Friday, February 27, 2015

Citizenfor

I poke around the net for new running shoes and a shower enclosure. The next day ads in my Facebook feed are for a shower enclosure (hideous) and a not bad pair of Adidas sneakers. I'm accustomed to this. It seems inevitable and being from an era of letter writing and black and white TV it's sort of marvelous to behold. I admit that most of my sponsored ads are for clothing items. I truly do way more browsing than actual buying. Most of my acquisition of wardrobe, and just about everything else is on-line but there's a tiny store in Felton and an outlet in San Francisco where I sometimes pick up stuff retail. One of my favorite dresses is from the little Felton shop. I am wearing in while I log on to Facebook and find the exact dress featured in one of the sponsored ads although it's a brand that I have never purchased via Internet. It makes makes me laugh at the time.

The result of my very long marriage to the pessimistic, misanthropic, vaguely paranoid and psychically
Catholic Himself is that I have matured into the role of counter balance. And vice versa. He keeps my Pollyanna inclinations at bay and I keep him from opening a vein. Himself takes great pains to stay as incognito on the Internet as possible, constantly changing passwords and handles. My philosophy is no matter what efforts I take toward anonymity, the Internet has me down pat and knows me better than I know myself. My rationale for not being threatened by this is that I have (particularly with the advent of legal medical marijuana) nothing to hide.

Laissez faire about personal privacy in the digital age, I watch Citizenfour (research provided by my pal and colleague Rosemary Rotondi). For cave dwellers, the film chronicles the release, by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, of thousands of classified documents revealing the enormous scope, rationalized by 9/11, of illegal cybersnooping and wiretapping. The scale with which the NSA intercepted the communications, not only of U.S. citizens, but even world leaders considered allies, is astonishing. Snowden had voiced his concerns about NSA overreach but was essentially counseled to keep his mouth shut. His breaking point came when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper was asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee in March of 2013 whether the NSA spied on hundred of millions of Americans, Clapper responded, “No.”

The film chronicles the remarkable circumstance and immediate consequences of the documents being released. Snowden ends up, pretty apparently by U.S. design, stranded in Russia and it seems that big diplomatic guns are employed to insure that he stays there, the implication being that Snowden was a spy for the Russians all along. The whole situations smacks of Cold War in a Francis Gary Powers sort of way. I glean from Snowden's communications that he isn't really beholden at all to the Russians, his presence there being enough of a slap in the face to the U.S.

Snowden however has received a number of awards and is internationally recognized as a hero. The embarrassed administration, through Eric Holder, offers Snowden a deal to return. He would be tried only on two charges, each of which bears a ten-year maximum sentence. Snowden refuses because due to the Espionage and Sedition Act of 1917 the content of the materials that were released to the public is inadmissible as trial evidence. An example of this antiquated law in action is the 35 year sentence imposed on whistle-blower Chelsea Manning.

When Citizenfour begins Snowden is holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room.  He is visibly nervous but articulate, handsome and appears healthy.  In the later footage of Snowden in Russia Snowden is gaunt and pale.  There are dark circles under his eyes.  Even though only a year has transpired, Snowden appears to have aged a decade.  Apparently he is treated well in Russia and is free to travel about the country freely.  His girlfriend is able to visit for extended periods.  Still, the consequence of his action, which I perceive as patriotic ones, have resulted in enormous personal sacrifice.  I wonder if I were in the same position if I'd have the courage for this risk.

The Snowden case challenges my “I have nothing to hide,” position. It occurs to me that privacy is fundamental to liberty. I never particularly valued my own personal privacy but the realization that we live in a society where, via government fiat, the only truly private place is your own personal brain is sobering. I guess some feel that keeping track of people in this fashion is necessary in order to prevent another 9/11. Unfortunately, it also has to has the potential to prevent the dissemination of opinions and ideas.  I am aware now of how vulnerable we all are and that this is indeed significant and perhaps not as inevitable as most of us have accepted.  For now I guess I am indeed an open book.  Still, I'm going to change all of my passwords.