“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
- The Constitution of the United States of America (Amendment IV)
“Still after the Feds, Harry?” The high-pitched but clearly male voice conveyed the sarcasm intended.
The blue eyes set deeply into the masculine face framed by short, blonde hair slowly lifted their attention from The Washington Times. “Yep.”
“Yes, the jaws of the government-vise of tyranny are closing on us Americans.
“Faster than you think, Jack.”
Well, fortunately we have you to defend us helpless souls.”
With that retort, Jack Agee slid, with some considerable effort, his portly frame onto the bench-seat opposing Harry’s. “Hey, Tiffany,” he yelled across the diner, “as usual, I’ll have the usual.” He then returned his attention to the target of his sarcasm . . . a sarcasm poorly camouflaged by a transparent veil of good humor.
“Harry, I marvel . . . truly marvel . . . at your level of insight into government-tyranny. Really! I congratulate you on your insistence, persistence, and resistance, if not necessarily the substance of your argument. I can see that reading that right-wing fountain of. . . of whatever . . . really fuels your fire. Tell me, how do you resist reading The New York Times like everyone else?”
“Hardly everyone reads it. More to the point, it’s not fit to wrap fish.
“It’s ‘the newspaper of record’, some say.”
“You say. Besides, the record’s a broken, one incessantly parroting the same neo-liberal nonsense. By the way, Mr. Sarcastic Big Government, have you read in your so-called newspaper of record about the most recent, massive, unconstitutional, governmental intrusion into the life of every American?”
“Every American? Could you spare me the details for the moment? I’ll lose my appetite listening to your latest insight.”
Harry momentarily stared at the girth of his conversational opponent. Then, he smiled, his eyes silently communicating a sympathetic understanding.
“Yeah, I know. Look, Harry, we all have our weaknesses . . . even you. At least, I manage to control looking over my shoulder for federal agents who make their life’s work spying on my oh-so-important activities.”
Harry again smiled then returned to reading, raising his newspaper as a barrier between the two. In retaliation, Jack fished from his coat-pocket the latest copy of The Nation.
Twenty minutes later, with Harry’s having eaten oatmeal with whole milk and having drunk black tea with skimmed milk and with Jack’s having finished his three-egged omelet filled with cheddar cheese, bacon, and avocado as well as his having drunk two cups of decaffeinated coffee, each with two containers of “half-and-half” and three packets of artificial sweetener, the two political, economic, and social adversaries lowered their respective journalistic barriers. Momentarily, they sat silently, staring at one another . . . Harry with the same ingenuous smile; Jack with the same sarcastic scowl.
“Okay, Harry, you’re strong, and I’m weak . . . dietarily. Anyway, I’m ready for your bad news of the day. What’s this latest so-called invasion of our privacy, O Self-Appointed Keeper of the Constitutional Flame?”
“Yottabytes stored in a million square feet of a new governmental installation called the Utah Data Center.(1)
“What’s a yottabyte?’ Jack, looking a bit bewildered, asked.
“Well, a byte is a string of digits, usually eight, that functions as a single unit of information for a computer.”
“Byte. Bit. What’s the difference?”
“The term, bit, is a contraction of the phrase, binary digit. It is a single digit, usually to the base two . . . in other words, a one or a zero.”
“So a byte is composed of bits, and a yottabyte is a lotta bytes.”
“Correct. In fact, a yottabyte contains septillion bytes . . . a figure larger than even our national debt . . . you know, the debt that worries you not at all.”
“And what are all those thousands of billions of bytes supposed to store?”
“Among other things, only every telephonic call into, out of, or within the U.S.A.; every e-mail; every financial transaction; and all electronic billing information . . . essentially everything you, I, and every other American communicate electronically.”
“And you see that as a problem?”
“Simple solution, Harry . . . use the Postal Service.”
“Uh uh . . . the government can scan the contents of your mail without opening it. The only protection is wrapping it in old-fashioned carbon-paper . . . maybe. Of course, doing so might arouse suspicion . . . Catch-22, as Jack Heller might say.(2)
“Uh huh. And who’s behind this alleged invasion of our privacy, which, as I recall, isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution?(3)”
“The National Security Agency . . . a governmental euphemism for what should be called the National Spying Agency.”
“And when will these spies allegedly begin their dirty-work?”
“Next year . . .2013.”
“I suppose they will be tapping every phone in America?”
“How, Harry, how?”
“How? Ask AT&T. Ask Verizon.”
“Ask them what?”
“Ask them about the governmental monitoring that they allow in their facilities . . . and the immunity granted to them by federal law.”
“Maybe so, but aren’t electronic communications encrypted?”
“Yes. The safest is called Advanced Encryption Standard or AES. It comes in various strengths.”
“Are you telling me the NSA can crack the strongest encryption?”
“Maybe not yet, but they’re working on it. While the feds are talking about protecting us from hackers and failing to do so,(4) they themselves are the most intrusive hackers of all.”
“Harry, mightn’t you be worried about nothing. After all, the NSA is collecting data nationally that it can’t even read.”
“Nationally and internationally.”
“Fine. Wherever it comes from, they still can’t read it.”
“Not all of it . . . not yet.”
“Why not do yourself a favor? Have a nice, big, satisfying omelet and forget about the federal government spying on us. My God, man, aren’t they protecting you . . . and me?”
“But who protects us from our protectors? The only element missing in George Orwell’s vivid description of the dystopia governed by ‘Big Brother’ was the means. How could Big Brother do it?(5)”
“Correct. Apparently, Orwell hadn’t heard about Eniac.(6) The computer is a magnificent tool capable of being used for a measure of good, such as MRI’s, and a magnitude of evil . . . a magnitude beyond, perhaps, even the imagination of Satan himself.”
“Satan? Are you becoming religious?”
“Just assume, Jack, that I’m using the name of the erstwhile Angel of Light metaphorically.”
“So, what’s your solution . . . religion?”
“Perhaps, but, if so, mixed with science.
“Whoa! Just a minute, pardner. According to you, aren’t science and technology the means of our oppressive tyranny?”
“True . . . and the means of our salvation, should we choose to use them wisely.”
The answer elicited one of Jack’s well-practiced, sarcastic guffaws. “Harry, historically wisdom has been a rare attribute among us humans.”
“The Scriptures tell us that wisdom begins with fear of the Lord.”
“Not for atheists, my dear Rabbi.”
“I’m not a rabbi. I’m not even Jewish . . . although it’s crossed my mind.”
“Really? Give up Islam . . . just kidding.”
“Really! Jesus was Jewish . . . when he was born and probably when he died, at least according to one Catholic scholar.(7) Anyway, even an atheist can interpret the concept metaphorically. Even an atheist can regard the enormity of the cosmos and the complexity of the Earth with awe, wonder, and respect. Even an atheist can fear the power of Mother Nature, especially when the consequences of her actions become destructive.”
“So, that metaphor addresses the infinitely beautiful balance of cosmic forces that determine our existence and the scientific principles describing those forces.”
“Again . . . so?”
“So, if we regard with awe that cosmic balance and respect . . . even fear . . . its unimaginable power, perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . we can harness a minuscule fraction of that power to regulate our own behavior before we extinguish not only our own existence but that of all aerobic life on Earth.”
“How would that happen, Professor Doomsday?”
“Boom . . . boom . . . boom. A series of nuclear explosions, the consequence of which is a series of fire storms, the consequence of which is depletion of all oxygen in the atmosphere.”
“And what does all this have to do with the NSA and Utah Data Center?”
“Ask yourself, Jack, are the consequences of what the people there are doing good or evil?”
“Oh, evil . . . definitely evil, Mr. Defender of the Constitution, American Tradition, and Science.”
“Your sarcasm, notwithstanding, you still must judge for yourself, but, remember, if the majority of Americans judge wrongly through foolishness or ignorance or don’t judge at all through indifference, the inescapable consequences may be too horrible to contemplate.”
“Maybe. Thankfully, as they say, the world doesn’t end very often.”
“No, it doesn’t, but all it takes is once, and tyranny in the new America won’t prevent it.”
“But biobehavioral science will.”
“Not will . . . might! It’s our best chance. In fact, it’s probably our only chance. (www.inescapableconsequences.com)”
1. Bamford, J: “The Black Box”. Wired. April 2012, page 078.
2. Heller, J: Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster (1961).
3. Whereas protection of privacy is not afforded explicitly in the U. S. Constitution, it is afforded implicitly, particularly in the Fourth Amendment, as has been ruled the law of the land by the U.S. Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).
4. Barrett, D: “U.S. Outgunned in Hacker War.” The Wall Street Journal, 28 March 2012, page B1.
5. Orwell, G: 1984. New York: Harcourt (1949).
6. McCartney, S: Eniac. New York: Walker & Co. (1999)
7. Carroll, J: Constantine’s Sword. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. (2001).