Peepers and Creepers 

We didn't have blinds on our windows at my childhood home in North Idaho. In fact, I didn't live in a house with window coverings until I went to college in Caldwell. Imagine an 18-year-old trying (and failing) to figure out how to work venetian blinds in his dorm room. People must have thought my Sunday diversion back home was shooting squirrels off the backyard whiskey still.

Truth was, we didn't have blinds because we didn't need them--for someone to peep into the house, they'd have to pick their way through five acres of forest. They'd have to be really serious about spying, and in that case, well, what happens in the holler stays in the holler.

It wasn't that Ozark-y, of course, but the concept of privacy was so implicit to living in the country that we didn't even think about it. That is, until it got out on the school bus that one of our neighbor kids regularly snuck through the woods to watch us as we went about our nightly business.

This kid, like his kin, was home schooled, so we didn't see him outside chance encounters on the dirt road we all shared. We also never caught him in the act, but the thought that he was out there haunted us. At night, as I was getting ready for bed, the window in my room--black with the lack of streetlights--changed from a blank feature to a bottomless eye. Who was out there? Probably no one, but the not knowing made the surveillance feel constant and all the more invasive.

This week's feature from ProPublica, "Watching the Watcher," delves into the knowns--and unknowns--relating to revelations that the United States government has for years been collecting untold amounts of data on regular Americans. How much? We don't know. What kind of data, exactly? It's unclear. Why? Ostensibly, to keep us safe, but that's always the reason governments give for prying into their citizens' private lives.

As with my alleged peeping Tom back home, just knowing that someone could be watching is a violation--even worse when your "bedroom window" is the computer screen you cozy up with all day or the cellphone that's constantly attached to your face. As kids, we didn't run our school-bus whistleblower out of town, but we also never questioned the peeper, which was a mistake--hopefully one that, as adults, we won't repeat.

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