The recent interview between Brian Williams and Edward Snowden helped refresh the NSA scandal in the minds of Americans, many of whom likely forgot about it as quickly as they got into an uproar over it.
Snowden’s presence on TV might help re-ignite the scandal in the public’s mind, but it doesn’t seem likely as other political and non-political “scandals” seem to be taking up that precious space within the American psyche.
The reason for this? Phony outrage, something that has infested this country’s people not only when it comes to politics, but every aspect of public life that gets any kind of coverage.
Between politicians, athletes and entertainers saying stupid things or getting caught on camera TMZ-style doing and saying “outrageous” things, there’s just not enough room in the minds of most in this country to remain attentive to the bigger and more dangerous scandals that are out there.
But the NSA scandal itself brought out a lot of phony outrage when first reported as the consensus around the country was “how dare the government spy on the people it governs!”
This was a silly consensus because if you asked most American citizens if they thought they were being spied on the government, you would have gotten a “Yes” answer from most going back the last few decades.
It would be safe to assume that most of the people who were the loudest over this scandal are ones who lived their day-to-day lives prior to this scandal believing they were being spied on by the government in some form.
In fact, this writer and a friend had a running joke for the first few years of the Patriot Act‘s existence where at the end of every one of our phone conversations, one of us would say, “Oh, and in case anyone from the federal government or the NSA is listening…”
The notion of the government illegally tapping your phones is something that is not new by any means, but apparently the fact that the government is doing it to people’s computers and digital devices now has people shaking in their boots.
Maybe there’s just that many people scared that their dick picks and sexting habits will become public knowledge for reasons only they know.
Or it could be because people, especially when it comes to politics, have to be mad about something, even if that anger is misplaced or disingenuous.
Most outrage is or comes off as phony in this day and age because people don’t utilize something that could do away with a lot of this type of outrage: the internet, specifically smart use of it.
What does this have to do with the NSA scandal? Considering the consensus hysteria that met this scandal, one would have thought that this was something new and unprecedented.
But a quick look through history will show that the U.S. government or any American law-enforcement agency engaging in the practice of spying on its citizens is far from unprecedented.
And while the internet is a place where there is plenty of phony information, insane conspiracy theories and poorly educated opinions to go around, it is also a place where people can do critical and effective research if that is their goal.
Ever hear of COINTELPRO, an FBI program during the 1950s, 60s and 70s that included illegal and warrantless wiretapping?
When the NSA scandal broke, CNN brought up a New York Times article from the early 1980s when cell-phones first became commercially available about the possibilities that the NSA could do what they’re doing now with them.
Then there are various examples over the years of police departments in America doing the same thing. All you need to do is google it and you’ll find examples.
And finally, there’s the Patriot Act.
You know the Patriot Act, right? The act of congress during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the height of post-9/11 hysteria that gave the government the right to do exactly what the NSA is now taking heat for doing.
The way this act was sold to the American public was that it would be used to stop terrorist threats from inside America. At the time, that seemed to be a perfectly reasonable and appropriate response to one of the worst tragedies in this country’s history.
However, because of the overwhelming grief and shock of the events of September 11, 2011, we as a people lost our political cynicism and in that moment did not choose to take a closer look at what kind of power the government was giving itself.
In the end, the American people foolishly allowed this to happen without much of a peep because of the belief that this new power would only be used for good and against terroristic threats.
But if you believe that the Patriot Act has only ever been used for good until the last couple of years, then this writer has some beachfront property he’d like to sell you.
The data collecting by the NSA is nothing new and to be viewed as something new shows how phony the outrage surrounding this scandal truly is.
What the NSA scandal really comes down to when it comes to the American people is how they answer the following question: has the knowledge of the NSA’s data collecting capabilities significantly impacted how you use the internet and your other digital devices?
This writer believes that the answer is a resounding “No,” and that a very, very small amount of people have actually changed their habits regarding their computers, cell-phones and other digital devices since learning about what the NSA is doing.
This writer hasn’t, and won’t be.