Sunday, June 5, 2011

internet snooping: business, government, what's the diff?

according to the asphyxiated press, "It’s not Big Brother, but “big business’’ that Internet users are more worried about."

that's right, we and our fellow "surfers" are more concerned about commercial interests aggregating information about our online habits than we are about the government doing so. so's the word from the "latest study from the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California."

the story, as printed in the LA times, is pretty much fluff 'n' stuff, with the pertinent nugget being, "nearly half of Internet-connected Americans age 16 and older worry about businesses checking what they do online. By comparison, 38 percent worry about the government doing so."

the public seems to be confused about the nature of the society we live in. otherwise these findings are quite difficult to reconcile with the background noise that is the history of the past decade.

ever since the events of 9/11 (and honestly, before that as well, but in those days there was no "national emergency" narrative on which to hang the national security state regime) it has been accepted as a necessity of our times that freedom must be circumscribed for the sake of security.

hence, we came to be given confirmation of what was already assumed: that the government was listening in on personal communications of US persons with impunity. news reports beginning in 2005 unveiled at least some of the NSA's "spying on communications and communications records of millions of ordinary americans since at least 2001."

the electronic frontier foundation went on to produce evidence that telecommunications carriers like AT&T were acting in concert with the government to allow the NSA to collect information on the company's customers. it later became apparent that other firms were doing the same, under then-novel bush administration legal theories giving the executive branch wide latitude to decide which laws could be applied to its activities.

while controversial at the time, and an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, it turned out that both mainstream candidates -- who were serving US senators at the time -- voted to retroactively immunize the telecoms that had cooperated with the government against lawsuits and prosecution for spying on citizens in violation of the 4th amendment and the FISA laws.

this has been the trendline in american law for a decade and more, now, and sets the scene for where we find ourselves today.

so, companies keeping tabs on who you communicate with, what you say, what purchases you make? it's only to keep us all safe. in fact, the new motto for the telecommunications age might very well go:

be a friend, turn in a friend.

if you're interested in how the game is now played, check out the story of adrian lamo meets bradley manning at FDL. this has got to be one of the most curious, not to mention outrageous, episodes in recent government chicanery and evisceration of applicable laws -- an incredible tale of how the government and private concerns collude with and share information collected online.

are you still concerned that may share your online purchase history with others?

get used to it. the entire business model of the web now is based on the collection of as much identifiable private info on web surfers, primarily in order to target advertisements. it would be remiss, however, not to realize that every bit and byte of data that can be marketed and sold to a third party is not being at this very moment aggregated -- even the act of reading this blog post.

this is at least understood on some level by most people with a modest education and life experience. you'll commonly hear expressed the sentiment that, "they know everything about you." while the they remains vague, the assumption of some synergistic relationship between private corporate/financial and government security operatives is probably the most accurate.

it's a bit like one's credit score, that all-important barometer of participation in the grand financial ponzi that arches over this great construct of national security state. every bit of pertinent data in one's consuming life is kept on file, and metrics are applied to gauge consumer-readiness on the part of the subject.

with the increasing data-processing and storage capacities available to the security and investigative interests, the amount of collected data can increase exponentially. it was given an acronym and its own particularly menacing name during the bush years: total information awareness, or TIA. and in order to validate its sleazy bona-fides, the program was the brainchild and was to be stewarded by admiral john poindexter -- who was heavily implicated in what is known commonly as the iran-contra scandal (which was itself, in the true spirit of of government secrecy, never honestly or completely investigated -- see robert parry's ). 

while some info gathered on your web surfing is plenty mundane and hardly worth more than what a computer algorithm can tease out of it for ad-placement purposes, there's no reason to be complaisant about the footprints you leave online -- or through any form of communication you may choose to employ that makes use of the networks of corporate america.

it's not just thieves coveting your credit card information that one needs to be on guard against, when huge bureaucracies that know no law feel entitled to know every jot of your personal life.

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