Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mt. Seemore and the watchful gaze

[Image: Paul Sabre/New York Times].

"Deep in a remote, fog-layered hollow near Sugar Grove, W.Va., hidden by fortress-like mountains, sits the country's largest eavesdropping bug. Located in a 'radio quiet' zone, the station's large parabolic dishes secretly and silently sweep in millions of private telephone calls and e-mail messages an hour. Run by the ultrasecret National Security Agency, the listening post intercepts all international communications entering the eastern United States. Another N.S.A. listening post, in Yakima, Wash., eavesdrops on the western half of the country."
If you have ever spoken to someone outside the country, then, no doubt your own voice is archived on some tape somewhere, gathering dust.
In any case, the electronic monitoring capabilities of government agencies such as the NSA is reported to be total. There is some doubt about this, of course, as surely almost every crime in the United States could be interrupted before it happens, Minority Report-style – but let's just say that the capacity is there. Let's say that everything you say over the telephone, or type into an email – or post to a blog – is monitored by a crypto-Stalinist agency hell-bent on controlling everything... Sipping coffee and twirling their mustaches...
If that's true, then, as Idaho Senator Frank Church reported thirty years ago, in this quotation from the New York Times: "That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide."
And then, the Times adds, "if a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. 'could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.'"
So do you: 1) join in; 2) legislate for a permanent monitoring of the monitors; or 3) use it to make a huge sound-art installation, a CD box-set of intercepted telephone calls, layered one atop the other, chattering, whispering, responding to themselves in internationally accented echoes? National Security: The MP3. Something to listen to while driving your ghost Hummer.


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