Whistleblower Ed Snowden has excellent marketing skills, because despite the massive media attention given to his revelation that the US government’s National Security Administration (NSA) is collecting ‘metadata’ on its citizens, it just confirmed what was long suspected, and even reported on from as far back as 2006. Metadata include the numbers called, duration of calls, and the location of either party.
Let’s set the background. Spying is sometimes creepy government intrusion, but sometimes it’s just damn fine police work. Consider your countryman Trevor William Forrest, who through his travels became Sheikh Abdullah El-Faisal and was deported from England after serving half his sentence for inciting racial and religious hatred. I owe him a small debt of gratitude because his deportation inched me towards a little illumination.
It was all well and good when the nutjob was in England, but on May 25, 2007 when he stepped off the plane in Kingston, I was one of about two million Jamaicans thinking: “Then why de hell dem bring dat deh bredda back here? Mek him stay inna England! Police fi lock him up!”
The Gleaner later reported (after El-Faisal was deported again from Kenya):
“El-Faisal preached at London’s Brixton mosque in the 1990s before being ejected by mosque authorities because of his support for violent jihad. The mosque was also attended … by Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence … after a failed 2001 attempt to blow up an aeroplane, as well as convicted September 11 plotter, Zacarias Moussaoui. In 2003, he was sentenced to nine years in the United Kingdom for inciting murder and stirring racial hatred by urging followers to kill Americans, Hindus and Jews. He is also linked to the July 7, 2005 bombings of the London transportation system.”
I silently curse Richard Reid every time I remove my shoes to go through airport security. A few more like him and passengers will routinely undergo Shanique Myrie experiences to just fly. No sah! The last security woman gave me such a thorough feel-up that afterwards I had to break up the relationship and promise to be a good babyfada before boarding. Even this week I sent her another Moneygram – and I just can’t afford another ex like that.
Anyhow, the idea of Trevor El-Faisal squatting on the outskirts of MoBay spreading blood-curdling Wahabi Islamism instantly vaporised any foggy ambivalence about state monitoring of extremists. Right now, I hope Dehring, Bunting, Golding, and those crafty Digi-Irishmen are all listening to Trevor. And while they’re at it, tap the murderous gang members and give us a DPP that brings prosecutions.
TARGET THE MADMEN
Since I demand that our national-security apparatus monitor our home-grown crazies, I expect nothing less from Britain and America. I just want them to target the madmen, not eavesdrop on the whole world.
Arising from this mess, I’m hoping constitutional-law professor Barry Obama concludes that outsourcing a core government activity like spying to military contractors Booz Hamilton Allen (Snowden’s ex-employer) isn’t a good idea. More than that, Barry needs to recall that the very idea of a secret court (per the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) is impossible to square with ideals of freedom.
One problem with the NSA programme is its connection with infernal political correctness. Everyone gets monitored, as if everyone is equally likely to perpetrate the evil the monitoring is meant to stop. This attitude was already evident back in late 2001 (just after 9/11) when more than half the men on the FBI’s Most Wanted list had the name Mohammed. Yet when Bush’s Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta was asked if airport security should scrutinise someone named Mohammed more, he said, “No … why should Mohammed be singled out?”
It’s been observed that however much the West may have won the Cold War politically, it’s arguable the Soviet Union won culturally. In similar vein, al-Qaida threaten to make significant inroads into making the US a suspicious Mideastern caliphate.
Once these data are collected, what good argument will be found to stop law enforcement from using it to capture murderers, pederasts, kidnappers, tax evaders, and so on? None! And soon enough, with the very best of intentions, and with perfectly logical arguments for each new intrusion, government’s all-seeing eye will be prying into every corner of our lives.
This is a difficult issue because the technology is Frankenstein and takes on a life of its own. The Internet and cell phones allow maniacs in New Jersey to check in at HQ in Pakistan, then download instructions to concoct chemical weaponry. Law enforcement has to keep up, but without causing citizens to fear the government as much as jihadists.
Another issue is that the PRISM programme cost a mere US$60 million to run last year, so the meaningful question may be ‘who’ will gather, control, regulate, and oversee the applications of metadata and massive data mining, not whether or not it will happen.
The commercial applications of vast data-retrieval systems would be immense. For one thing, it would put an end to the he-said-she-said of domestic disharmony. You could just call up the data-collection agency and pay by credit card to retrieve the call when she absolutely DID say, “Gwaan out wid yuh fren dem and nuh worry ’bout mi!”, and you said, “OK!” then hung up fast.
But, oh my! I’m being politically incorrect in this day and age of gay marriage and what have you. There would be no more he-said-she-said, or he-said-he-said, or she-said-she-said, or him-said-shim-said.
I take comfort that the hidden bits in most people’s ‘privacy’ are usually quite routine. It pretty much comes down to sex, money, and embarrassing family connections, which in Jamaica means unknown or unannounced pickneys.
Still, it’s going to be risky days ahead. I just scrolled through my phone pics and realised, generally speaking, it would be better if it didn’t go public! Regarding text messages, I have a friend – a Christian God-fearing citizen – who nevertheless refers to himself as ‘the Taliban’ because of his mildly anti-Establishment politics. Now how do I explain his plea for vodka – “carry de cocktail mek wi shell dung de place” – without someone thinking about the WPJ and good old Molotov?
So I put it out there publicly (and purely hypothetically) that recipients are not liable for the incendiary photographs, texts, emails, BBMs, or whatsapp messages that he or she may receive! Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “Everyone is guilty of something or has something to conceal. All one has to do is look hard enough to find what it is.” True dat!
By and by, it turns out that whistleblower Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, a self-described “world-travelling, pole dancing superhero”, blogged, exposing every aspect of their lives, including tasty pics of herself pole-dancing in lingerie. Isn’t the Internet fantastic? No doubt her sourpuss boyfriend lay beside her worried about overexposure. That’s the perfect metaphor, one-half exhibitionist and the other privacy-obsessed. I hope they get married.
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites Law Firm in Jamaica, and Thwaites, Lundgren & D’Arcy in New York. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.