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Friday, December 2, 2016

One diverting aspect of The Guardian-inspired hullaballoo over NSA surveillance has been watching people bicker about it on Facebook. In the old Soviet Union, people walked in the woods or hid in the bathroom with the faucets running to whisper forbidden thoughts. Here in the USA, people post them online along with cute kitten videos and photos of Reuben sandwiches.

Recently, I advised my Facebook friend Theo Jordan how to conduct an intrigue without government spooks catching on. Have a third party buy a prepaid cell phone anonymously, use it no more than twice, and then hide it in the backseat of a New York taxi. The Feds will go nuts tracking it over five boroughs, while you get busy digging holes.

Theo, I should stipulate, is a dachshund with an active fantasy life. We’ve never actually met.

Meanwhile, some joker who hides behind the name of a character in a Henry James novel excoriates Democrats who haven’t joined the Edward Snowden-Glenn Greenwald Chicken Little Brigade. “Watching all the Obots turn into good Germans would be funny,” he writes “if it weren’t so horrifying.”

Achtung, “Lambert.” You and Theo can use fake identities on Facebook, but The Shadow knows. Privacy in the 18th century sense vanished with the Internet, and it’s never coming back. It’s childish to think otherwise.

Yesterday my wife dropped my binoculars, knocking them out of whack. Before I figured out how to fix them I priced a new pair on Amazon. This morning, Facebook sent me an advert for Chinese-made Bushnells costing far less than the originals. By tomorrow, they’ll be back to selling me patent medicines somehow involving pretty women with preposterously large breasts. They don’t know that I suffer from maladies their “weird secrets” purport to cure, but they definitely know my age and gender.

MasterCard recently shut me down because their computer algorithm correctly deduced that a guy who spends most of his money buying cattle feed in Arkansas probably wasn’t buying a huge HDTV in Mexico City. Amazon knows that I’ve read all the Henning Mankell “Kurt Wallender” novels and thinks I may have a thing for Scandinavian murder mysteries.

OK, enough. Here’s the thing: The good news is that the most dramatic “revelations” in the Snowden-Greenwald stories turn out upon further review to be somewhere between greatly exaggerated and entirely false.

Yes, NSA vacuums up telephone “metadata” and sifts it for suspicious patterns. USA Today revealed that in 2006. There was a big political fight about it, which the libertarian side lost. But no, they aren’t listening to your calls, and when the histrionic Mr. Snowden says he could have eavesdropped on anybody in the USA, he leaves out that doing so would have landed him in federal prison, where he probably belongs.

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