Monday, 8 July 2013

Or Well! - When National Security Meets Totalitarianism

It seems that the world that we live in is entering a phase of complete and utter fear. Not only from terrorists, outside enemy forces, nature, semi-threatening co-workers, and various phobias to speak of, but from ourselves. Mainly, when I say ourselves, I mean the government. It's bizarre to think that we are worried of an establishment that is supposed to be working for our benefit, but we've often seen that their words are hiding a greater agenda. An agenda that could be fueled by some other selfish need. At times they merely cover up what lies behind closed doors, other times they don't even follow with what they originally say. So it's hard to tell when what they do is in our best interest or is in their best interest. With the issue of security on the minds of many, especially in times when attacks in national soil can come without much warning, it's safe to say that we've tried as much as we could to stay secure. The government swore to us that it would keep the bad guys at bay and it made promises to increase security. We were fine with that back then because we were scared. It came with its hassles like not being able to bring certain things on a plane and getting awkward patdowns, but we (somewhat) adjusted to it. Now, with the reveal of PRISM having been in effect for a while, we realize that perhaps we might have surrendered too much in the heat of passion. Except the problem with that is that we didn't willingly give the government the power. The government asserted the power on it's own. That, in turn, has caused a whole slew of problems.

PRISM, as we know, has been monitoring our Skype calls, our chat logs, our emails...basically anything that we usually use the internet for. And there's a facility somewhere that harvests all this information. Surprisingly enough, it's still smaller the the amount of porn there is in the world. Joking aside, they have a grand pile of our information without our permission and they're sifting through it, bit by bit, until they find something incriminating. Even though that's quite the stack to sift through, it's still a bit troubling that there might be something in there that relates to us that the government can be aware about. Perhaps we're not one with anything illegal to hide and there is nothing that truly incriminates us, but at the same time there's the issue of them manipulating the information in a manner that it plays against us. After all, context is important. Matters are more confusing when you consider that the way they target people might be arbitrary considering that the accuracy rate for foreignness is 51%. We have been given information to suggest that the common person isn't going to completely under review of terrorism and that no one really is getting targeted, but the power that can be exerted by the program can still be abused one way or the other. It becomes more subjective if one would put their faith in the government or not. The main issue though, is still again, that they put forth this initiative without us knowing about it.

See, if we were aware of what happened, this wouldn't have the media making a huge scandal over the whistleblower and the policy itself. If anything, that scandal would have happened when people were debating on whether or not to push forward the proposal. We'd be accepting the fact that the government would be spying on us then because we let it pass. It still might be unsettling for others, but at least the whole public is aware of it. The mere concept that this was pushed without us having knowledge of it creates more alarm than what the PRISM program has to offer, but it doesn't make matters better that what the program's directive is to invade our private lives for the "sake of security". What they have done with PRISM shows that the government is not concerned with the voice of the people. If they're not focused on the people that they're supposed to represent, then they're more invested in their own needs, and most of the time a government desires power and control. Governments who make it their goal to desire power and control are pretty much around everywhere, even in the more benevolent and structured of societies, but when it's the primary goal and they're blatantly projecting this out to the world, that's when the problem ensues, because it's when it shows that the leaders of the nation are following a more barbaric and tyrannical method of governing. To put it shortly, this is the first step towards totalitarianism.

It's not that we weren't warned by others that the government was really part of something much more despicable and twisted. Various conspiracy theorists have claimed that we were being watched in secret and that there is an illusion of "freedom" in our government. The reveal of PRISM has proven both of these concepts right, and it's sort of painful to see that what we once scoffed as a ludicrous paranoia has turned into a frightening reality. The reality is that when it comes to certain conspiracies, there is a valid point of that the government has been keeping certain matters in secrecy and not informing us properly about the events. While I am certainly not a "truther", I can't deny that it is peculiar that the US government would disclose information about an event that was supposed to be an outside attack. You'd think that the details would be a bit more available. At the same time, one can argue that it's disclosed because there's still more that needed to be clarified until a full, 99.99% factual report on the incident was made. It is also a matter of national security, and those matters should be kept private. Ironic considering that currently national security is taking away the privacy that we have. Despite the counter-argument that I presented above, knowing the secrecy that comes with national tragedies with the addition of PRISM, it is reasonable to see that perhaps the fear that the government is not playing fair with the people and that we are nearly closer to becoming a neon-sign of totalitarianism. One could say that perhaps the idea that this Orwellian nightmare is inconceivable in the modern day, but perhaps if we look elsewhere we could see that it is not that far-fetched.

There are many places where certain freedoms have been dismantled and a vast majority of people have been oppressed by powerful forces, but none exemplify the concept of complete control that the government of North Korea. North Korea has held an iron middle finger up to the world when Kim Il-Sung came into power with the policy of juche, that made the nation more reliant on promoting its own strength. His shaping of the nation glorified him to god-hood, and he has successfully altered history and writing so that it follows his favor. The only other people that revel in his glory are his children, and they have pushed the policy of juche further by emphasizing the military more and creating nuclear weapons. The nation is a police state, and there is no slandering of the great leader. A great of the people there are unaware of words that could register in their mind to insult the leader, which could either be due to the success of the propaganda created or the fear that there are government agents always nearby, assuring that they follow through with the sole agenda of the nation. North Korea has shown that the ideas of totalitarianism can take root and lead to incredibly devastating effects, so is it possible that the US may follow under this trap? On the one hand, more and more seems to point that the US is capable of enforcing total control and has exerted governmental power in a more unruly manner. But what about the size of the nation? North Korea succeeds in creating this haven for the Kims because it is a proper size for such a control to take effect. The US is larger than North Korea, therefore perhaps such a control would be near impossible. That is counteracted by the mere existence of PRISM though, so perhaps it could happen. The real importance isn't whether or not it is feasible, but rather if it will happen.

When PRISM came out, many reactions were triggered, but the only ones that matter for this to happen are those that are in seats of power such as the Senate. Some were displeased with PRISM, others thought it was a proper proposal and some even claimed that further protocol must be made to improve national security. Obama seemed to welcome the debate that would come from the reveal of PRISM, although concerning some of his commentary (particularly the one about not having 100% security and 100% privacy but we'll get to that later), it seems that he's more on the defense of PRISM, which makes sense if he wasn't going to remove the proposal that was initiated in Bush's term. It's also interesting to note that he seems to be describing the program as if it isn't as intrusive as we would think it to be, but when the program relies on looking on personal information, it's hard to take that truly into consideration. Plus, we come again to the point that this was kept secret from a great deal of people. So, it's very difficult to say what the likelihood of totalitarianism in the US taking effect is when you have representatives that are divided on the issue and a leader that is not removing the program that is causing alarm and describing said program in semi-contradictory ways, but is welcoming conversation based around it. Ultimately, if it were to happen, there would have to be a domino effect that leads to more freedoms being stripped away from the people, which then would bring up the question of whether or not people would revolt. That really depends on what is being taken away from them and who you're referring to. After all, we all choose our own battles. If it's going to happen any time soon, I very much doubt it. People are still able to have free debate and revolution is happening at the snap of injustice.

Although, I do want to talk about this issue of security vs privacy because it is a critical component of this issue. In the modern world there have been advancements. And with these advancements we are capable to be more secure as well as more vulnerable. One step forward, one step back. With the countless outlets that have been created for the sake of social interaction, those fields have provided us to be more open about ourselves and to edit our perception so that we can hide what really lies behind the screen. We have used devices less as a means to transport something to one another but as our own haven that harbors a great deal of our personal information and we don't want anyone to take advantage of this information. With that said, that personal information coming from other sources could have been essential to stopping something terrible from happening. Think about it, if your store is robbed, you'll have security cameras installed so that you will be more secure when another robbery happens. It will keep away others from robbing the store if they are aware that cameras are watching them. At the same time, the owner has the ability to do something illegal and destroy any footage that could incriminate them. Ultimately, it comes down to circumstances. If you haven't been robbed, you worry more about privacy than security because you want to keep your actions personal. If you have been robbed, you worry about security more than privacy because it's security that ensures that you can have privacy. As with all good things, balance is important, and with an issue so complex as this one, that might be problematic.

Even with the likelihood of totalitarianism taking hold in the near future in a country like the US being relatively low, the issue of PRISM is still a very important one. It's also conflicting because we desire both the security that we are protected in case of an attack and the ability to leave certain bits of information private. Should the government be given the right to look at our information, if that's how they have located/captured greater threats? Can we confide that they can look at our information and not use it against us, whether it be distortion of the facts, selling it to advertisers or using it for other terrible purposes? These questions are very much relevant and should still be the subject of conversation. Such a proposal does bring upon its own benefits to national security, but it also provides a great sacrifice and detriment to the rights that we try to uphold. Ultimately the problem of PRISM isn't so much in what it offers but in how it was introduced. Whether or not it will do any good is irrelevant when the program that we speak of wasn't something that is being currently discussed in Senate on some bill but rather an initiative that was secretly put into place. It could have been an interesting discussion that could have taken place when Obama took office, because then, it would at least show that he is willing to bring light to an issue that is of great importance to the public and have them decide in good conscious whether or not to use the program and how to use it. Instead, we had to have someone leak this information publicly and have everyone go on a panic-frenzy because of what occurred. That, to me, is what insults me more than the policy in question, because it shows that they don't care about your voice and are willing to violate the law for their own favor. It may not fully be 1984 as some may imagine it to be, but it doesn't make it any less despicable.


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