Even as we brace for debt-default Armageddon, or perhaps because of it, the other major domestic story of our times has been all but forgotten. But when it comes to having the government spy on us, the Dems and Reps are not only not at each others' throats, but are really quite cozy. Where our privacy is concerned they happily ignore their core ideals (What happened to small government, Republicans? Or to civil liberties, Democrats?) Interestingly, the loudest complaints about government spying also come from both sides of the aisle, from people who actually believe in the principles their parties claim to stand for. Yet even these people have implicitly bought into a big lie. It is a lie of omission, which makes it more insidious.
The lie is that the problem is all about, and only about, government spying. To the extent that anyone notices the involvement of big IT companies like ATT and Google, we accuse them of being craven, of caving in to NSA pressure to share data, but little more. The problem is far deeper. The truth is that the government would not be able to do this kind of surveillance by itself. It does not own the infrastructure. It does not have connections into every home and every smart device. It would be blind and deaf without someone to serve as its eyes and ears. The IT companies are not just accessories--they are the heart of the story.
We can rant and rail, or even organize to try to pass privacy laws and restrictions on data sharing. This is as useless as trying to stop drug trafficking by arresting a few thugs. We know how well that has gone.
In the case of information privacy, the only way people will have any is if they personally insist on it. And the way to begin doing that is by making it more difficult for the IT companies to collect the data in the first place.
The challenge is that few people know how to operate even the most basic privacy protections they have, the ones provided as (unadvertised) options on their computer browsers and smart phones. Worse, many of the younger generation actively disable the privacy protections on their devices. Yet, as long as people don't take even these basic steps, turning around and asking our lawmakers to protect us is not only quixotic, but hypocritical.
There are a lot of products you can use if you want to be proactive about protecting yourself. (Some that this writer has tried include AdBlock, Ghostery, Ad-Aware, etc). But if that is too much trouble for you, there are other things you can do that are built into your standard software. The thing is, you have to take a few minutes to do them. Yet few people seem to think the bother worthwhile.
The truth is that if you don't block cookies when you surf the web, if spill your private life onto Facebook, if you use spyware programs like Paypal to buy stuff online, if you don't use any encryption on your phone, if you find validation in having complete strangers "like" your taste in music, etc., you have no right to expect any privacy, and you have no right to be shocked if NSA has a complete profile on you down to the last hangnail.
This writer has no illusions: Facebook and Google control the soapbox. The last time he used Facebook it was to post a warning about Facebook. His account was mysteriously disabled for six months. Privacy advocates are lone voices in the wilderness, and even when you try to warn people about the risks, the usual reaction is blank stares. It is true, many sites, especially social media, provide a "service" free of charge. At least that is how it looks, and for most people, that is simply too good to pass up. What we don't acknowledge is that we are not customers. We are the product, being packaged for consumption, not only by the corporations but by the NSA. Until we acknowledge that, and go after Google et. al, and make it harder for them to process us, it is silly to think we can stop the government from doing likewise.