The Poster Child of Irony: NSA vs Walmart [226*6]
NSA AND WALMART, EH? Why is it that I feel it is OK to put both of these large organizations into the same sentence? My answer is because both invade your and my privacy without your explicit permission and maintain large metadata files on the people in our society while Walmart goes even further and keeps an electronic dossier on each of you!
What brought this juxtaposition into focus was this morning I heard a CNN story on how retailers track your every move, every purchase, every web click on an item that interests you, and much, much more. Then, going to work, I listened to a roundtable about how intrusive the NSA is in gathering metadata about overall behaviour, like which phone numbers are calling which others and flagging those who have multiple numbers in common along with a suspect foreign terrorist suspect.
What struck me as horribly ironic is that while Democrats and gleeful Republicans wring their hands in faux anguish about the "overreach" of the NSA in protecting our security while at the same time turning a very blind eye, in the case of Republicans, to the order of magnitude larger and more personal poking around in our private lives by Corporate America; and for what purpose ... to make a buck, isn't it; to separate your money from your wallet. Why is that OK and what the NSA is doing horrid?
I would really like to know.
While the NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, Army, Navy, Air Force, and a myriad of other acronyms, all collect intelligence data important to their mission, it is all being done in the name of National Security. Whether enough is being done to protect our rights are protected from government intrusion is an extremely important open question; one which I suspect the answer is a resounding "No", but it is not relevant to the question of what government agencies should be looking at. In my opinion, the appropriate agencies ought to be looking at whatever is needed to protect us from foreign and domestic terror.
If you can agree to that premise, then you can get down to ascertaining if the government is doing it in such a way as to not violate our fundamental rights to privacy. But what to do about Corporate spying on individual Americans? Well, it seems nobody wants to do much of anything about this even more intrusive invasion privacy. It seems that so long as the purpose is to earn a profit, invade away, it;s OK; the people don't seem to care and politicians certainly could give a damn, they are to busy castigating Obama and the NSA for trying to protect us. It is better press, isn't it?
How intrusive is corporate spying on America and how pervasive is the ability of corporate America to make us do something we aren't necessarily predisposed to do? It is a deprivation of our rights and a degree of coercion that is beyond belief, really the stuff of science fiction, actually. Did you know that when you are in Macy's, besides Macy's, there are dozens of other companies who know you are there simultaneously; in fact Macy's may even know what aisle you are currently shopping in. And, while you are there, they are enveloping you in scents which coax you to buy whatever it is you are looking at. Hours and days prior to you shopping there, you have been bombarded with subtle and not so subtle advertizing from a variety of sources, e.g., TV, radio, newspapers, Internet, billboards, and the like.
IS ALL OF THIS SPYING GOOD OR BAD?
AS IT PERTAINS TO GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY, I am firmly on the side of allowing, with proper oversight by both Congress and the Judiciary. For sure, the current arrangement is not satisfactory at all.
Regarding Corporate America's invasion of our privacy, which at the moment is totally unregulated with no adult supervision. But, is that necessarily a bad thing for America? I am actually undecided on that point. There is no question is a major ethical problem with corporations gather and storing such detailed information, but is it worth it? That question begs the next question of "what is the upside" to that corporate spying?
As I see it, from a pragmatic point of view, this privacy invasion is good for the economy. No, I am not being sarcastic, I actually mean it. You have to answer exactly the same question regardless of whether you are talking about the NSA or Walmart which is "are the benefits from their activities greater than than the negatives from the loss of some of our privacy?" In the first case, the benefit is national security and in the second it is, arguably, improved economic growth.
I say "arguably" because it may not actually help at all. I may write another hub digging into this question but for now let it suffice to say there is a case to be made for it. Briefly, it could unfold in this fashion. By monitoring your purchasing habits and developing tailored marketing to take advantage of that knowledge about you, you will more likely to buy something, thereby increasing demand.
With increasing demand comes increased production, increased hiring, increased investing in new plants and equipment, and so forth until the cycle repeats itself. That would be one theory anyway and at the moment I don't defend it or argue against it; I simply don't know enough yet to posit a position.
But, if it were true, would that be sufficient for you to give up some of your rights to privacy in order to benefit from an improved economy. Do you care enough that somebody is watching where you go, what you buy, what you even look at? Do you care that companies are filling the air, literally with odors which entice you to buy a certain product. For example, amplifying the smell of new leather in a furniture store or in a large home decorations store, keeping the fresh scent of orange in the air, as to a more complex scent of orange and basil or no particular scent at all would increase sales by, in some studies, 20%. It is called "scent marketing" which, bluntly speaking, tricks you into buying something you might have bought otherwise.
I offer these examples up in order to get you thinking about this, maybe write your own hubs on the issue while I ponder as well.
IN BOTH SCENARIOS, GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE SNOOPING, there are upsides to it. The question isn't whether either should be allowed do it or not, for there is at least some degree of intelligence gathering on citizens that is Constitutional from the outset and probably even desirable. But, beyond that point we must ask ourselves whether the benefits, supposed or real, gained are worth the loss of our privacy.
The world is not as it was in 1789, when the U.S. Constitution, that model of compromise, went into effect. The only effective "terrorist" attack, as we understand the term today, was an actual invasion by another country. Even in the event of individual acts of terror, none could be on the scale of 9/11, nor have its world-wide devastating impact and any that did occur would be at the hands of a definable, sovereign nation and not some faceless, amorphous group with an ideological message to send.
Even the terrorist acts of colonial "patriots" didn't raise to the level of concern which we have today (although the acts of terrorism, aggression, and genocide by newly-minted Americans on Native Americans certainly did). Consequently, the writers of the Constitution did not have an historical basis from which to include safeguards in the Constitution to define what is proper and improper government activity to protect ourselves in such an event. Nor did they have the great prescience needed to foresee the technological advances which allow the unbelievable ability of Corporate America to pick apart our every move and desire to design protection from that either. Nor did they build in prohibitions to stop us from protecting ourselves.
Consequently, we must decide what to do which is in our own best 'collective' interest; we have that power. But, do we want to exercise it? And, if we do, to what degree? One thing is for certain, if this isn't a collective decision and ends up being every person for themselves because they don't agree with what is best for the whole, then defeat is a foregone conclusion; the bad guys will win.
Personally, I am OK with what the information the government is collecting. What I AM NOT OK with, is the poor oversight of those doing the collecting. Taking an idea from a guy who works for me and is an order of magnitude to the Right, at the very least there ought to be a public advocate at the hearings to give the go-ahead for a particular spying activity. Judges are there to decide between two opposing parties using the Constitution and other rulings as their guidebook. The current FISA Court only has the prosecution and the judge, there is no defense counsel to protect our interests, and there should be.
Further, I am undecided on the level of my uncomfortableness, to coin a word, with the degree that Corporate America can monitor me. Do I think that government should be able to set limits on this activity? In the words of one famous Vice Presidential candidate, You Betcha'.
With that, just let me say this Hub isn't to answer any questions, just posit possibilities and raise ideas to consider. I hope you take the time to do that ... and answer my poll questions.
SPYING QUESTION #1
Were You Aware of the Degree of Spying Corporate America Does on Individual Citizens?
SPYING QUESTION #2
Who is Collecting Too Much Intelligence on YOU?
SPYING QUESTION #3
With Proper Oversight, Do You Think It Is OK for the Government to Collect More Intelligence on You in Order to Protect You?
SPYING QUESTION #4
Should the Government Do More Control Corporate America's Ability to Collect Intelligence on American Citizens
DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEY #1
Do You Lean To The ...
DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEY #2
AMAZON ON PRIVACY
© 2013 Scott Belford