Statues with camera eyes. The Control Room with the teeter-totter cameras mounted at both ends. The large, balled camera with the shutter lens, always revolving, always watching. The Supervisor with his bald head and thick, black glasses and his familiar battle cry: ORANGE ALERT. Rover, the deadly weather ballon.
Questions are a burden to others. Answers are a prison for oneself.
OG geeks will recognize all of these as trappings from the seminal 1960s cult classic “The Prisoner,” the Orwellian-inspired, allegorical TV series about conformity, uniformity, and brutal, psychological suppression. The series introduces us to prisoner Number 6, played by the late Patrick McGoohan, a former spy who abruptly resigns. Before he could leave his apartment, though, he’s gassed and carried off to the Village, a seemingly tranquil hamlet that is really a Kafka-esque dungeon with colorful buildings, a beach, and lots of cameras. They want to keep him secure. They also want to break him, so that he’ll talk.
The Village always comes to mind when news of government surveillance programs crop up. Like this PRISM program that’s been in the news lately. It makes for scary headlines. Millions of phone calls monitored. All Verizon customers monitored; no, wait, only the business calls. Many large data companies mined, apparently without their knowledge or consent, including Google, Facebook, and Apple. Patrick McGoohan would be impressed.
President Obama spoke about the program Friday to assure people that his administration has not turned the country into the Village. Phone calls are not being recorded. He did state, however, that the country is “going to have to make some choices” when it comes to balancing security concerns with privacy concerns.
“What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names and they’re not looking at content,” he said. “If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.”
– Quoted from PCMag.com
So it’s sort of like window-shopping. You look around, pick out what you like, then pursue it. It’s a modest program, President Obama said.
It’s the PRISMer, featuring a kinder, gentler Village. Questions about it are burdensome. And answers are for PRISM alone. What’s your phone number again?
Modest or no, it still sounds creepy. It sounds creepy because folks generally have a gut instinct against things Orwellian. It sounds creepy because most of us don’t like nosy busybodies or peeping Toms. That’s why there are, in fact, laws against peeping Toms on the books. Mrs. Kravitz is entertaining on TV, but one wouldn’t really want her as a neighbor.
And I’m not comfortable with the defense, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Plenty of innocent people get swept up behind trumped up claims of guilt for anything from shoplifting to espionage to murder. Some people get sent to prison wrongly. Some to death row. President Obama emphasized that he trusts the PRISMers at the NSA. The proper safeguards exists. He also noted that he will one day be a private citizen again and that he felt comfortable with the folks doing the snooping, knowing that they won’t overreach, won’t infringe on people’s privacy beyond what is absolutely necessary.
Let’s assume that what he says is true, that the current crop of Village snoopers are upstanding citizens who will not falsely go after someone, will not go beyond the bare minimum of what’s necessary except when called for. Folks that will behave themselves, in other words.
Cool. Then what about tomorrow? How do we know that future PRISMers put in place by future administrations won’t go on a tyrannical binge, sating themselves on the lusty details of folks they have a hate on for? We don’t know that, and that’s a problem.
It’s been known to happen in the past. And we know from the past that such witch hunts have cost people their livelihoods or sometimes their lives. We have the current example playing out in the IRS where some “rogue” elements went after Tea Party types, fearing that they were claiming a tax exempt status that they didn’t deserve. I have no love for the Tea Party, but I don’t want anyone singled out for undue scrutiny. Because I could be next.
Sadly, President Obama continues to ignore history. This all comes from mollycoddling the excesses of the Bush Administration rather than inquiring about them, analyzing them, and filing indictments if necessary. Had we done these basic steps, then we’d have a clearer picture of the excesses of the past so that we can set up mechanisms in the open to prevent repeating them. But this is not the president’s way. Rather, he wants to leave the past in the past and move forward “together,” trusting that he and his people will do right.
Even if we place trust in the Obama Administration not to overstep their bounds — and I’m not saying that I do — how do we know what the next administration will do? It’s a pandora’s box that should never have been opened, because like all pandora boxes it will have unintended consequences. And it can never be closed again.
Be seeing you.
© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.