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I Feel So........So........VIOLATED.........


This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

Early television was always a good marker for social change, in that by the time a topic appeared as factor in a scripted drama it was at least a year old. I recall a Perry Mason episode in the late 1950's where DA Burger told Lt. Tragg to get phone records of a suspect. It would take time, but they needed to know if a call was made. It's been a staple of cop shows since.

Phone records were kept by Ma Bell and her siblings for a long time. All paper work but kept for quite a while. It was the requirements of the telephone companies that led to commercial demand for big computers, and it was the phone company that needed and kept this private information: who you called, who called you, how long you talked and when. Because that's how they billed you.

Thursdays, CBS has a drama called Person of Interest. It's the story of genius who built a machine for the government that collects data from everywhere by camera, by phone, by web traffic, to stop terrorist activity. But the machine also picks up individuals unrelated to terrorism who are either about to be a victim or criminal, and pops out the social security number for the heroes to deal with. This show debuted in September of 2012.

There were no gasps of disbelief at the show's basis. We know full well that it is impossible to stay out of sight because of security cameras and electronic communications. The show is entirely possible in theory if unlikely in fact. Then came last week.

A 29 year old contractor worker for our Intelligence agencies named Edward Snowden has been revealed as the leak source to the Manchester Guardian newspaper in England of a supposed horror: the tracking of innocent American citizens by its government because they have a computer set up - a machine - that can scan and track interconnecting phone numbers to locate members of terrorist cell groups. Whether it's been helpful so far isn't known, but it surely should be. It also follows the story line of Person of Interest, and I've noticed that the media coverage is now sometimes just using the singular word 'machine' like the show for what has to be a ton of computers. But that isn't the scandal.

When I was in the Justice system, I was a temp laborer often enough, and contracted out, so in that way I was like the benthic equal of Snowden. And like him, I was given jobs with info access for which no excuse can be offered. I was a convicted felon, and I was given uncovered paperwork with names, addresses, credit card info, medical info. It bothered me enough that I wrote it up, but you have to take the jobs offered when you're on probation. But it was wrong.

What happens is, hospitals and doctors take pains to say their employees are trusted and often bonded and your info is secure. What they don't tell you is that at several points your privileged info is given to unbonded couriers or workers like me, and if they were crooks and wanted to know if there were people in their 80's living alone with lots of cool drugs in the house and maybe some money, they had that info. All they needed.

That's a lesser variant of the Snowden case, where a man untrustworthy was given access not only to extremely sensitive info, but was able to remove it or copy it and give it away before our premiere intelligence agency even knew. And he's now in China, our supposed global adversary.

I encourage you to make all sorts of conclusions about the hypocrisy and danger of using contract labor, whether me knowing you have great drugs around or Snowden knowing things not many below the President should know. But then, exactly what was this violation of the social contract between citizen and government?

In reality, all the NSA does is take the existing data once used for billing and connect the dots when they have a suspect with a phone. It's a lot harder with cell phones then in Perry Mason's day, but it's the same thing. The government did not compel the private businesses - with whom we've all signed contracts that allow this info to be compiled - to assemble the info. We volunteered it and they kept it as they have from at least World War II. Are they safer with it than the NSA?

Sorry, I don't share the sense of violation. It's been on TV for years.