It's quaint how people still manage to get outraged about surveillance. You are being monitored, right now, just like everybody else with a phone or a computer or a bank account or a pressure cooker, because Total Information Awareness is real. ‘Welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not." Who said that, maybe Alex Jones?
No, it was former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente, in a prime-time interview on CNN about the Boston Marathon bombers. Clemente made an offhand admission that government prosecutors could get recordings of past phone calls from or to anyone.
CNN hostess Erin Burnett, usually a reliable law-and-order stooge, suddenly sounded like an Occupy Wall Streeter:
"So they can actually get that? People are saying, 'Look, that is incredible.'"
Associated Press reporters were spied upon after breaking an embarrassing story about a CIA operation in Yemen. Bloomberg reporters helped themselves to supposedly private information about wealthy and powerful Bloomberg customers. IRS agents investigated new non-profits with names that sounded like Republican campaign groups.
Today's scandals are only scandals because we have yet to acknowledge that we carry tracking beacons wherever we go—whether a smart phone or Google Glass or inside our car's navigation system—and that all of our communications are collected and saved, just in case. Some of it is given voluntarily, like the Tea Party groups self-declaring as tax-deductible non-profits, and some of it is collected by everything from traffic cameras keeping timestamped license plate numbers to Apple or Google keeping years worth of location data collected as you go from home to work to liquor store to strip club to home again.
You know how a 100MB hard drive was a pretty big deal a decade ago, and today for that price you can buy a couple of extra terabytes just to be safe with your porn collection or family photos? The government gets even better prices for data storage.
National and local governments, credit bureaus, foreign governments, Web services, utility companies, cell providers, supermarkets, Web retailers, insurance groups, banks and ATMs, shipping services, airlines and Disneyland are some of the data collectors with files on you, right now. Of course they're not physical files, in most cases. They're just data, copied and backed up and archived all over the world and probably in space, too.
The logo for the Total Information Awareness Office shows a pyramid orbiting the Earth with its All Seeing Eye gazing over the Arab world. When people freaked out about that logo in the Patriot Act days, it was more about the creepy Big Brother concept rather than fear that all this potentially incriminating data might even be preserved off-world. But it probably is. Most American space missions are classified. There's a robot space shuttle replacement that flies for months and months at a time, and you can't get anyone in the American government to say what it's doing up there. An entire town has sprung up in the Utah desert to monitor and store data tracking the lives of Americans. Not far away, the private backup company Mozy has its own underground city. Maybe you use the service. It's very convenient.
All the Big Brother stuff you've been hearing about and fretting about or possibly dismissing as no big deal, it's all real. It's operational. The phone companies opened their data spigots to America's domestic and (supposedly) foreign intelligence agencies after 9/11. Email, Google searches and Web history are all available to law enforcement. New regulations pushed by Eric Holder last year would let the government legally keep all information on all Americans for five years, regardless of any suspicion of terrorism or criminal activity. And by the time they're asking permission to do something, they've already got it mastered.
For now, it's still too much to detain anyone who might potentially commit a crime because humans still have to do the rounding up and arresting and trials and sentences. But just as drones have proven far more effective than high-school dropout soldiers who are homesick and traumatized, robocops will shortly be handling the detaining part of police work.
Is that nuts? Ask your local police force's bomb robot. It won't answer, because it doesn't care. It was made to safely destroy threatening packages, not to talk to you about how life is so weird it's like a Philip K. Dick story, etc.
[Photo via Getty Images.]