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Michael Miller

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By Michael Miller
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Watching Us: We Didn’t Want To Know

“The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time. Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have … we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.”

That’s a quote from Ira “Gus” Hunt, the CIA’s chief technology officer, discussing the agency’s goal of eventually collecting virtually all human-generated data — emails, texts, tweets, videos, all of it — and saving it for analysis. It wasn’t leaked. It wasn’t classified. He said it three months ago from a stage at Structure:Data 2013, a major annual technology conference in New York. You can watch the video. Two days later, the CIA entered a 10-year, $600 million deal with Amazon for cloud computing capacity. Saving everything takes disk space.

We’ve had details for more than a year about the immense, heavily fortified, $2 billion Utah Data Center being built in the desert by the National Security Agency. Scheduled to be completed and online this September, its supercomputers will intercept, analyze and store a large percentage of the world’s messages and phone calls. The data stored there will be measured in yottabytes. A yottabyte is one million billion gigabytes, and using even terabyte sized hard drives, it would require data centers covering an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined to store one yottabyte. The code-breaking computers alone will use enough electricity to power more than half the homes in Nassau County.

Some details of the large-scale warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans by the NSA came to light in 2005. Congress responded by passing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which made virtually of it legal. This included Stellar Wind, the program revealed by mild-mannered mathematician Bill Binney and other NSA whistleblowers last year, which is how we learned that NSA had accumulated more than 20 trillion personal communications.

Five weeks ago, a former FBI agent, commenting on CNN about the Boston Marathon investigation, casually made it clear that virtually all telephone calls are recorded and accessible to the government.

There are dozens of agencies at the federal level alone that are part of a massive domestic surveillance program conducted by our government, often with the consent and cooperation of familiar communication companies.

We are currently experiencing a TMF (“Total Media Freakout”) over the revelation of a secret, incredibly broad court order authorizing the NSA to collect on a daily basis all of the telephone calls stored in the vast Verizon system, which provides millions of Americans with phone service.

It’s all another example of the Epic Fail that is our corporate news media, and ourselves as a citizenry.

If we didn’t know, it’s only because we didn’t want to know. It’s easier that way, for the talking faces on the screen and for the American people, who we’re constantly told need to be protected.

Most of the media have sat in silent compliance as the Department of Justice relentlessly prosecutes legitimate whistleblowers. DOJ has shared intelligence to thwart citizen protest (as of last month, 7,736 arrests of people protesting against banks, and zero arrests of bankers for financial fraud). The Fourth Amendment and Habeas Corpus are now reduced to advisory opinions.

The revelations of secret subpoenas for Associated Press phone records have made things personal for some of the biggest news organizations. It comes on top of fraying relations between the Obama Administration and the White House press corps over access to the President and lack of transparency.

President Obama didn’t initiate most of this, but because he didn’t do what was right, what he said he would do, he’s going to catch whatever is coming.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net