Category: Civil rights

Think NSA Spying is Benign and Won’t Affect You? Don’t Tell This German Prankster

The American spy agency NSA keeps reassuring us that we have nothing to fear from their ubiquitous monitoring of our telephone and Internet activities. A 28-year-old German man who posted an obviously pranksterish note on his Facebook page found out the hard way that NSA is monitoring us all very carefully. And that they have no sense of humor whatsoever.

According to many news reports, Daniel Bangert posted a spoof inviting people to join him on a “nature walk” around the perimeter of a well-known U.S. intelligence base near Darmstadt. He used obvious bird-watching language (e.g., “bring flowers to improve the spies’ habitat.”) and was quite tongue-in-cheek.

Don Adams as Agent 86 in 60's sitcom, "Get Smart."

Don Adams as Agent 86 in 60’s sitcom, “Get Smart.”

Four days later, German police showed up at his door. (Four days!) At the request of the American Military Police, they were investigating his little “demonstration.” Another police agency followed the first visit with advice that he’d best obtain an event permit for his stroll.

Bangert complied. About 70 folks showed up for the walk. Two police cars accompanied them. The angriest person to go public about the activity was Bangert’s grandmother, who warned him to be careful to avoid landing in jail.

We don’t, of course, know whether Bangert’s activities came to light out of data mining or whether some individual spotted it and alerted the U.S. authorities. But it isn’t hard to imagine that one major purpose of the huge dragnet spying operation NSA is running is to deter anti-NSA commentary, which of course would be a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Clearly there’s an object lesson here for all of us.

When all is said and done, I don’t know whether to be more worried about the spying or about the NSA’s complete inability to read a satirical comment and take it seriously. Lack of sense of humor may be the agency’s ultimate downfall. I can see a “humor bomb” attack in which thousands, perhaps millions, of people all over the world begin to post spoofing comments about NSA and the agency ends up devoting all of its resources to chasing them down and warning them not to make jokes.

(Attention NSA: I’m kidding!)

Egyptians Force Morsi Out; Where’s Our Outrage?

The Egyptian people are demonstrating — literally — how true democracy works. They got rid of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak, elected his replacement and when he failed to fix the economy after one year, they got the military to dump him. They are flexing their democratic muscles.

egyptdemonstrationsIt seems we Americans have become complacent, perhaps even catatonic, when it comes to having our economy destroyed by crooks whom our elected officials reward rather than punish, or to giving up massive amounts of liberty in the name of safety that is never actually provided, or to spending trillions of dollars and losing thousands of lives in wars that were neither necessary nor helpful.

Fifty years ago, any one of those incidents would have given rise to widespread demonstrations in the streets and on college campuses. Today, we gripe at the cable news for 37.3 seconds, shrug our shoulders, and go back to complacency. We have become the poor, the huddled masses, within our own borders, cowed by a government that would rather spend millions chasing a whistleblower like Edward Snowden rather than addressing the horrific and dangerous foreign policy his leaks revealed to a somnambulant America.

Occupy was a glimmer of hope on this horizon but the Powers That Be were able to stamp it out and the media helped the Establishment by constantly criticizing its adherents for not having a clear agenda and a definite set of demands. All they were trying to do was get the attention of someone in power. Now they are all but gone and I fear that our nation’s future is sealed. It is now only a matter of time before we are “citizens” of an oppressive nation, probably in the grips of a charismatic right-wing leader who sells the public on the idea that a “small” government that is only huge in areas he considers important can provide us security and that nothing else can.

As we approach our nation’s birthday tomorrow, I am sad at what we have not become. I am sad at how we have allowed fundamentalism — a tiny minority view at best — to gain such a vise grip lock on our state and national governments. I am sad that the American Dream — not the dream of economic upward mobility and materialism but the dream of freedom of choice, of communities of caring — lies tattered and tarnished on the floor.

The fireworks of this Fourth of July will not be in the streets and campuses and avenues and corridors of power in our nation where they should be. And for that, I am doubly sad.

‘Stealthwear’: Aluminum Hat or Essential Privacy Tool?

In an era of ubiquitous government surveillance and drone snooping, is it a silly idea to wear clothing designed to make you invisible to such privacy intrusion?

stealthwearThat’s the question that comes up amid news that artist and design professor Adam Harvey has designed and fabricated samples of hoodies and cloaks that render their wearer essentially invisible to physical surveillance attempts. And Prof. Harvey isn’t the only one working on the concept. According to the article:

The National Institute of Informatics in Japan has developed a visor which uses light sources bordering on infrared to stop facial-recognition software from registering your features and identifying you in photographs.

Whether or not the paranoia is justified, I doubt that anyone who markets wearable technology designed to shield its wearer from unwanted electronic view will have trouble finding a market. Many years ago when I lived and worked in Silicon Valley the lore held that if you could make money selling 1,000 copies of something, you should do it because it was trivial to find that many people who would buy one of darned near anything.

This trend is one worth keeping an eye on.

If you can see it, that is.