Why I Just Don't Give a Shit About PRISM (Or Any Other Spying)

Last night, the world found out about the NSA's pervasive, encompassing PRISM surveillance program. We learned that we are all being monitored, in a literal sense, and that the largest tech companies on the planet are involved. There is no way to avoid it. And I just can't find any reason to care.

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To be perfectly clear: Yes, this is shocking and crazy and important, on a massive scale that justifies a great many conspiracy theories and paranoias about the American government. This is not boring, exactly. If pressed, I'd pick the "No thank you" option on being PRISMed. Actual civil liberties are at stake, and I will probably limply retweet or click through to various missives from the try-hards doing the actual work of unraveling this thing.

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But there's this weird disconnect between the breathless hysteria deployed to write about it and how it affects me (and, presumably, most of you). Yes, your data is vulnerable, and your privacy has been shot to smithereens. But how does that affect you? How does your life, as you live it, change in any tangible way?

I am unimportant, on a practical and metaphysical level. So are you, probably. And so is absolutely everything any of us do on the internet. No one gives a shit about our information.

Oh, we handle important things online, or at least, things that are important to the immediate world around us. The internet is littered with mortgage payments and sensitive company projects and our homemade sex videos and email and texts and instant message conversations that cover topics ranging from embarrassing taste in music to stark political views. It's deeply personal stuff.

But the fact that all of that information is sitting there, existing as parseable data that might even be read over, doesn't change what music I listen to or save to my phone, or if I remember to call my mom every week, or what I write or think or convey to anyone or about anything in my real world life.

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If the United States government wants to disclose to the public that I have the porn viewing habits of a hyperactive and presumably dehydrated 14-year-old, I can't really stop them. But the thing is, I also don't care. Any mess I've made on the internet, whether it's a social disaster or simply deviant behavior, is not something I'm alone in. We're all goddamn weirdos online. It's a level playing field. And no government analyst is going to waste time trying to parse your SkyDrive uploads.

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I'm not naive enough to think that this information can't or won't be abused, and PRISM's merit as a legalized threat deterrent is for other, boring people to decide. People who own suits, people whose other decisions similarly have zero bearing on my life. As far as walking down the street or through a grocery store, I'd bet PRISM has less impact on the average American life than a corn subsidy does.

There are certain world-changing individuals for whom PRISM may be chilling. There is a rich and real history of government agencies silencing people whose voices could enact real movements. I'm just not one of them. I'm a jerk with a laptop. I don't want anyone's voice silenced, or worse. But if I'm being honest, I don't know that I care beyond maybe signing on online petition someday. Or, you know, probably not.

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DISCUSSION

jesusdiaz
Jesus Diaz

This has to be the most stupid, most selfish post ever written in the history of Gizmodo, and that includes my own very supid ones.

A post clearly written by a twentysomething who needs to read more history books. Who needs to be aware of what really is at stake here. Who needs to see beyond his bellybutton and his Xbox.

Yes, Kyle, the world doesn't give a shit about you and your antics*. Or mine. We are, most of us, irrelevant at an individual level. Until we are not. Until someone decides to use whatever information they have available to do something against someone. Individually or as a collective.

Kevin Drum wrote this in Motherjones today:

At the same time, maybe we should still be surprised to hear Obama say something like this: "But I know that the people who are involved in these programs... They're professionals. In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance."

Sure. And it's possible, even likely, that these professionals aren't abusing the data they've collected. Yet. But does Obama really think that a government that collects this kind of stuff won't abuse it eventually? That's vanishingly unlikely.

One example of what Kevin says: there was nothing wrong with Germany computerized census of 1933—made with the first IBM perforated card machines—until the Nazis got to power and started to create lists of jews complete with address in a matter of minutes. UNCHECKED access to big data is what enabled the Holocaust.

Millions of people—literally about 70 million—died in the war that followed, fought to save and preserve the rights that you so easily disregard in this article because, as you argue, nobody gives a shit about you. You have nothing to hide.

But, in reality, some people give and will give a shit about you. Not about the porn you watch, but about who you are, what your spending habits are, and a million other things. And that people can be a government or can be someone who reads Gizmodo, some imbecile who hates you for whatever reason and works at the NSA, happens to have access to your information and can use it to do something.

Have no doubt: if the information is there, it can be used for less noble purposes than "fighting terrorism". Whatever that means. I didn't see PRISM stopping the Boston bombings, for example.

If you can't see WHY you should care about this situation, then I will not be sorry if something happens to you or anyone you love when, in the future, the world ends up in a similar situation than in 1939. Hopefully, that will not happen. But, if history has told us something, is that is HAS happened. Many times. And it will probably happen again. And I'm not talking about Nazis coming back, but governments and corporations getting ideas about how to use Big Data unchecked.

That's why you should care.

* I do care about you. You're one of my writers and humans in Gawker. Which is why I wrote this reply to you.