When Woody Guthrie first wrote his classic “This Land Is Your Land”, it was an angry protest song. Joe Klein writes in Woody Guthrie: A Life that Guthrie began writing the song out of anger and frustration. To a degree author Robert Scheer has written a book that expresses his frustration and anger at the abuse of power when it comes to misuse of personal digital privacy and the ensuing surveillance state.
In They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy (Nation Books 978-1568585185), Scheer lays out how both private corporations and US Federal agencies have been abusing their power and trust for many years. Given that the Internet creates a perfect infrastructure for mass surveillance; the book shows just how it’s done.
Scheer provides an overview of the importance of privacy rights in the age of increasing surveillance and government meddling. Scheer does his best to defend our Constitutional rights, which are seemingly and ironically under attack from Washington bureaucrats.
In a huge piece of understatement, Scheer writes that the various federal agencies didn’t have to spend tens of billions of dollars on anti-terrorism systems that didn’t work, all they needed to do was to do lunch. Nearly 15 years after 9/11, the lack of inter-agency communications and cooperation is still nearly as problematic now as it was before the tragedy. The truth is that there’s no indication that the CIA, NSA, FBI and other agencies have yet created a unified communications infrastructure.
While much has been spent on fusion centers where data can be distilled, little has come out of them. The agency fiefdoms and politics are still pervasive as the rule of the Beltway, rather than the exception. All this even though huge sums are spent annually to obviate that.
Scheer lists many times when politicians outright lied about the amount of illegal surveillance being performed, under oath. He quotes Senator Ron Wyden who was caught lying about how the NSA collects private information. When asked how he justified lying, Wyden replied that his false answer allowed him to lie in “the least untruthful manner”.
The two people Scheer has the most contempt for are, mainly for breach of trust are former CIA director George Tenet and President Barack Obama. While Obama has touted transparency and openness, Scheer writes that Obama’s administration has actually betrayed all promises of transparency, and also exceeding Bush’s assault on press freedom. The many double-standards he details that have transpired during the Obama administration are laid out for the reader to see, and be disgusted by.
The book also details the sad fate of a number of whistleblowers who put their careers and lives on the line to expose illegal government surveillance and data gathering activities. Regrettably, rather than being rewarded for their efforts, the book details how they are often victims of vindictive retaliatory campaigns. This still continues under the current administration as just this week, two intelligence analysts stated that they were forced out for not toeing the Obama administration’s line on the war against ISIS.
The book notes that it’s not just the government who is collecting private data against our will, it’s also people who share data on social media without understanding its consequences. The reason services such as Google and Facebook are free, is that they are selling personal data to advertisers.
The book does a good job of showing how pervasive data sharing is. When he uses the term everything in the title, it’s not such a hyperbole. Tracking information means that it’s easy to correlate purchases, downloads, phone call metadata, online views and much more.
The book shows the reality that we indeed to live in a surveillance state. This is the new normal, something most people have opted into. Or at least didn’t know that they could opt-out of parts of it.
Scheer lays out the problem well, but the book doesn’t really have a lot of prescriptive details on how to obviate the current set of predicaments.
There something every undemocratic and un-Constitutional going on, read all about it They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.