Apparently NSA employees are a little freaked out that the public knows so much about their operation. According to the Washington Post, morale has taken a hit at the National Security Agency in the aftermath of the controversy over the agency’s surveillance activity. Former officials, according to the Post, are even expressing hope that Mr. Obama will visit the agency to show his support. (On the bright side, employees are feeling a bit proud at being named the only government agency to actually listen to the American people.)
According to the Post, agency employees are privately voicing frustration at what they perceive as White House ambivalence amid the pounding the agency has taken from critics. And, let’s face it, they hear it all. The Post continued:
A former U.S. official — who like several other former officials interviewed for this story requested anonymity because he still has dealings with the agency — said: “The president has multiple constituencies — I get it. But he must agree that the signals intelligence NSA is providing is one of the most important sources of intelligence today.”
It’s pretty obvious that the NSA surveillance programs are absolutely critical. Especially after news that the agency was recently employing it’s Orwellian spy talents to listen in on World of Warcraft gamers. (Actually… I think we just discovered the cause of the morale problem…)
NSA employees, however, are not the only ones feeling a little blue in the wake of the Edward Snowden security leaks. Big business is also grappling with diminished international business as foreign governments show trepidation in engaging with American tech companies.
Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple were among a handful of companies that wrote a scathing letter to government leaders demanding a return to Constitutionally protected privacy standards. The companies expressed strong support for individual rights, due process, and (most importantly) some sort of oversight… Preferably not clandestine oversight. And preferably some modicum of transparency. (There was one notable detractor: AT&T not only refused to sign the letter, but it refused to release transparency reports regarding NSA data collection efforts to shareholders or customers.)
And let’s not forget the American people. NSA jokes might make for good late night monologues, and Saturday Night Live skits, but the truth is it conjures up Orwellian notions that put Americans on edge.
Especially when it is learned that the NSA is just the beginning. After all, police departments are now collecting dumps of information from cell phone towers. The FBI can hack into webcams. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (did Orwell personally name that agency?) collects debit and credit card information en mass. And, heck, the IRS will soon have access to our health records as well asour financial information. What could be more telling about a citizen than their spending habits, tax returns, and doctor visits? (Apparently their online gaming habits have proven to be a high-priority as well.)
The reason for government’s relatively new-found interest in big data? In the world of big government, data is King. And in a world where thoughts, information, and plans can be communicated in milliseconds via the world wide interwebs (thanks Mr. Gore!) government’s appetite for information can only be expected to grow.
With data comes the power to influence, corrupt, and control. It’s the same reason political campaigns ask for email addresses. It’s the same reason Google sells the content of emails to advertisers. It’s the same reason big-government jurisdictions, like New York, register gun owners, and seek to regulate every aspect of life. The insatiable appetite for information feeds the government’s insatiable appetite for increased regulation and control.
The relatively weak government-cop-out is that such data collection efforts are necessary for public safety. After all, it worked so well in preventing a couple of psychopaths from bombing a marathon in Boston. The excuse, however, becomes less convincing when juxtaposed against news stories regarding government incompetence (ahem*healthcare.gov*ahem) and agency-approved political intimidation (cough*internalrevenueservice*cough).
Massive data collection on credit cards, healthcare, financial transactions, gun ownership, and phone records are merely a result of government excess. As government increases its grip on its citizen’s daily lives, it requires a deeper and more profound understanding of the citizenry.
The NSA is just one more agency in a long line of government data-collection efforts. (Arguably, it was started with justifiable intentions). The nature of their surveillance might also feel more intrusive because of the personal nature of our cellular phones, laptops and email accounts. It’s one thing to send the IRS a financial snapshot of your life on April 15th; but quite something else to have your voice messages secretly screened by a government spook.
But, at least we can take solace in the fact that while the NSA continues to infringe upon our prior understanding of privacy, their employees are a little “bummed out” that we know so much about them. It’s about time they feel like the rest of us.