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Government, Politics & Issues

Commentary: Shocked -- shocked! -- by NSA spying; get over it

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2013: I am as angry as anyone about the NSA’s persistent, nefarious, cynical -- and successful -- efforts to open back doors into the world’s computer systems, developing honed abilities to wander through the private communications of just about everyone in with a screen-name. 

But it’s no more than we deserve.

If you signed up for Google, howl all you want about the NSA’s intrusiveness, but you were asking for it.

Are you a dedicated Facebook-er, funneling all your on-line communications through that social media portal? Sorry, no complaints from you.

A member of multiple frequent-buyer clubs, especially at grocery stores and drugstore chains, so that you can take advantage of discount prices and tailored coupons? Buzz off, you’ve already sold yourself to the virtual devil.

Yeah, yeah, I know -- those entities have our consent to gather and analyze the details of our personal lives. When it’s a government agency poking into our virtual records -- well, that’s different, that’s an infringement on our constitutional right to privacy. We don’t like it!

Sorry, Liebchen.

The time to protest was when the humane shelter asked for your Social Security number to approve your adoption of a kitten. You should have been on alert the first time you called Domino’s for a pizza and the person who answered the phone greeted you by name and asked if you wanted another large pepperoni with mushrooms.

I’m just surprised anyone is surprised the NSA broke codes, manipulated regulations to create exploitable weaknesses, and hacked into communications either before they were encrypted or after they were unencrypted. It would probably have been easier -- not to mention more cost-effective -- to set up a corporate entity and just buy the information.

Have you read your social media privacy agreements or the marketing blurbs used to lure you into participation? Of course you haven’t. Or, if you did, you shrugged, checked the “accept” button and entered all the personal information the program wants.

Google-Now’s description of that app probably has George Orwell muttering “I told you so, I told you so,” into the lining of his coffin.

“Google Now is about  getting you just the right information, at just the right time.

It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, and even your favorite team’s score while they’re playing. ... Google Now intelligently brings you the information you want to see, when you want to see it. No digging required.

“When you decide to use Google Now, you’re turning on location reporting and location history. ... Google Now also uses data that you may have stored in other Google products. ... Similarly, Google Now can use data that you may have stored in third-party products that you allow Google to access.”

Best of all? “You’re in control.” 

Of course, Google isn’t alone. Facebook, recently caught using people’s faces and names without permission in its ads, proposes modifying its privacy policy. The site still wants to use your name and face without notification -- it just wants members to automatically and generically consent to use of their information when they check the “Accept” box to sign up for the service. Privacy advocates are raising a fuss. Ho-hum.

Like they’re surprised? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took all of 60 seconds in 2010 to say user information -- name, profile picture, gender, hometown and on and on and on -- should be public by default.

Orwell raised the privacy alarm in 1949, in his dystopian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four." By 1999, the issue of individual privacy was moot, according to Scott McNealy, then-CEO of Sun Microsystems. “You have zero privacy anyway,” he said. “Get over it.”

And yet we are shocked -- shocked! -- by revelations of the NSA’s activities.

So long as we are willing to blithely, unknowingly, trade away our personal information for the convenience of saving a few minutes in traffic on the way to work, or gain a $2 discount on a bottle of wine, we have nothing to complain about.

Like I said, it’s no more than we deserve.

Susan Caba is a freelance journalist.

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