“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
Imagine a time when the government knew nothing about the money in your bank. It cared nothing about how much you made, where you made it, and what you did with it. You could take your earnings in gold, silver, paper, or anything else, and never filed a sheet with the government.
How you earned a living was none of the business of the political class. For that matter, your bank account could be under a false name and absolutely no one cared.
This was the world of a mere 100 years ago in the United States. That’s why it was called the “land for the free.”
Back then, all federal revenue — tiny by today’s standards — came from a tax on imported goods. That tax did plenty of damage, as all taxes do. However, the system was superior because it took only a tiny share of private wealth and, most importantly, it had no privacy implications for average citizens.
The reason for the dramatic change is rather simple. Now we have an income tax. The government determines how you are paid and what you can do with your money, and spends vast resources tracking it all. The government wants its share. Therefore you have no right to earn money without coughing up.
The intrusion into our bank accounts was only the beginning. Over the course of 100 year, everything changed. The government can spy on our emails and cellphone calls, confiscate homes and cars with no legal proceedings, and even send drones over our houses and kill us legally. We are wholly owned. It is a world that no one living in late 19th century America could possibly recognize.
This situation has many people extremely alarmed and very confused. Surely there are ways that we can protect our privacy. Surely there are ways to guard our freedoms from these intrusions. To that end, people who do not entirely understand digital technology will often react in ways that are counterproductive. They decide to stay away from all social media altogether. They don’t get a Facebook account, they don’t Tweet, they don’t do LinkedIn, and some people won’t even use a credit card online.
These same people rail against private business in the digital age for collecting data on us. They won’t use shoppers’ cards at grocery stores. They denounce Amazon for tracking purchases. They freak out when Gmail feeds them ads based on subjects covered in the body of emails. They imagine that these are all symptoms of an age when privacy has been vanquished by the regime.
I can understand this reaction, but here’s the truth of the matter. All of these behaviors are the digital equivalent of digging a big hole in the ground and jumping in it. This will not protect you against intrusions by the state. In fact, this approach to protecting yourself can even have the opposite effect of making you more vulnerable than ever.
There is a world of difference between a government that is spying on your bank account and an online retailer that tracks your buying habits in hopes of selling you more things you like. Government’s actions are a threat to your human rights. The actions of private enterprise are ultimately designed to serve you better.
I take what seems to be a counterintuitive view of how to protect yourself in an age of ubiquitous government snooping. The solution is not to hide but exactly the opposite: become a public person. Embrace social media. Do not fear having your name online. In fact, the more of a known entity in the digital world you are, the more protection you actually enjoy and the more likely you are to have advocates should you find yourself mixed up with the police state.
There will come a time when this network can save your life. You end up without a job and need that LinkedIn network right away. You might find yourself hauled off to jail and only have a few minutes to post that Tweet or status update. You can find yourself trapped in a high-crime area and need help; this is when that Foursquare update can mean life or death.
On the other hand, obscurity is something the government loves. If you get caught up in the criminal justice system, there is no network out there to cheer for you, rally on your behalf, and provide you legal help. If the arrest or the problem you face, makes the papers, there is no public profile to check against the government’s claims.
It was very intriguing that after the Sandy Hook massacre, the killer’s own internet obscurity actually worked to convict him. People these days figure that a person who is in digital hiding is a highly suspicious person who has probably done something wrong. This is just about the worst way to begin an entanglement with the government.
On the other hand, you can use social media as a way of shaping your professional and social personality to your own benefit. It is a way of taking control. And as for the tracking cookies that commercial sites are dropping on your browser, this is a complete distraction from the real problem. Amazon and Google don’t want to send drones to your house. They want to engage in the completely non-threatening behavior of trying to sell you stuff. There is nothing about this desire that represents a threat to your well being.
To be sure, it takes some degree of sophistication to use the internet in a way that that helps rather than hurts your professional reputation and life prospects. Generally, the rule applies always and everything: do not post anything anyway that you do not mind the whole world reading now and forever. That same is true for email. There is probably no venue of communication less secure than email.
In the early years of the Internet, I thought that the public demand for privacy would doom attempts to create public social networks. No one wants their every thought and their whereabouts broadcasted to the world. On the score, I was completely wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Vast numbers of people are gluttons for attention wherever they can get it. This is particularly true of young people who are acculturated to living public lives from an early age.
Some people have a difficult time understanding this crucial fact. For the most part, the seeming privacy intrusions that private internet companies engage in are entirely in keep with consumer wishes. Nor is this anything that most people need to worry about it. Private enterprise is not the threat. Government is the threat.
To be sure, private companies have proven themselves to be willing to cooperate with government agencies when they are asked to or forced to. This is truly awful. In the balance, however, staying away from digital media does not help maintain any freedoms or privacies. The better approach is to browse using the privacy settings on your browser. If you go to sketchy sites, use an IP scrambling device like Tor (which you can easily download).
The privacy problem is a government problem. It is a policy problem. So long as we have a government money monopoly and an income tax, our rights are being violated. The spying, the confiscations, and the drones are just the mop-up operation. It’s the politicians and bureaucrats, not the dot coms and the CEOs, who are the real enemy.