Xymphora on NSA Surveillance

[Xymphora quotes] Groklaw:

". . . one resource was excerpts from a book by Janna Malamud Smith,"Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life", and I encourage you to read it. I encourage the President and the NSA to read it too. I know. They aren't listening to me. Not that way, anyhow. But it's important, because the point of the book is that privacy is vital to being human, which is why one of the worst punishments there is is total surveillance:

One way of beginning to understand privacy is by looking at what happens to people in extreme situations where it is absent. Recalling his time in Auschwitz, Primo Levi observed that "solitude in a Camp is more precious and rare than bread." Solitude is one state of privacy, and even amidst the overwhelming death, starvation, and horror of the camps, Levi knew he missed it ... Levi spent much of his life finding words for his camp experience. How, he wonders aloud in Survival in Auschwitz, do you describe "the demolition of a man," an offense for which "our language lacks words."... One function of privacy is to provide a safe space away from terror or other assaultive experiences. When you remove a person's ability to sequester herself, or intimate information about herself, you make her extremely vulnerable ... The totalitarian state watches everyone, but keeps its own plans secret. Privacy is seen as dangerous because it enhances resistance. Constantly spying and then confronting people with what are often petty transgressions is a way of maintaining social control and unnerving and disempowering opposition ... And even when one shakes real pursuers, it is often hard to rid oneself of the feeling of being watched — which is why surveillance is an extremely powerful way to control people. The mind's tendency to still feel observed when alone... can be inhibiting. ... Feeling watched, but not knowing for sure, nor knowing if, when, or how the hostile surveyor may strike, people often become fearful, constricted, and distracted.

I've quoted from that book before, back when the CNET reporters' emails were read by HP. We thought that was awful. And it was. HP ended up giving them money to try to make it up to them. Little did we know. Ms. Smith continues:

Safe privacy is an important component of autonomy, freedom, and thus psychological well-being, in any society that values individuals. ... Summed up briefly, a statement of "how not to dehumanize people" might read: Don't terrorize or humiliate. Don't starve, freeze, exhaust. Don't demean or impose degrading submission. Don't force separation from loved ones. Don't make demands in an incomprehensible language. Don't refuse to listen closely. Don't destroy privacy. Terrorists of all sorts destroy privacy both by corrupting it into secrecy and by using hostile surveillance to undo its useful sanctuary. But if we describe a standard for treating people humanely, why does stripping privacy violate it? And what is privacy? In his landmark book, Privacy and Freedom, Alan Westin names four states of privacy: solitude, anonymity, reserve, and intimacy. The reasons for valuing privacy become more apparent as we explore these states ... The essence of solitude, and all privacy, is a sense of choice and control. You control who watches or learns about you. You choose to leave and return. ... Intimacy is a private state because in it people relax their public front either physically or emotionally or, occasionally, both. They tell personal stories, exchange looks, or touch privately. They may ignore each other without offending. They may have sex. They may speak frankly using words they would not use in front of others, expressing ideas and feelings — positive or negative — that are unacceptable in public. (I don't think I ever got over his death. She seems unable to stop lying to her mother. He looks flabby in those running shorts. I feel horny. In spite of everything, I still long to see them. I am so angry at you I could scream. That joke is disgusting, but it's really funny.) Shielded from forced exposure, a person often feels more able to expose himself.

I hope that makes it clear why I can't continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That's it exactly. That's how I feel. So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can't do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.

I'm really sorry that it's so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.

If you have to stay on the Internet, my research indicates that the short term safety from surveillance, to the degree that is even possible, is to use a service like Kolab for email, which is located in Switzerland, and hence is under different laws than the US, laws which attempt to afford more privacy to citizens. I have now gotten for myself an email there, p.jones at mykolab.com in case anyone wishes to contact me over something really important and feels squeamish about writing to an email address on a server in the US. But both emails still work. It's your choice.

My personal decision is to get off of the Internet to the degree it's possible. I'm just an ordinary person. But I really know, after all my research and some serious thinking things through, that I can't stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible. I find myself unable to write. I've always been a private person. That's why I never wanted to be a celebrity and why I fought hard to maintain both my privacy and yours.

Oddly, if everyone did that, leap off the Internet, the world's economy would collapse, I suppose. I can't really hope for that. But for me, the Internet is over.

So this is the last Groklaw article. I won't turn on comments. Thank you for all you've done. I will never forget you and our work together. I hope you'll remember me too. I'm sorry I can't overcome these feelings, but I yam what I yam, and I tried, but I can't."

[Xymphora continues with this link:] "NSA surveillance said to be broader than initially believed"

"The NSA: ‘The Abyss From Which There Is No Return’":

"We now find ourselves operating in a strange paradigm where the government not only views the citizenry as suspects but treats them as suspects, as well. Thus, the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) is routinely operating outside of the law and overstepping its legal authority by carrying out surveillance on American citizens is not really much of a surprise. This is what happens when you give the government broad powers and allow government agencies to routinely sidestep the Constitution. ...

The big deal is simply this: once you allow the government to start breaking the law, no matter how seemingly justifiable the reason, you relinquish the contract between you and the government which establishes that the government works for and obeys you, the citizen — the employer — the master. And once the government starts operating outside the law, answerable to no one but itself, there’s no way to rein it back in, short of revolution."

"Obama, the secrets of the state, and the persecution of Edward Snowden":

"For Obama, it is never a matter of upholding the law as defined by the Constitution, let alone prosecuting those responsible for an abuse of the people’s democratic rights. The task of the president, as understood by the present White House occupant, is to change public opinion without impinging upon the power and prerogatives of the vast state intelligence-gathering agencies."

"The next moves in the Spooks v. News cold war" (this has already happened):

"Just as large multinational corporations can seek the country with the most friendly regime for tax purposes, so too can news agencies seek out the most permissive legal environment. (In the light of this item, it should come as no surprise to note that David Miranda is a Brazilian citizen and Glen Greenwald lives in Brazil much of the time. Brazil is not party to the UKUSA joint intelligence sharing treaty and has no dog in the wikileaks fight.) The spooks are not stupid. There are two ways they can respond to this in a manner consistent with their current objectives. They can try to shut down the press — a distinct possibility within the UK, but still incredibly dangerous — or they can shut down the open internet, in order to stop the information leakage over that channel and, more ambitiously, to stop the public reading undesirable news."

I've been thinking about the plight of the Muslim Brotherhood, a sitting duck for attacks by the Egyptian dictatorship. Yet it, and groups to the religious right of it, have overwhelming political support in Egypt (despite the Tamarod's — and BTW, isn't this weird? — propaganda and trickery). If they called a general strike, they could shut down the Egyptian economy immediately and cause massive losses for the Egyptian/international 1% for which the Egyptian dictators work. The MB regards itself as a conservative movement also tied to the 1%, and therefore won't/can't do the only thing that can save itself.

On the other hand, each of us could easily drop eBay, Facebook, Google, etc. — there wouldn't even be any hardship involved, in fact, it would make life easier and better — and do our own little general strike against Barry and his perception management. This movement would probably have to start outside of the United States.


© 2013 Xymphora

This page first appeared on Xymphora's blog
on August 21, 2013, under the title "How quaint".


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