Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Peeping Sam: It’s complicated

(Published in Business Standard on June 15, 2013)

CIA World Factbook update: “India, located in South Asia, is a large developing country with 6.3 billion pieces of private information that that US has snooped on, and Edward Snowden is a dirty rat.”

I’m conflicted about this snooping thing, because while it indicates a level of caring, it also says that the relationship is trust-deficient. It kind of irks me that we only rank fifth most-pried-into country in the world, though I suppose you could also look at is as second runner-up. But it still hurts. We had this incredible love affair during the Bush years. Or at least, we thought it was amazing. And now they don’t write, they don’t call… I was starting to think they didn’t care anymore. And in fact they don’t all that much, seeing as how they’re so busy looking down Iran’s cleavage.

But conflicted or not, on balance I’m very cross about the snooping. First off I’m cross on America’s behalf. It blows my mind that so many Americans say they don’t care, on the grounds that being snooped on by your own government as you talk to your own friends on your own soil somehow stays the fell hand of Al Qaeda. If you believe that, you probably also believe that no price is too high to pay to keep the towelheads in their place in… those other bits of the map that nobody knows the name of.

But I’m much more annoyed about the snooping on the rest of the non-terrorist world. Nothing I have ever said or done or written or encrypted has had the remotest bearing on the safety of America or anyone else, so where do they get off prying into my life without a warrant?

I’m cross because I have spent my life being accused of being private to the point of paranoia, and for what? I worked at privacy. I bottled things up. I let my whole adolescence pass without keeping the obligatory angsty journal, because I didn’t want my nosey siblings reading about my crush on—none of your business; and now here I am, with proper adult scandals and secrets, and it turns out they’re an open book. (You might think that the accusations would dry up in my sixth year of writing a column premised on oversharing wildly with total strangers; but family pique runs deep, and I therefore still have a rep to protect.)

Maybe you’re wondering why I thought my siblings would read my angsty journal—what kind of evil sibling does that? And the answer is that one of them may or may not have read the other one’s angsty journal, and may or may not have read it aloud, and may or may not have read it to me, so I know it happens. Families are crucibles of trauma.

The upshot is that the big bad evil PRISM programme allows the US to spy on you for no reason, and Edward Snowden is going to go down in history for pointing that out.

Of course, people are human, which no amount of ill-gotten information or expensive training can help; and a little British 9-year-old schoolgirl called Emily Harris might go down in history for demonstrating that. Emily recently entered Turkey on a toy passport that she had made for Lily, her toy pink unicorn. Neither the golden teddy bears on the cover of the passport, nor the passport photo of a pink stuffed toy with a horn appeared out of order to immigration officials, who stamped her right through.

Well-adjusted paranoia lies somewhere between the stories of Edward Snowden and Emily Harris. And by the way, don’t think that I don’t think that India is spying on Indians.

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