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May 11, 2012The more I think about it, the more I believe that Osama bin Laden succeeded in damaging the West – especially the U.S. – beyond his wildest dreams. Almost daily, I see more evidence of that idea.
A few months ago, I wrote a column about having my iPad stolen in a Walmart parking lot. I ultimately got it back, but how I got it back sent shivers through me. The short version is that I met with Walmart security and together, we watched surveillance video of me from the time I drove into the parking lot and parked; to every step I took in every aisle every minute I was in the store; until I walked out of the store and got back into my car and drove off after having left my iPad in a shopping cart out in the parking lot. We then watched surveillance video of that shopping cart in one of the stalls in the parking lot until we spotted someone noticing the iPad and driving off in their truck with it. Since we couldn't see clearly the actual license tag on the blue Chevrolet Silverado, Walmart security simply rolled the surveillance video backward until we spotted that very same Silverado when it first pulled into the parking lot and we then watched the man and child get out of the truck and enter the store. Inside the foyer of the store, security did a freeze-frame of the man and child and then zoomed in on the freeze-frame and printed out a crisp, detailed photo of the two. From the photo, the police tracked the culprits down a week later and got my iPad back for me. I told you that story to tell you this one. In a minute, I will get to my point.
About a month ago, the adult son of a friend of mine left a message on his insurance agent's phone regarding the price increase on his premium. The family was one of the founding families in their community and even owned part of the local bank. He was not happy with the price increase. When he was about ready to finish the message, he expressed his opinion that "Obamacare" was going to just make things worse, but that when he (Obama) went down (next election), things would improve.
Several hours later, two Secret Service agents were knocking on his front door. They had a conversation with him.
"What exactly do you for a living? Do you own any guns? Are you familiar with explosives? What are your plans for the next few days? No, what is your exact schedule for the next few days? We'd also like to talk to your wife in private if you don't mind..."
The next day while he was driving a client to an impromptu meeting, his cellphone rang and it was, you guessed it, the Secret Service.
"You're not where you said you would be this morning. Why is that? Where are you going?"
So, what happened here? Well, here is some more detail that is relevant – and not relevant. The president was speaking in the area that week so, on one hand, we know the Secret Service staff was doing their job – at least the ones that were not partying on location somewhere. We also are fairly sure, but I can't say for certain, that the family insurance agent probably did not listen to his messages and then turn in his longtime from-a-good-family client to the Secret Service for dissing the president. So, one has to guess that the Secret Service obtained their information by other means. And that is the part that sends chills down my spine.
Mind you, I am probably the antithesis of all the conspiracy crowd. I simply don't see it. I never believed in the existence of the "Trilateral Commission's sinister one world government plot." Neither do it think it likely that Oswald had partners, nor do I suspect darkness from the Opus Dei of the Catholic Church or assign veracity to Priory of Sion – both popularized in "The Da Vinci Code." I also think that those "survivalists" out in Wyoming waiting for Armageddon or government collapse are wackos.
That being said, it seems obvious to me that we no longer enjoy the right to privacy in any way, shape or form. Bin Laden's attack has given our government virtually unrestrained license to monitor us in any way possible in the name of "homeland security." One does not have to stretch the imagination much to guess that the government – including the Secret Service – is probably "listening" (primarily with online apps and "bots") to 100 percent of every phone call, text, post, email and all other forms of communication out there – 24/7. Key words and expressions, destinations and points of origin, as well voice prints and specific frequencies alert monitoring apparatus to "danger." Let's call it "uber-profiling." And one irony I think is that old fashioned snail-mail may now be the most private form of communication out there. Unless, of course, you are "on the list."
And what privacy the government has not taken from us, the private sector has. The next time you go to a Walmart, stop for just a moment and count the number of surveillance cameras mounted on the roof. The last one I counted had 19. And you are their star – every move you make, every step you take, they'll be watching – and recording you! (This is not what Andy Warhol had in mind when he said some day we would all be famous for 15 minutes! Or is it?) Banks, ATMs and anywhere a cash register or money is found, you're probably being recorded whether you want to be or not.
And, a column on privacy of course could not be complete without referencing the two absolute worst abusers of privacy in the history of the world – Google and Facebook. And their form of privacy invasion is perhaps worst of all because it is for profit. I suspect that at some point – I dearly hope – that we will have the option of using search engines, browsers, social media and email services that offer to not record, track, save or sell any anything of ours. I know I would gladly pay a hefty sum for services based on that business model. I will even go as far as to predict that we will see this soon and that it will rock our world.
In closing, one can't help but think of George Orwell's "1984."
Wikipedia describes Orwell's "1984" (first published in 1949) as "a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control, accomplished with a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc), which is administered by a privileged Inner Party elite. Yet they too are subordinated to the totalitarian cult of personality of Big Brother, the deified Party leader who rules with a philosophy that decries individuality and reason as thought crimes; thus the people of Oceania are subordinated to a supposed collective greater good (Homeland Security)."
It is now more prophetic and more chilling than ever.