Boycott the Internet!
What a strange coincidence: Earlier this week, Smithsonian Channel's "Air Disasters" broadcast an episode about the downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983 -- at the height of the Cold War. Turns out the Soviet Union recovered the black boxes and hid them for a decade. I'm old enough to remember the Cold War and what the United States fought against. I told my wife: "Sometimes I really wish the Soviet empire still existed, so Americans had a measure for government bad behavior". A day later, the Guardian and Washington Post broke what likely is the biggest story about U.S. surveillance since the Watergate break in. The activity stinks of behavior opposed decades ago.
The National Security Agency spies on you, in secret, something many people suspected. The NSA monitors Internet servers, without warrants. In a Google+ comment today, Joe Betsill brilliantly and succinctly captures what changed: "There's a difference between suspicion and evidence". He links to an Electronic Frontier Foundation "Timeline to NSA domestic spying". I strongly suggest reading the EFF material, in addition to the Guardian and Washington Post investigative reports -- so that you are informed.
War on Freedom
The program started in 2007. According to documents obtained by the Washington Post, there is "collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple". Microsoft is oldest, and Apple newest, NSA collaborator. Apple denies knowledge of PRISM, in statements released late yesterday. Some other companies, Facebook among them, claim they simply obey the law. The Patriot Act is among the legal nooses the government swings before these companies.
There are many fundamental problems with the PRISM program that defy any kind of justification. Every company willingly participating has defiled customers' trust. The so-called war against terrorism is no justification to wage war on citizens' freedoms, particularly privacy rights the U.S. Constitution confers.
The warrantless searches are not justified. (How funny, the word has double meaning. The government seizes information without warrants or merit.) Protecting liberties is no justification for usurping them. When the U.S. government operates a secret police force collecting information on citizens, how exactly is that different from what the KGB did during the Soviet Union's reign of terror? Meanwhile, companies people trust to protect their personal data give it away freely. For profit is bad enough. For surveillance, where there is no accountability or oversight, is much worse.
Leon Trotsky famously said: "The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end". Joseph Stalin brought the statement to practice, during a reign of oppression, genocide and fear. The United States stood against such tyranny in the past, but now uses the "end justifies the means" as excuse to surveil U.S. citizens with impunity and no oversight.
The American political system is all about accountability. The three major branches of government are supposed to balance one another -- to protect freedoms the Constitution grants. Warrantless seizure of data violates fundamental founding principles. Complicit cooperation by the nine identified companies (surely there are more) enables a secret police operation that too much reminds of KGB internal spying.
In 1999, a security researcher found what appeared to be a NSA backdoor in Windows. I wrote the story for CNET News. Now we know. There are NSA backdoors collecting information in vast quantities, suddenly making CBS program "Person of Interest" more fact than fiction.
Culture of Fear
The problem isn't PRISM but you and me. We let this happen. We allowed government, business and my fraking profession, the news media, to create a culture of fear. Americans are seemingly afraid of everything. Someone could snatch your kids, so you don't let them play in the frontyard. Is another example even necessary?
I am not a National Rifle Association supporter but can understand why the group so adamently defends the so-called "right to bear arms". Programs like PRISM make the idea of an American police state believable. Hell, the NSA shares data on U.S. citizens with the British government. That's among the newest revelations surfacing today.
I struggle to see what difference there is between what the NSA does now that's all that different from what the KGB did for decades. Surveillance of citizens is spying by any measure. The ends don't justify the means.
Americans should stand up against NSA tyranny. I call for a national day of Internet boycott. July 4, U.S. Independence Day, is one possibility. Let companies the country over take offline their websites. Let Americans stop using the Internet for one day -- even just 12 hours. The impact on commerce -- lost revenue over a major shopping holiday -- should be protest enough for the private sector to see other costs for sanctioning government spying. No Facebook. No Twitter. No cell phones.
On Sept. 8, 2011, a power outage swept Southern California, Arizona and parts of Mexico. San Diego was dark for about 11 hours. The experience was amazing, as people unable to text, tweet or talk came out on the streets and interacted with one another. I met many neighbors for the first time. Perhaps a day without the Internet, on America's birthday, could be one of Internet freedom -- where people engage one another directly rather than by devices.
My colleague Brian Fagioli calls PRISM the "end of the Internet as we know it". Perhaps a boycott can bring new beginning.