PowerPoint slides of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program PRISM as published by The Guardian and The Washington Post
It must say something about me that I am more upset at how badly designed the PowerPoint slides of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret PRISM presentation are than what they actually contain. Doesn’t the NSA have a budget to hire at least one somewhat high-end graphics person?
These slides look like props from an F grade thriller whose producer ran out of money in the first few shots because he bought donuts for the entire crew once. As someone currently prepping for a thriller with zero budget I can guarantee you that I can design far better PPT slides than these at 2.37 a.m. in the morning with a migraine attack.
Now that I have dealt with my natural superficiality and shallowness, let me address the more substantive issue of the sweeping surveillance regime currently in force. The Guardian and The Washington Post have both published details of PRISM, now officially confirmed, under which the U.S. government has been collecting all manners of data from Internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Skype, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL. Photos, videos, chat transcripts, voice emails and everything else is fair game for PRISM as long as they help the NSA track potential threats to America’s national security.
The surveillance for the past six years has been sweeping enough for even the normally calibrated New York Times to say this: “The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.”
After reading the reports yesterday it crossed my mind how President Barack Obama might present himself to Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two meet over the week-end for a summit in Southern California. Xi must be getting increasingly familiar with his own government’s cyber regime that hacks around the world, including in America. Perhaps as someone presiding over such a system Xi can empathize with Obama’s balancing act between civil liberties and security, something he as an idealism-infused senator described as a false choice. It is amazing how quickly the high moral ground on which Obama seemed to be standing has eroded and brought him on level with Xi.
As I said yesterday my position on the subject of surveillance is one of enlightened detachment because even if I am subject to such data mining my sense of the cosmic scale would not let me react to it. But I do understand the mounting anger and disappointment over these rather damning revelations among those who are more focused on worldly affairs. It is unquestionably the most sweeping intrusion into individual lives in the name of national security being done with legislative and executive sanction.
Anyone who thinks that such flagrant intrusiveness can be and will be rolled back is touchingly innocent. Even those given the Nobel Peace Prize with unseemly haste and in staggeringly miscalculated anticipation of greatness would be seduced by such powers. I am willing to grant there could well be a case to be made in favor of creating and perpetuating such a surveillance regime in order thwart terrorist threats. However, that does not take away from the fact that people can still feel as if they were felt up or groped while they were asleep.
It is amusing to see the Internet companies supposed to be in bed with the NSA surveillance regime strenuously denying any knowledge of PRISM. One must now conclude that the Internet is one gigantic alley whose lures are set up precisely to waylay the suspicious even if it means the innocent too get swept up in the dragnet.