The Government Is Definitely Not ‘Watching Everything We Do’

As you’ve probably heard already, Ed Snowden delivered a videotaped holiday message via Laura Poitras to Channel 4 in the U.K. If you can tolerate the cotton mouth and, of course, the pious self-worshipping egomania, here’s the full video:

What jumped out at me right away was this line: “Recently we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide system of mass surveillance watching everything we do.”

Watching everything we do? Literally everything? Wow — the National Security Agency is in my computer, in my kitchen, in my car, in my bathroom watching everything I do? For months now, many of us have been batting down the idea that NSA or GCHQ, for that matter, is interested in your Wonka memes or the the content of your Bitstrips. It’s not — at least not without probable cause and an individual warrant approved by judges on the FISA Court.

Activists like Snowden want you to believe that NSA is directly, and without court approval, spying on you personally, because hyperbole like this feeds an agenda that involves scaring anyone susceptible to anti-government paranoia. But this quote from Snowden goes beyond anything we’ve read about so far, saying point blank that the government is watching everything we do.

However, if this is true, Glenn Greenwald or another Snowden flack needs to reveal any and all evidence that NSA has installed cameras and listening devices in our homes and is actively observing and recording our daily activities without warrants. Again, “watching everything we do” is a major revelation, but if evidence doesn’t exist, Snowden needs to issue a clarification.

UPDATE: A few more thoughts on Snowden’s video.

He’s seriously trying to incite the hair-trigger paranoiacs out there. For example: “A child born today will… never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.” So eventually the government will soon have the capability to read our minds and analyze our thoughts? All of our thoughts? Not just the ones we post to public websites like Twitter and Facebook, etc? Wow! The government’s getting into the business of recording all the thoughts of 314 million Americans. Sure, it’s a scary notion but it’s amazing technology. Tell us more, Ed!

Also, this: “We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.” This makes it sound as if the government has absconded off with our pants, implanted creepy spying sensors in our pants pockets, then returned our pants to us without us knowing. Or maybe the government planted the sensors at the pants factory, you know, wherever they make the pants.

In truth, yes there are phones in the pants pockets of Americans who can voluntarily afford to buy phones and to subscribe to a service through which we can voluntarily turn on “location services” so we can check-in with our friends on Facebook, bragging about the awesome restaurant where we’re having lunch. The word to underscore here is voluntarily. There’s nothing compulsory about buying an iPhone or an Android. And if you do, you can turn off the GPS feature. The so-called “sensors” are “tracking” us because we buy them and put them in our pockets ourselves.

(h/t Kush Arora)
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  • Ned F

    Meh. Back in the old days, the Stazi ran home searches to search our water closets to make sure we used state approved toilet paper and not the black market Charmin. However, I see a new entrepreneurial opportunity in Pants Scanners for 2014.

    • Churchlady320

      You’re what makes America great – always ready for the main chance, even if it’s perfectly silly. Pant scanners. Yup – go public, I’ll buy in.

  • muselet

    A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.

    Oh, my, that sounds utterly … banal. Can you say “Facebook”?

    I think Edward Snowden has realized he’s well into his fourteenth minute.

    –alopecia

    • Lady Willpower

      “I think Edward Snowden has realized he’s well into his fourteenth minute.”

      Not if Poitras and Greenwald have anything to say about it. They’ll milk that cow ’til it’s dry, and then keep milking.

      • muselet

        On reflection, I may have given that trio too much credit for self-awareness.

        –alopecia

  • Intrepid

    Bob,

    I regularly peruse your blog (it’s part of my routine) and, with all due respect, what is with the constant Snowden bashing?

    I’m not condoning everything the man has done and said and his latest offering is a bit of hyperbole, granted.

    Having said that, however, I have yet to see you even begrudgingly give Snowden even tangential credit for revealing the vast extent of the NSA’s programs, many of which arguably do violate the privacy rights of citizens.

    Look, I’m not here to start a flame-fest. I just would like to see a little more objectivity.

    v/r

    Bo Alawine
    Ocean Springs, MS

    • Churchlady320

      Intrepid – when Snowden blows such hot air, I for one appreciate the blow BACK pointing out the idiocy of what Snowden has said.
      I think it IS objective to note that Snowden has revealed NOTHING many of us did not already know just as the WikiLeaks dumped only embarrassing things (snotty comments about Berlosconi) and the identities of people working with the U.S. who may, thanks to their sheer indifference, have been killed. I find nothing useful – we KNOW all this about the NSA – and only worry that they have done and will do serious harm to individuals again who helped the U.S. against terrorists. So Bob is absolutely right to call out the insanity. There may not be a way to be ‘objective’ when the people playing this dangerous game are so over the top themselves.

      • Treading_Water

        Everyone seems to forget that our previous unitary executive president began all of this data collection without the benefit of any oversight, even removing it from the oversight of the kangaroo FISA court. It’s only a socialist power grab of Armageddon proportions when this president does it within the court’s oversight. That just reeks of a massive double standard. We knew about this when the Bush maladministration did it, and really nothing new was revealed. Even worse, all of the “revelations” about the NSA collecting data on non-citizens and foreign heads of state did nothing to make me any more free. Fleeing to the progressive bastions of China and Russia and releasing information about foreign surveillance are not the actions of a whistleblower. I don’t see how releasing that information was in any way a positive for the citizens of this country.

    • http://www.msadesign.com/ Michael Spencer

      Me too, Bo. I read our gentle host because he’s about the only one I know more liberal than I am. And like you (I imagine), I see a future where privacy is gone.

      OK, OK, maybe it’s gone already. The notion of anyone following n camera or screening my calls is just plain scary. It is just wrong. The part I don’t understand is this: why my fellow libs aren’t as fearful of this intrusion as I am.

      Whether or not Snowden is a full-of-himself-ass isn’t really relevant. I concede the point for the argument, not really knowing the man but through his handlers and thus unable to pass on his motivation. At the least he’s brought some sunshine.

      • eljefejeff

        loss of privacy is hardly the fault of our government……Children being born during this time will never know privacy mainly because their parents blast pics of them to the internet mere moments after they’re born, hell even some 3d in utero pics. We’ve all signed onto this. Like it or not, this is our future.

        • http://www.msadesign.com/ Michael Spencer

          Well, I don’t like it. And I hope you will take this in the cordial manner it’s intended: we are NOT all signed in. We must push back. You know. Against the Man! (oh, lord, it’s the 60′s and 70s again, but this time we so love the tech that we don’t see the danger).

          Incidentally some very thoughtful comments on Face the Nation yesterday by Jeffrey Kluger and James Fallows, both taking a bigger picture point of view. Experts discuss future of technology and surveillance.

          Still. Being followed by cameras and cookies is creepy. And deeply invasive.

          • Treading_Water

            I get that it’s invasive, I just don’t understand why it is so much less invasive when the motivation for all the data collection is profit. Every internet click, search, form filled, or page viewed is analyzed down to how long you spend looking at it. All of this information is collected by private corporations simply to improve their ability to separate you from your money more efficiently. Why is it only an outrage when the NSA asks the private corporations to share the data they’ve already collected?

    • petesh

      Bob (with a couple of others) is providing a useful correlative to the praise that Snowden gets from other segments of the soi-disant left. There arguably has been some benefit from the public debate inspired by the publicity, and may be more, but it’s definitely worth pointing out that Snowden’s “revelations” are not news, that they have been exaggerated for effect, and that the fuss as presented serves to deflect attention from the real and large issues involved in the commercialization of private data. Those issues are not only hard (e.g. privacy vs. convenience) they affect us each as individuals, and force us to take responsibility for our own actions — not just deflect blame to “the government.” Please keep going, Bob; your noting of trackers at Greenwald web pages, for instance, is genuinely informative …

      • Nick2000

        Well, what is news is that it is now *proven*, people are talking about it and it is not considered paranoia anymore. By the way, the NSA has single handedly destroyed the trust that foreigners can have in American made hardware and software. This is quite an achievement. However, one big positive side effect is that people are also starting to look at data held by the private sector. It is about time that we have an intelligent discussion about it all and decide if, indeed, we want to be spied on to be kept safe. While we are at it and since that data is available, it might as well be used to track down any possible crime or infraction as well. That would be more efficient than the traditional police work. Is this what we want? I do not know, but the debate would never have happened if not for Snowden.

        • petesh

          What (some) people are talking about is half real and half the product of paranoia; Snowden et al have provoked such debate as there is by ramping up the paranoid accusations. Is this helpful? Not as much as it might be. As to foreigners’ trust, it is to chuckle: only the naive ever trusted US corporations or government, and not many of them exist in positions of power. Debate is good … but let’s keep it real.

  • Robert Scalzi

    if that is so … I’m screwed ;-)

    • Churchlady320

      Breathe. I seriously doubt anyone is paying you any attention other than people who care about you.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    Activists like Snowden want you to believe that NSA is directly, and
    without court approval, spying on you personally, because hyperbole like
    this feeds an agenda that involves scaring anyone susceptible to
    anti-government paranoia.

    That’s exactly what they want, and as far as I can tell, the only reason (besides the fact that they’re freaking libertarians) for it is money.
    And, if it were based on Snowden’s supposedly lofty principles, he would not have tripped to China. And Russia. I mean, duh.

    I know it goes without saying, but if the gov was watching us, why the hell didn’t they catch Snowden?!

    Greenwald and Snowden are doing harm to this country. Personally, I’d like to see them pay for it with actionable legal charges.

  • WheresMikeat?

    Did you know that the evil govt has a list with everyone’s name on it?*

    Did you know that the evil govt Decides who can vote?*

    Did you know that the evil govt has the power to arrest anyone it wants?*

    Did you know that the evil govt has tech in space spying on you 24/7?*

    *For very good and obvious reasons.

    Oh please tell us more of this surveillance state that we created for normal and rational reasons.

    Also with regards to countries spying on one another – GOOD! this is the primary role of spying, to ascertain what your neighbors are doing and not too get lied into a war. Else its really easy to say “OMG WE DONT KNOW WHAT THERE DOING, MUST BE BUILDING STEALTH TANKS! PANIC!”

    Snowdon doesn’t understand where the real boundaries of surveillance should be at, and so any surveillance is evil. when its a necessary evil living in a world that isn’t policed and ran by care-bears.

    • Treading_Water

      So you’re saying that spying (which really is the core of diplomacy, how can you negotiate if you don’t know what cards the other guy is holding) is more effective than Storming in looking for imaginary weapons of mass destruction?

  • FlipYrWhig

    I can’t be the only one to think the whole sorry spectacle is an homage to V’s Speech to England

  • Churchlady320

    Sooooo how is Ed a whit different from Tim McVeigh who insisted the gubbmint put a microchip in his butt? From that delusion to this stuff in your pants, it is only a thin line away from full-tilt violence against the rest of us who know we are NO LONGER being hacked, spied upon, or invaded. Under Bush yes. And Eddie and GG LOVED it because it was all about Muslims and their liberal supporters in the U.S. (me for one.)
    I see Eddie and GG as wanting to be victims. However, they want to be heroes too, and the two things are freaking incompatible, so they’ve created a new meme – victims with no oppression or limits on their own free speech. Nothing that is happening to them is anyone’s choice but their own.
    I am SO not interested. I saw the openings of fascism under Bush. We are not living out 1984 or any other paranoid’s fantasy. Time for Eddie and GG to answer why they supported NSA and intrusion under Bush but not the civil liberties restorations under PBO. I do think I know. I’d love them to SAY.

  • Semanticleo

    Danged if you haven’t singed the reputation of the traitor, Cesca. Now did Biden really promise you a position on your knees if he gets the nomination? What do you get if he reaches (gaak!) the WH?

  • Rita D. Lipshutz

    lucky corporations aren’t constantly tracking what we like and don’t like in order to sell us things….oh, wait….

    • Churchlady320

      I’m not followed by NSA. I’m stalked by Bed, Bath & Beyond.

      • Rita D. Lipshutz

        lol!

  • la bibliotequetress

    I’m sorry, I can’t get past the first 40 seconds. The FirstWorldWhiteBoy privilege is raising my bile

    Item the first: Most people on this planet, now, and most people in the history of people, have had little or no privacy. Living in communal tents/cabins/caves. Generations of families eating and screwing and fighting and laughing and dying within feet of each other.

    Hell, I shared a bedroom with my sisters, and a bathroom with all my siblings. Which was prep for an adult life that involved having roommates into my thirties. As such, I loves me some privacy…

    …now that I can afford it.

    So all the bebbies Edward bemoans will have no privacy? Does he really think most children are born in An American Suburb With His/Her Own Bedroom & Phone?

    Mr. Snowden, MOST BABIES BORN *EVER* GO/WENT ON TO LIVE WITH ALMOST NO PRIVACY.

    Item 2: A Brief Glance At Privacy In The United States:

    The LGBT community had to suffer for years having their most intimate acts subject to surveillance and public prosecution.
    Black & Brown men in NYC (and plenty of other places) are routinely and legally frisked and fondled by the police.
    Women are not allowed to fully control the timing of the most physically traumatic event a healthy woman can experience; one that has profound financial, physical, and emotional consequences. And to avail herself of a legally protected outpatient procedure, she may have to have a cold metal wand shoved into her vagina by a stranger. For no medical reason, at all.

    And I haven’t even touched on the invasive questioning women of color routinely experience when carrying out business with public agencies, the experiences of POC traveling, etc etc

    So while I do want the FISA court strengthened, clear protections for email akin to snail mail (which, by court case, we do seem to have) blah blah, most of us in this country have much bigger and more pressing privacy issues. And we probably will not get a constitutional right to privacy because the politicians who like stop & frisk, and want to deprived women of abortions (and increasingly, of birth control), and any number of laws that serve little purpose but to keep straight white middleclass & higher guys– like Snowden– on the top of the pyramid, have fought such an amendment whenever it has floated since WWII.

    • Victor_the_Crab

      Well said!

    • lex

      the prosecution of poc and lgbt community shows why privacy is needed

  • GrafZeppelin127

    For the government to be watching everything that everyone does every minute of every day, wouldn’t there have to be as many or more people watching than being watched? Does the NSA employ enough people to watch that many people that closely, that constantly?

    • eljefejeff

      This is exactly why the surveillance doesn’t bother me.

  • 1933john

    Dear NSA,
    Please excuse Johnny for his masturbating
    as he was ordered by his urologist to purge
    his semen of blood caused by removal of the
    catheter after a recent heart bypass procedure.
    He is eighty and performed this purging with
    some difficulty, but was successful after ten
    or so manual applications.
    We believe that this is both legal and moral.
    Please make your watchers aware of this
    as he considers himself as a good “John
    Wayne American” and that’s with a big “A”.
    Regards,
    Johnny’s Mom

    ps His penis feels that there was no terror
    involved.although some discomfort was
    experienced, or so he says.

  • Michael John Anderson
  • http://www.theMadBagLady.wordpress.com/ Ms. M.

    Actually, it’s not always a choice to use a cell phone. It’s pretty difficult to get a job without one and cell phones are equipped with GPS–can’t entirely be turned off. Some tracking capability is left on presumably for emergency reasons. Also some employers are requiring employees to sign up on sites like Facebook and to give out their password.

    I guess a lot of people forget that historically there have been laws regulating what people can do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Yep, laws regulating how and with whom you can have sex. Governments have always tried to keep their people under control. It is up to us, “we the people,” to be “ever vigilant” in watching our government and making sure its powers do not get out of hand.

    It’s pretty naive to assume that the government can have access to all this advanced spy technology and not, eventually, use it to oppress us. If there are laws regulating sexual activity then the government does have reason to spy on people in their bedrooms. And, by the way, I spotted a surveillance camera in a public restroom in a library in Minneapolis. Yes, inside the restroom! So yes, the government can get pretty personal in its privacy violations.