Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian says "a lot more significant revelations" about America's colossal Orwellian surveillance state are coming down the pike--courtesy of the thousands of pages of classified documents he obtained from Edward Snowden, the heroic former CIA contractor. That should be fun.
In the meantime, we've got a pair of doozies to digest: Verizon's decision to turn over its "metadata"to the National Security Agency, and the PRISM program, under which the biggest Internet companies let the NSA read our emails, see our photos, even watch our Skype chats.
Politicians and their media mouthpieces are spinning faster than a server at the NSA's new 5 zettabyte data farm in Utah.
So let's get some clarity on what's really going on with 10 things you probably don't know about the NSA scandals.
1. PRISM, not Verizon, is the bigger story. Government-aligned mainstream media outlets like The New York Times and NPR focus more on Verizon because it's less indefensible.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls," Obama says. PRISM, they keep saying, is targeted at "foreigners" so Americans shouldn't be angry about it.
2. PRISM really is directed at Americans.
"Unlike the call data collection program, this program focuses on mining the content of online communication, and is potentially a much greater privacy intrusion," notes Popular Mechanics.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to Congress that the NSA doesn't collect "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."
As The New York Times said, this is a lie. "What I was thinking of," explains Clapper, "is looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers of those books in the metaphorical library. To me the collection of U.S. persons' data would mean taking the books off the shelf, opening it up and reading it."
In other words, the NSA collects the search histories, emails, file transfers and live chats of every American and stores them in a data farm.
3. President Barack Obama should be impeached over this. Obama, his top officials and his political surrogates have repeatedly and knowingly lied to us when they said the NSA didn't "routinely sweep up information about millions of Americans."
4. PRISM and other NSA spy programs are not approved by courts or by Congress.
White House defenders say the surveillance was approved by the legislative and judicial branches. But that isn't true. The "FISA court" is so secret that, until last week, no one had ever seen a document issued by it. Very few members of Congress were aware of the programs before reading about them in the media.
5. There is no evidence that NSA spying keeps America safe. And so what if it did?
According to officials, PRISM saved the New York City subways from being bombed in 2009. Actually, the would-be terrorist was caught by old-fashioned detective work.
In recent years, between 15 and 17 Americans a year died worldwide from terrorist attacks. You're as likely to be crushed to death by your television set.
6. This is not a post-9/11 thing. We're being told that PRISM and the latest Patriot Act-approved surveillance state excesses date back to post-9/11 "make us safe at any cost" paranoia. In fact, the NSA has been way up in your business long before that.
Back in December 1998, the French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur revealed the existence of a covert partnership between the NSA and 26 U.S. allies. "The power of the network, codenamed ECHELON, is astounding," the BBC reported in 1999. "Every international telephone call, fax, email, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism. ... The system is so widespread all sorts of private communications, often of a sensitive commercial nature, are hoovered up and analyzed."
7. Edward Snowden expects to be extradited. U.S. media wonders aloud, "puzzled" at whistleblower Snowden's decision to go to Hong Kong, which routinely extradites criminal suspects to the United States. But Snowden's explanation is crystal clear.
"People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions," he told a local newspaper. "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality."
He wants a political hearing so he can put the system on trial. In the meantime, he'll use the time it'll take Obama's legal goons to process the extradition to talk to journalists.
8. Caught being evil, Google and other tech companies are scared shitless.
And they should be. Consumers and businesses know now that when Big Brother comes calling, Big Tech doesn't do what they should do. This could hurt their bottom lines. "Other countries will start routing around the U.S. information economy by developing, or even mandating, their own competing services," speculates Popular Mechanics.
9. Fifty-six percent of Americans trust the government's PRISM program, which the government repeatedly lied about. What people don't know should worry them.
You're not a terrorist. So why worry? Because the data collected by the NSA isn't likely to stay locked up in Utah forever. Hackers have already proved they can access the NSA. Some want to sell it to private concerns. Mining of Big Data can screw up your life and you'll never know what hit you.
10. In the long run, the end of privacy will liberate us. Everyone has a dirty secret. The way things are going, all those secrets will be as out as Dan Savage. Blackmail only works if most dirty secrets are hard to come by.
But if everyone's got a nude photo online, shame goes away. By the time the surveillance state plays out, we may look back at 2013 as the year when America moved past Puritanism.
If we're not in a gulag.