Fallout From the Snowden Case
In 2013, Ed Snowden, a former systems administrator for the CIA, and a consultant to the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed numerous personal surveillance programs run by U.S. intelligence agencies. These agencies monitored and intercepted millions of e-mails, instant messages, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, Instagrams and telephone calls. NSA agents spied on personal online purchases of goods and services, internet browsing, responses to ads, travel plans, books, music and movie preferences, social networking activities, dating habits, etc.
German tempers flared after Snowden told reporters that U.S. spies monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone conversations. Here's a rough translation of one call.
Angela: What's for dinner tonight liebchen?
Husband: Veal schnitzel, spaetzle, bratwurst und sauerkraut.
Angela: Ach! I'm trying to lose weight. What's for dessert?
Husband: Chocolate torte with whipped cream.
Angela: A good thing Mrs. Obama is not aware her healthy diet recommendations for me are kaput.
Until Snowden leaked, most people were unaware of the extent of the NSA's surveillance activities, and some expressed shock and dismay at these privacy-intrusive programs. They object to government prying into their most intimate daily activities, tastes, habits and vices. Perhaps they are engaging in something illegal or immoral? I have nothing to hide, so I welcome the intrusion, comforted by the knowledge that the NSA is protecting me from potential terrorists who employ mundane techniques to disguise their nefarious purposes.
For example, I get a polite phone call from the NSA's Agent X (a pseudonym).
Agent X: Hello Mr. Gray. I see you bought three one-pound bags of Gluten-free flour at the Safeway on Hemlock and Ivy at 1:06 pm today.
Me: Not I, or me. It must have been someone impersonating me.
Agent X: Sir, what are you planning to do with all that flour?
Me: Bake a humongous cake?
Agent X: Sir, that's not funny. Mixing the right amounts of flour and water makes paste.
Me: Wow! That could be dangerous.
Agent X: Yes, we can't be too careful. Have a good day.
I am also comforted by the pleasant humming sound of intelligence drones flying over my house at random times. They deter door-to-door salesmen, home-improvement vendors, lawn and garden service providers, and religious proselytizers. When I notify telemarketers that the NSA is monitoring my phone messages, they stop calling me. The NSA also helps improve my sleep patterns and bedtime activities. Sensors embedded in my mattress monitor my heart rate, respiration and body motions, and a computer provides instant feedback on my sexual performance, plus tips on getting a sounder sleep.
As I write this in Word, I'm sure the NSA is monitoring every keystroke. I hope an avatar edits it, corrects spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, and offers suggestions for improvement. Serious writers should welcome third-party reviews and critiques of their work; ways to strengthen the prose, develop a more robust plot, and make the characters more believable.
Finally, based on metadata about me, including a detailed profile of my likes and dislikes, habits, eccentricities and proclivities, the NSA can provide me with a valuable public service by suggesting the best products and services I should buy and how much to spend on them, which movies, plays, concerts and shows to attend, the best restaurants, where to travel, what hotels to stay in, books to read, the soundest investments to make.
I no longer need to make decisions based on subjective, biased views of professional arts and entertainment critics with their one to four star awards, or the unreliable reviews of the general public. Instead, I rely on the NSA's recommendations based on its intimate knowledge of my personal preferences. Have a good day Agent X.
Peter Gray is an author of humorous short stories for adults and books for children.