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.
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!)