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Article posted Aug 28 2013, 5:05 PM Category: Commentary Source: Jeffrey Tucker Print

We're All Edward Snowden Now

Jeffrey Tucker

In the last several days, I've had three phone conversations with friends completely normal people who have their wits about them during which they have declined to say something for fear of government surveillance. They will be talking normally and suddenly catch themselves and divert the conversation.

The topics we were discussing were mostly innocuous, and I can't imagine that government interlopers would care, but the impulse to self-censor was triggered anyway.

Free becomes unfree. Fear replaces liberality. Open communication becomes censorship. The curtain is falling fast on free speech. It's happening all around us, and it is getting worse every day.

The first time I had this happen was about one year ago, when I was talking to a soldier stationed at a military base. He spoke to me almost in code, fully certain that his conversations were being monitored simply because he was speaking from a government facility. The phone was his, but he had the sense, which he probably couldn't prove, that the lines of communication were not safe.

That genuinely alarmed me. But at the time, I thought it was just because he was at a military base. A bit of paranoia is understandable, and maybe this is just what one would expect. But it turns out that this was just the beginning. The whole country has turned into a military base, and everyone in the know is acting like that soldier did only one year ago.

It's been true on email too. Increasingly, people are writing in frozen and stiff ways, presuming that someone else is reading. The same has happened in Facebook public postings and online chats. I've noticed, just in the last weeks, a reduction in the heat of postings, a fall in the level of zip, a new caution in the mode expression. Across the board, public digital spaces have become chilled.

What a difference one month makes. A leaker from the National Security Agency came forward with a version of events that hardly anyone could believe at first. It seemed outlandish to imagine that the government had a direct pipeline into all our communication portals, mining as much data as possible and building ever larger facilities to gather and hoard it, keeping it around for when it is necessary.

Surely, this man Edward Snowden is just a nut. But in the weeks after his revelations, we all began parsing the statements of denial from the likes of Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Verizon. Then it became really apparent that these people were not even allowed by law to tell the truth. They were writing while concealing. They were trying to be forthcoming, but were not free to speak even if they wanted to. They had been ordered not to speak.

But what were they going to do about it? Shut down their businesses? Well, some smaller businesses have shut down rather than comply with the demands that they allow nonstop streaming of data to government headquarters. And get this: Ladar Levison of Lavabit was actually threatened with criminal charges for having shut down his services rather than comply.

Levison had previously complied with specific court orders for information from individuals, but the day he saw a demand for a full-blown "backdoor" to his system, he shut it down. The government then accused him of "violating the court order" for declining to do business. This amounts to a kind of nationalization of his small business a mandate that he serve the state through his own property or else face prison time.

It's impossible for me to look at all of these events and not see the most profound irony. I'm a child of the Cold War, a time when the civic morality play pitted the free speech and free thought of the United States against the controlling, censoring, authoritarian wickedness of the communist system operating in the Soviet Union and its satellites. It was a story of good and evil. We were good and they were evil, and the daily fear experienced by the unfortunate citizens of those countries served as the ultimate proof.

I guess I learned the lesson well, because I can't shake that sense of good and evil from my mind. The United States won the Cold War, but its government gradually came to adopt the very practices that we demonized at that time. Who conquered whom here? Freedom was supposed to have been the victor, but today, Edward Snowden had to be given sanctuary in Russia, of all places, just for having revealed uncomfortable truths about what the U.S. government is doing to its own citizens.

They say it's all about stopping terrorism. Well, oddly, security is precisely how censorship was justified in the old Soviet days too. The government had to be given access to all communication in order to protect the people from miscreants and enemies within the body politic or else everyone would suffer some terrible fate. To be on the side of free speech was considered an act of treason. So it is today in the great home of freedom.

It's helpful to consider the bigger picture here. All governments in all times and places have aspired to control the communication of their citizens. In the United States, the government did in fact maintain its control for the greater part of American history. The radio waves were nationalized and controlled. Mail was a government service. The government enforced a strict monopoly over television for decades. Even the telephone system was a government monopoly handsets and telephone cords were issued and owned by an agent of the state.

In the course of only a few decades, everything unraveled. The telephone monopoly was busted. Cable television was born. Censorship over the radio began to loosen. Then technology took over and there were cellphones, email, private delivery services, chat, hundreds of millions of websites anyone could start, Voice over Internet Protocol, and more forms of communication than government could possibly keep up with. The monopoly over communication that the government once maintained had been completely smashed.

This situation has persisted for about 15 years a near-anarchist paradise of human sharing and interaction through technological innovation. What's going on today is really the reaction and response by the elites. They want their power and control back. They are trying to get it through the oldest form of government control surveillance and the blackmail that comes with it. It's the tactic guards used to control prisoners. It's the tactic government is using to fight its way back toward having control over our lives.

So as you consider the alarming trends, the first thing to remember is that this approach is nothing new. To surveil the citizens is something governments from the ancient world to the present have aspired to do. It outrages us, and rightly so, but it shouldn't surprise us.

The chilling effect is intensifying, and serious damage has already befallen the digital spaces we've come to love. Over the long run, however, this approach is not going to work. Try as it might, the government will not stop communication innovation. Private entrepreneurs are busy innovating ways to keep the history of our times on the side of human liberty.

The desire to communicate even when government doesn't want us to is part of the American genetic code. "One if by land, and two if by sea," says Longfellow's poem about Paul Revere's ride to inform citizens about British troop movements. It was encryption in the style of the 18th century. That generation didn't give up on the freedom to communicate, and neither will we.
_
Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo, It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, and A Beautiful Anarchy: How to Build Your Own Civilization in the Digital Age, among thousands of articles. Click to sign up for his free daily letter. Email him: tucker@lfb.org | Facebook | Twitter | Google





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Comments 1 - 4 of 4 Add Comment Page 1 of 1
trm

Posted: Aug 29 2013, 12:22 AM

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75175 Fuck em they can't silence all of us and if they think they can then those fucks are clearly in need of some crack to supercharge their illigitimacy to my right to be left a fuck alone.
Anonymous

Posted: Aug 29 2013, 3:48 PM

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75145 "Well, oddly, security is precisely how censorship was justified in the old Soviet days too. The government had to be given access to all communication in order to protect the people from miscreants and enemies"

Not at all. In fact, no justification was required at all, since the controlling power of the Party was not questioned. That the state had the right to control anything that was going on in the country was an axiom that did not need any justification.

Besides, "protection" was not on the agenda as such. The prevailing mood was that the country and society are strong enough, and looking forward to the victories, rather than tremble in the corner from the fear of being harmed by some evildoers, begging for "protection". The mood was, paradoxically, "land of the free, home of the brave" - apparently contrary to the mood in today's US.

"<elites> want their power and control back"

I don't think it's that deep. What we are living through today, if nothing but the next circle of the sequence of "big ideas" of the US economy. At some point it was space exploration. At some point it was cold war. Today, it's security and war on terror. US economy can't exist without one or another, like drug addict who needs a doze every day. This one will pass same as others, only to be replaced by the next obsession. The best proof I have is that all these monkey games with technology and security, despite billion dollar budgets, haven't ever produced any substantial results (such as, for instance, prevented Boston bombing), and in fact nobody is expecting them to. The theory that security must be enhanced is assumed everywhere as a given, with no proof and no justification except buzzwords like "in this day and age......".

Anonymous

Posted: Aug 29 2013, 4:47 PM

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6578 "We're all Edward Snowden now?' You mean we're all con men letting our image be used by the CIA and their propaganda media to dupe the American people into giving up more of their rights in the name of security? No one is given the kind of attention this Snowden guy is given by the media and the elites who control it, unless they WANT his message to go out. All of these media whistleblowers are phonies, agents, operatives and tools.

L.S.

Posted: Aug 30 2013, 3:15 AM

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@the real mccoy (trm): "Fuck em they can't silence all of us..."

well, they're giving it a go. i'm not allowed to have e-mail account, for example.

your notion is correct, though, they are killing-off the expendable ones. how do you choose?

i struggle with that question: "how do you choose?"

do you choose to save the future generations, or, do you save the "here-and-now's"? if dave were alive, he'd say: "why not save them all?" i'm no 'dave' however, i can see the world as he did; (as does Anonymous 75145, and, Anonymous 6578, so it would seem..)


fyi people - the government put the (Snow)den "story" up, for the purpose of controlling you, example: "Big Brother is watching."

so-what, that they have countless metaphysicians on the payroll. if those metaphysicians were truly "gifted," they wouldn't be working for the cartel. i can speak to this first-hand, for I've ran into many of these psychopaths during my journey.

as for this article, the opening paragraph speaks to its true nature: <completely normal people...declined to say something for fear of government surveillance.>

for the "image and likeness" team / "mirror-mirror" team, everything is written in reverse, and/or, "code."

article translated: "the masses are too afraid of hell's cartel, to call the conspiracy into question. "the propaganda worked," in other words.










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