Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Why Americans Seem So Unconcerned about Megadata and Their Telephone and Email Records

The Pew Institute has just released a poll showing that a good majority of Americans don't have a problem with what the US government has been doing with the logs of their telephone calls and emails. 

This has prompted a flurry of comment here, some of it shocked.  How could they? Spying is spying.  Their privacy is being threatened.  And what kind of data is being collected about Canadians here and South of the Border?

The answer, I think, lies not only in a certain partisan bias--the Pew Poll shows that a lot more Democrats now think it's okay than did when the Republicans were in control.  But Americans, particularly those who have been vocal protesters, know that there's always been a lot of internal spying going on. While nobody got shipped to Made-in-the-USA Gulags during the Cold War, many were pulled over the coals in various witch hunts for Communists.

A long time ago I learned not to send messages of whatever sort that I wouldn't want to be intercepted.  Not that I've ever been anything other than a straight-arrow citizen, but my opinions haven't always followed the usual line.  Back when I was editor of the Daily Cal, the student newspaper at UC Berkeley, it was common knowledge that the FBI had files on student activists.  A few years later, a cousin of a cousin apparently had a problem getting a high level security clearance because of her tenuous connection to me even though I'd never met her. (She got it eventually, but it took a while.0

And then just a little while ago The New York Review of Books published a interesting review of Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power by Seth Rosenfeld.  In it Adam Hochschild notes that being a junior reporter covering student unrest at Berkeley  was "enough to gain a notation in my own FBI files, which I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act years ago, that 'acting as a representative of the press,' I had been in contact with the march organizers. Although I was a very small fish indeed, my FBI and CIA files from the 1960s run to more than one hundred pages."

Makes me wonder if I should do a little Freedom of Information search myself.  And if thata Act will be one of the next to fall.

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