In the Great Electronic Universe, privacy’s an increasingly scarce commodity


Uhhh, just wondering: What happened to the budget crisis, the government going broke, the need for the Washington honorables to work a deal to keep the country from plummeting into economic ruin?

For months, the budget/spending dilemma was all we heard about, day in, day out. Sequestration was the sword of Damocles.

A grave situation, we were told in incessant TV sound bites by a parade of Capitol Hill powers-that-be at loggerheads despite warnings of impending doom: Granny might not get her Social Security check, the military might not have enough bullets and missiles, airport flight delays might become even worse than whatever passes for “normal” (Congress quickly bipartisanly fixed that when it appeared members might be inconvenienced on their trips to/from their districts), and on and on.

Yet, here we are, still chugging along, with hardly a word to be heard about the gaping economic sinkhole, while for a seeming eternity now all of Washington has been embroiled in hearings and grandstanding over who did or didn’t do what in Benghazi, who turned the IRS into a political persecution organization, who’s monitoring phone calls and e-mails, and who in government isn’t being up front about it all.

As if it were something totally new, never happened before, gosh let’s be outraged.

The difference, of course, is that until the Internet Age and instantaneous awareness, a president’s, or a cabinet official’s, or an agency head’s misdeeds, cover-ups, and even personal peccadilloes often didn’t come to light for months, years, or decades: FDR’s polio that could’ve made him look weak in the eyes of a world at war; J. Edgar Hoover’s misuse of the FBI to insure silence about his own shadowy habits; JFK’s numerous extra-marital romps; and of course, Nixon’s illegal activities that included using the IRS for his personal vendettas.

Now, in the age of all news/gossip/rumors/speculation/innuendo 24/7/365, we carom from one scandal to another, while more and more it seems the train of government has no engineer manning the locomotive.

The breast-beating and umbrage over government collection of data on telephone calls and other electronic communications are an exercise in futility. Privacy is vanishing like an ice cube in a Mississippi summer, one of the prices we pay for the wonders of The Great Electronic Universe and a world where evil increasingly lurks.

Fill up your vehicle at a gas station, cameras are watching. Shop at Wally World, smile-you’re-being-videoed. In almost any public place, lenses are silently observing and recording what we do.

Every e-mail, Tweet, text message, Facebook posting, blog entry, is stored on a server somewhere, and barring electromagnetic Armageddon, will never go away. Details of every phone call — date, time, phone numbers, duration — are automatically recorded by the telephone companies and can easily be retrieved for analysis by the government’s legions of geeks.

The amount of data being collected from the electronic universe is enormous. As part of that collection effort (not a come-lately project, it was started under George W. Bush), there is scheduled to go into operation sometime this fall a government server facility near Salt Lake City that is capable of storing 100 zettabyes (ZB) of data, consuming enough electricity to power 65,000 homes for a year. One ZB, we’re told, is roughly equivalent to the data on 250 billion DVDs. Multiply that by 100 and, well, that’s whale of a lot of data. (See graphic here: As if that weren’t enough, another, somewhat smaller, facility is being built in Maryland.

All the protestations and gnashing of teeth on Capitol Hill over the National Security Agency collecting data on electronic communications ring just a bit hollow, considering (1) that Congress approved it all some time ago and has had full knowledge of it all along, and (2) the propensity nowadays for everyone with a smart phone, computer, or other device to purposely bare to the whole world the minutest details of their everyday lives.

Given the choice of giving up whatever semblance of electronic privacy there may be left in favor of potentially subverting a terrorist act — well, poll after poll has shown that for most folks, it’s a no-brainer.

Washington taking constructive action to solve the nation’s debt crisis, on the other hand, apparently isn’t.


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