Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mad Bird

Back in the dark ages my brother and I played “Pong” on the black-and-white television set in the family room.  The consoles had a variety of cables and it was so cool to convert the TV from its 5 stations (including UHF with the wire hanger) to this interactive game.  We played in the basement, right next to a real ping-pong table – somehow the zig zagging green dots were far more compelling than actually hitting a ball back and forth.  Despite my enthusiasm for Pong, in the 2014 modern age of technology I’m one of a handful of folks who haven’t gravitated towards games – and thus I had to go to Wikipedia  to learn what Angry Birds is all about.  With more than 2 billion downloads, and a full length movie coming next year, it’s clear that I’m out of the mainstream.  This week thanks to Edward Snowden, the Guardian and the New York Times, it came to light that the NSA is able to use third party ads to access user information of the games.  In addition to gathering meta-data on cell phone calls and scanning emails and texts, the National “Security” Administration is also gathering data on people who play games.

Mediaite reported that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had an exchange with Talk Radio reporter Victoria Jones:

Carney:  “To be clear, as the president said in his January 17 speech, to the extent data is collected by the NSA, through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid intelligence targets.  And we are not after the information of ordinary Americans.”

“But why are they taking it?” Jones pressed.

Carney and Jones argued over whether smartphone games should be subject to protections and whether potential terrorists would exploit gaps in surveillance.

“I mean I’m not even sure what protection you’re seeking there for a potential terrorist,” Carney insisted. “Terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors use the same communication tools that others use.”

That the White House, the administration, the NSA are gathering personal and private data is sadly not news.  That the public is not up in arms and seeking to dethrone those in office who design and defend the program.  It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs and an example of the grudging acceptance of a further deterioration of American freedoms.  No, the outrage lies not in the action or even the justification this time – it’s in the underlying premise.  Let’s repeat what Carney said:  “I’m not even sure what protection you’re seeking there for a potential terrorist.”

Somebody who wants to play Angry Birds and not have the government know about it is considered a potential terrorist by this White House.  A reporter asking a question is assumed to be an advocate for terrorists.  This is the administration that has brought criminal proceedings against numerous reporters for publishing articles, so it really shouldn’t be surprising.  But it is. Stunning. Outrageous.

The voice of the President, the Press Secretary, has succinctly summed up the perspective of the Obama administration and the U.S. Government.  Forget about the presumption of innocence.  Americans lost that with George W. Bush and the "Patriot" Act.  The assumption that advocating for freedoms that are embedded in the Constitution means one consorts with the enemy is far removed from the ideals of America that I grew up believing in.  Pong isn’t just a bygone game of a different era, it’s from a time an America long long ago.  And that makes me one Mad Bird.

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