Spoutin' Off: Government spying reason for technophobia

By Michael Rau

January 30 2006

I'm virtually apoplectic. I've always believed that technology would set the masses free. I may have been wrong.

Ever since learning recently that the Justice Department has subpoenaed records from several online search engines, I find myself feeling like an enabler.

As a lifelong technophile, I've tried to lend comfort to those disoriented by the deliriously fast pace of the evolution of technology. Having to accept that the very technology I love and promote is being used to spy on me and my fellow citizens is almost more than my heart can bear.

I really don't care what rationalization this (or any) administration cares to pitch - spying on your own citizens is wrong. Gathering information on the behavior and habits of citizens is spying. If some loophole has allowed them to circumvent the Fourth Amendment, thus making it technically legal, that still doesn't make it right - not in America.

Frankly, the reports that MSN and Yahoo willingly complied with the government's request to release information about their consumers' search habits is hardly a surprise. Microsoft has never shown any concern for anyone's security but their own. And we've already discussed Yahoo's dilettantish attitude regarding customers' personal information.

As for Google's supposed reticence in cooperating, this has more to do with keeping proprietary technology and information away from prying eyes than standing on principle. Google's willingness to serve as a tool for censorship on behalf of the Chinese government just to make a buck kind of belies that lofty notion.

What probable cause exists for the issuing of a subpoena for records of my online search practices to begin with?

I've been a working journalist off and on for many years and a naturally curious person for my entire life. I've made thousands of online inquiries into a broad range of topics, including "child porn." I'm equally inquisitive about things which delight and those which disgust. How does the fact that I searched any particular term establish probable cause for legal scrutiny of anything else?

When the government trades favorable legislation to the corporate sector in exchange for their patronage, something has gone horribly wrong.

For those tens of millions among us who apparently condone this, my question is: Why?

Is it just partisan politics? Let's suppose that you really like this particular administration and choose to utterly trust them when they tell you their electronic domestic spying program is only targeting "potential terrorists."

How about the next administration - or the one after that? Do you believe only certain presidents and not others should be allowed to spy on you? How about Richard Nixon? How about Hillary Clinton?

My point is that history illustrates such trustworthiness isn't incumbent upon the office. The Constitution establishes inviolate protections because the absence of such invariably leads to abuse - unchecked political power is a runaway train.

Why is there a single American who disagrees with me? I don't understand. Do you really feel safer granting the government broad rights to keep secrets - really?

For those of you prepared to surrender my freedoms to this government, my response is an unequivocating "no."

I don't care how angry, hateful, or paranoid you are. I'll never accede to your flirtation with totalitarianism - even if you're the majority.

So if the government is spying on us and corporations are blithely assisting them, just who can we trust?

To me, the answer is obvious: no one but ourselves.

I believe there has never been a more important time in history for tech-savvy citizens with the capability to do so, to step up and engage in activities to protect us all from an establishment bent on shifting the balance of power in society away from the masses.

There's an entire community of technologists outside of the sphere of influence of the establishment and I've sung their praises many times. They're known loosely as the open-source community. For them, the sheer intellectual joy felt in achieving the ultimate hack far outweighs unlimited profit.

Maybe the only way to preserve our freedom is to protect our technological infrastructure from government and corporate control ourselves.

If this is the case, then I advocate that the same spirit and intellect which drives the open-source community become the salvation of American democracy. Let's apply their principles and methodology to denying this government and these corporations the ability to spy on their citizens and customers.

I pledge to do my part, but I won't say how - Big Brother's listening ...

Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, visit http://dailypress.asoundidea.com

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