Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Nothing to Worry About

You’re probably aware that last week the news broke that the NSA has been collecting telephone information about all Verizon customers for the past seven years, specifically “telephony metadata” such as which numbers called which other numbers at which time. Oh, and they can access all the stuff on Google, Facebook, and Apple servers.

The news has shocked people who have been paying no attention to the government’s actions over the past decade.

We certainly can’t say that about the ALA, which has kept a close watch on the Patriot Act from the beginning. Thus, it’s not surprising that they released a statement in response calling for “accountability and transparency in nation’s surveillance laws.”

But it might be that the ALA is concerned over nothing. C’mon, let’s think about it.

First, it’s not the content of the phone calls themselves, at least not yet. It’s not even the names of the people who are making the calls, at least not yet. It’s just numbers. And for Gmail, they’re only looking at foreigners. Probably.

Second, unless your number is linked to a number that the government claims is linked to a terrorist, you’re fine, probably. And it’s not like you’re emailing terrorists, is it? And this has got to work, because there have never been innocent people who have made it onto terrorist watchlists or no-fly lists or such. Ever. So just relax.

Third, the government is just trying to protect you, even you mean librarians who are all concerned about library patron privacy or whatever. Okay, so the protection was secret. But if the government went around telling people that all telephone use was monitored, then the terrorists might stop using telephones completely, and that would be bad. Maybe. I guess.

Then the terrorists might have to start communicating via email or Internet sites, and those are definitely not all being monitored by the government, except that they are. (I just want to say to the government that I’m fine with that. Really.)

Fourth, even if Congress was listening to you, which it’s not (except in a government surveillance kind of way), they’re all fine with this. Check out these great defenses:

From Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand this isn’t anything that’s brand new.” See? This is old news, at least for your senators who have been informed about it for the past seven years. So just calm down already. “That’s old news” is a classic response to news politicians don’t want to talk about. If it was really old news, no one would be asking so many questions.

And from  Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) “This is nothing particularly new. Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this, and to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information.”

There you go. No citizens have registered complaints relative to the gathering of information that they knew nothing about until last week. He went on to add that no citizens have registered complaints about the ongoing gathering of information from AT&T and Sprint or Google’s servers, either, so there.

Fifth, President Obama is pretty happy with it, too, making the man so many librarians loved five years ago maybe a little less lovable. Republican senators and the President agreeing on something? They can’t agree enough to govern the country together, but they can sure agree your communications need to be monitored. So you can be pretty sure that thing won’t change.

Sixth and finally, it’s probably not a good idea to criticize the NSA. As we learned from the documentary Mercury Rising, if you mess with the NSA, the NSA will mess with you, even if you’re an adorable little autistic child. The safest response is just to say that you think whatever the NSA does is fine by you. There’s nothing to worry about. Just move on.

That’s my response, NSA, in case you’re reading.



  1. free2read says:

    Golly gee US government, this is just a nifty keen idea. Now that you have access to everything I read. write, and listen to, can you please filter all the spam from my email account while you’re screening it, and block those annoying sales calls that keep passing through my No-Call list? Oh by the way, I really hate ads on Facebook. Please block them, too. God Bless America.

  2. Grenouille says:

    Welcome to the 21st Century.

    Look I understand that there are rights and principles involved. I like privacy, too (which is why I do not use most of the social media out there), but I think the counter-arguments are pretty moot now. Look, the majority of free apps that you can download to your smart phone are even more intrusive than the things that the government is doing, and most people are happy to download them anyways without even bothering to read the fine print. The world doesn’t care. I mean the real one, outside. They are too busy playing online poker.

    That said I do not mind the Government screening my phone calls, emails, whatever. I want them to. I have nothing to hide. If something happened where I somehow got tagged by the NSA, I want them to investigate because something must obviously be wrong. I want my Government to get the bad guys and if this tool helps them do that, I wholeheartedly endorse it. Sure, I get nervous when I see a police car training its radar gun at me but I am glad they are there, because although I don’t normally speed I have been known to get blind to how fast I’m going and it keeps me honest. The same thing should apply to online or with a phone if that’s what helps keep us safe.

    Honestly, what I am really surprised with isn’t the records that they are pulling, but how very basic it is. I really thought things were far more advanced – like a big supercomputer that scanned billions of emails for specific words or phrases. This whole “revelation” is honestly pretty tame. Even if that was the case, please, NSA, go ahead and screen my emails. Happy to oblige. As it stands, though, I am disappointed by the lack of sophistication in the data they are taking. I wonder if there is some sort of algorithm that they are running it through to connect the dots.

    At the end of the day, I trust the Government. I work for it. And while I know there are bad decisions (read IRS scandal) and bad politicians (read Cheney), I have faith that people generally try to do the best to protect us with the tools that they have. If this is the extent of “intrusion” into the nation’s personal life in order to protect us I am fully willing to have them do it.

    • As Ben Franklin so succinctly said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

      Whether or not mining the entire Internet for information stops terrorism, or whether it just drowns intelligence agents with information, is another question entirely. But if John Adams was infuriated by the British Army quartering soldiers in Boston homes, I can only imagine what he’d think of this.

    • @Ella

      I completely agree with your stance in the abstract but applying it is a lot more difficult than it may seem because of the multiple of issues that the advancement of communication has brought. John Adams lived in another lifetime, the world has become much smaller and strangely being able to communicate also most instantaneously has actually cause more harm than good. We have no time for self-reflection or deep thought. World leaders are forced to comment on everything that is happening the world with little information or understanding because if they don’t we attack them. But if they try to get information in a way we consider immoral we again attack them.

      Perhaps, we as citizens need to reflect on our actions as much as our leaders, may be we are asking to much of them. Absolute freedom, absolute safety and absolute privacy cannot be achieved, the are in fact a contradiction.

  3. rpglibrarian says:

    I wondered why so many copies of 1984 went off the shelf…

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