White Suburban Soccer Moms Love NSA Surveillance
Photo Credit: Flickr (cc)
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A frequent response of those untroubled by the revelations of the National Security Agency program is: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” Perhaps we need to translate that phrase, along with the relative colorblindness through which the entire series of revelations has been scrutinized, as: “If your last name isn’t Khan, and you have no family in Pakistan/India/Iran, etc., you have nothing to fear.”
The revelations of NSA’s collection of “metadata” — as cybersecurity expert Susan Landau explained on “Democracy Now” — is, in fact, even more invasive than actual content collection. She gives an example of how that can be the case: Even if all the NSA does is trace the one or more calls from your home to your doctor on a day when you would normally be at work, followed by one or more calls from your phone that is now located at the doctor’s office to your family, that information strongly suggests that the content of the call was bad news.
Similarly then, if the NSA collects metadata of all calls and online traffic in the U.S., they are probably much less interested in a person living in New Paltz, N.Y., who calls Barcelona eight times a week than they are in biweekly calls from an Indo-Pak restaurant owner in Edison, N.J., to a “terrorist-heavy” locale in Pakistan — say, Waziristan. Clearly, in both cases, the pattern reveals the obvious: that both the New York and New Jersey residents have some connection to folks in the receiving nation. But what does it tell the NSA about who they are? To judge from the NSA’s data-mining project, the intensity of NSA surveillance is heavier in Pakistan than in Europe. Thus, even if the calls from New Paltz are to a terrorist cell in Barcelona, it seems more likely that the calls to Waziristan (say, to the restaurant owner’s mother and brother, and his family) will be more suspicious — of course due to the U.S.’s framing of where the War on Terror must be waged. Still, the latter would be, as Marcy Wheeler discusses in a related issue, “ false positives.”
What is the starting framework that informs the NSA to target your call? That folks with close/frequent connections to Pakistan should have their calls monitored? That these same folks have an increased likelihood of being terrorists/sympathizers? Or, alternately, that if one is an Iranian migrant, from a family that left sometime around the Revolution, yet retains close friends who work for the Iranian state (even as low-level civil servants), then their calls should be the subject of targeting (because as Dianne Feinstein has now announced, Iran is a terrorist state)? Or, as she has also stated, it allows the state to keep records of people who become terrorists later (à la “Minority Report”)?
I can hear the liberals now: “Of course, there she goes, making it all about race again.” Um, no. The NSA is making it about race/religion/ethnicity – as these are uniquely combined in the conceptual category of “Muslim Terrorists.” Other branches of the state have long established that terrorism is a unique category that, while defined race-neutrally as having to do with international or domestic political violence targeted against the U.S. government or its citizens, is almost uniquely and singularly applied to Muslims. We’ve seen evidence of this at other levels of government, as in the case of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims (in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and internationally). Most recently, we saw this with the immediate rush to assume that a Saudi national that fled the Boston bomb blasts must have been the person who set them — before he was cleared the next day.