champion of the rule of law. Can I interest you in an opportunity to defend the Fourth on the Fourth”?

    He approached my table and asked what’s it was all about. I told him that I was just trying to spread the alarm about the evaporation of critical Constitutional guarantees to a somnambulist public that, like the proverbial frog in gradually boiling water didn’t seem to have a clue, or give a damn, about what’s going on.

    He mumbled something about being appalled by the NSA over-reaching, so I asked him if he would sign the petition. No, he doesn’t sign petitions he politely informed me. OK. No big deal. I get it. A man seeking the graces of a political machine has to watch his every step.

    So, I asked, how about wearing a button? A very, very non-controversial button remember; Fourth Amendment, Est 1791. Um, no. I won’t do that, he said, but I will take one for my office. Great, a button in a draw has at least a .000703 better chance of being seen as one in a dumpster. So OK, I gave him the button and it disappeared into his pocket.

    Is cautiousness the right word here? Or is it more like pusillanimous?

    Anyhow, next July 4th, if I still want to find some vestige of the fabled American spirit, I’m gonna set up my table not in Cornwall, but in Quito.

  2. Idrea Says:

    Shutting down our computers, smartphones, etc will impede neither hacking nor government snooping. Nothing short of removing our batteries will preclude their capability to peep at us thru our own camera lenses.

  3. Bob Mullin Says:

    It’s difficult to be a private American citizen today. Or should I say impossible?

  4. Russ Layne Says:

    Hey, Bob,

    Just heard yesterday on CBS Radio that only 50% of us feel that Snowden is within his right to have revealed this information. Now THAT’S downright scary. Too many people I’ve spoken with about this issue simply say, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?”

  5. Ken Says:

    I’ve assumed that someone from government and/or business has been monitoring me for years

  6. e miller Says:


    You always deliver a thought provoking listing. With each successive generation of Americans it seems we as a country allow these intrusions. Doesn’t make it right.

    It is pretty near impossible to be off the grid anymore.

  7. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Great piece, Bob. It seems that taking it for granted has blunted the outrage even for those who find it objectionable. I think something Matt Taibbi wrote the other day about the Bradley Manning trial applies to Snowden as well: “This whole thing, this trial, it all comes down to one simple equation. If you can be punished for making public a crime, then the government doing the punishing is itself criminal.”

Leave a Reply