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Getting Zucked:

Facebook Conspiracies Revealed

You know that complacency we all feel about our private information on Facebook? You know that “I don’t have anything to hide” feeling we tend to get before sharing some innocuous information? Or, how about those “conspiracy theory” posts we all ignore? 

Conspiracy theory crackpots are easy to dismiss in an information overload age where we feel like the zebra in the middle of the pack. Yes, we have a big white stripe across our back that make us a target, but hey, so does everyone else. What are the odds we’ll be prey? The key difference up until now is that a zebra knows the consequences of being hunted by a lion while we, on the other hand, have placed a lot of blind faith into trusting a much more dangerous predator with our lives.

And the odds of becoming prey are a lot higher than we thought.  Details of a recent letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reveal for the first time that a government official has admitted  that the U.S. has been secretly monitoring the calls, emails and other Internet communications of Americans without a warrant.

The letter seems to contradict a March 12 committee hearing where Clapper denied  this monitoring when Sen. Wyden asked “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”  Whether you prefer the much more benign term of eavesdropping or think of it as spying, what we know for certain is that the U.S. is searching within its borders and in our in-boxes through a top-secret program known as PRISM. 

Despite denials by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other collaborators, we also now know that Facebook, Google, Apple and many other companies that provide communication services have willingly supplied the National Security Agency with our private information. 

As of 2013, Facebook and Google were working to create portals and chat rooms for more efficient and secure sharing of your information with the government.  The New York Times  has reported that “through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it.”

PRISM has shown that the U.S. government really is hunting through Facebook, and the consequences of this hunt for “unknown terrorists” are becoming shockingly clear.  In an April 6 Los Angeles Times article,  Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union,  states,  “We now know the government has used [data on Americans] in criminal investigations.” Jaffer then asked a rhetorical question, “But has it relied on the database to put people on the no-fly list, or to deny people security clearances, or to deny them government employment or government contracts?”

The question is thought provoking. Does PRISM explain how the late Senator Ted Kennedy or current Alaska Congressman Don Young were “accidentally” placed on the no-fly list?  It is frightening to imagine that we are being targeted as terrorists for no reason other than having the misfortune that one of our Facebook postings or web searches matches the, still unknown, set of words or phrases PRISM  seeks to capture. The Guardian warned about a legal loophole that “allows warrantless search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls” as early as August 2013.

Prism is an outgrowth of the 2001 Patriot Act that expanded government’s surveillance capabilities; it was launched in 2007 by the Bush Administration to collect stored Internet data from companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google to identify previously unknown terrorist.

First revealed to The Guardian and The Washington Post by former contractor Eric Snowden in 2013, Prism is a covert National Security Agency operation that is supervised by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.   The Obama Administration expanded PRISM by renewing the Patriot ACT and extending the Foreign Intelligence Act until 2015.  William Benney, who worked as an analyst for the NSA for over thirty years claimed in a Democracy Now interview “since 9/11, the agency has intercepted between 15 and 20 trillion communications.”

In other words, this time the “conspiracy theory” has become a reality, an important distinction to make because of the negative connotations associated with the phrase. Does anyone really want to be labeled a conspiracy theorist? 

To avoid adding to the confusion between conspiracy fiction and real problems like the PRISM threat, it may be wise to conduct a bit of research before passing along any of your favorite conspiracy theories such as Bigfoot, 9/11 staging plots, spins on the fate of the Malaysian Airlines flight, or writing your history paper on the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series. 

 Archaeologist Louis Leakey, when asked if he believed in the existence of Bigfoot simply replied “show me the bones.” Animals leave behind evidence.  So does the government. The website http://www.snopes.com has a good library that can help separate fact from fiction.  There, you will find quite a few wild tales about our government that have become a part of urban legend. You will also find, however, that some of these tales are true and, sadly, a reoccurring pattern has emerged in these conspiracies that illustrates how our government bends the rules to “keep us safe.”

Government intrusion into our private lives is nothing new.  UCC Political Science professor Charles Young says that “violations of our civil liberties in times of national stress are an unfortunate part of our history.” After each World War there was paranoia that we were being over-run by communists, a fear which produced a national Black List and McCarthyism. Nixon had an “enemies list,” and President Eisenhower told us to beware of the “military industrial complex.” 

No doubt 9/11 changed our worldview, but it is only now that we are beginning to see what those attacks have changed in terms of what we are willing to concede here at home in our day to day lives. 

Violations Indeed.  And so the beat goes on, Mark Zuckerberg is not the only bad actor involved, but he has been the one that was most vocal in denying his part in PRISM. Facebook has approximately 1.3 billion users and unless major reforms are taken, many or maybe all of us should consider ourselves Zucked.