June 10, 2013, 6:41 PM — Read any good spy stories lately? It’s all I’ve been doing for the past five days. Thanks to a 29-year-old disgruntled security geek named Edward James Snowden, we all know quite a bit more about what our nation’s spies are probably doing than we did just a few days ago.
While the details are still sketchy and the stories often contradictory, just about all of the paranoid conspiracy theories you’ve heard about the NSA and the 15 different spy organizations underneath its umbrella appear to be true. There’s enough material here for half a dozen LeCarre novels or at least one more Jason Bourne movie.
According to Snowden, any NSA agent with sufficient clearance can call up the phone, Internet, financial, and other activities of any American, anywhere in the world, going back for years. In a video interview with The Guardian, Snowden made the following claim:
I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone – from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email….
Even if you’re not doing anything wrong you’re being watched and recorded.…. It’s getting to the point you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody – even by a wrong call – and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.
Even if Snowden is exaggerating or lying – and I don’t think he is – those sentences should make you reconsider your use of electricity in all forms.
Let me simplify the issues. There are really only two things you need to worry about. One is accidental mistakes; the other is intentional mistakes.
The Accidental Terrorist
As we know from Snowden’s first leak, for at least the past seven years the NSA has been hoovering up metadata from our phone records – who we called, when we called, and where we were when we made the calls. In other words, if you are a heavy cell phone user, the NSA could make a pretty thorough map of your movements over time, if it chose to.