A new NSA surveillance program (contracted to Raytheon) will monitor for cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure. Sounds okay, right? So why is it called "Perfect Citizen"? And why did Raytheon send an email reading "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother"?
The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman broke the story of the classified program on Thursday. According to her article, it's a "long overdue" program to "close the 'big, glaring holes'" in the U.S. government's approach to cybersecurity, in particular where infrastructure like power grids and nuclear plants—which typically use older computer control systems—are concerned.
So, we know what you are asking: Can the government see all of my illustrated erotic Two and a Half Men fanfic? To which the answer is, uh, maybe? It's a classified project that the NSA will say very little about. On the one hand, the Journal article quotes "a U.S. military official" who says that "any intrusion into privacy is no greater than what the public already endures from traffic camera."
But any monitoring system will require a certain privacy trade-off, and it's hard to feel all that confident trading your privacy away to something called "Perfect Citizen" that's being described as "Big Brother" by the people operating it. And the NSA's recent history of illegal wiretapping is not exactly, you know, a confidence booster.
Marc Ambinder thinks that what we're looking at is a problem of approach—not just a lack of transparency, but a clear failure of naming imagination. The program used to be called "April Strawberry," and who wouldn't give away some of their privacy to April Strawberry!? So why not give programs like this a more friendly face, one that conjures Eat Pray Love and not 1984? Here are some other names the NSA should consider using next time they are looking to monitor American porn habits:
- Friendly Government
- Gentle Breeze
- Lemonade in the Summer
- Okay Citizen
- Your Buddy the NSA
- Warm Cocoa
- Stable, Caring Boyfriend
- Big Brother, Who Is Not Watchful or Anything, Just a Generally Pretty Nice Guy Who's Got Your Back
- Sandra Bullock