All Worked Up about Big Brother


It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government is illegally spying on its citizens. As Former President Jimmy Carter so eloquently pointed out last month during Coretta Scott King’s funeral, “the civil liberties of both husband and wife (were) violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance, and, as you know, harassment from the FBI.”

It’s important to note that the government’s eavesdropping on the lives of Dr. and Mrs. King extended not only to their public associations, but into their private lives, as well. This includes allegations of adultery on Dr. King’s part. According to Curt Gentry, author of J. Edgar Hoover, The Man And The Secrets, FBI director Hoover had the Bureau send Dr. King a tape recording his infidelity and threatening to expose him unless Dr. King takes the “one way out” available to him and commits suicide.

Electronic governmental surveillance is as old as is electronic communication. In fact, according to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, it predates it. On February 6, 2006, in testimony before Congress, Attorney General Gonzalez justified the Bush Administration’s illegal eavesdropping by saying, President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.”

Presumably, President Washington had a little help from Mr. Peabody and Sherman and, of course, their WayBack Machine.

These days, however, the government’s power to eavesdrop is far more sophisticated, far-reaching, and dangerous than when Dr. King was alive. I have four grave concerns about the government playing Big Brother.

First, it’s not just the FBI; it’s the CIA, it’s the National Security Agency, it’s the Pentagon, it’s Homeland Security, it’s the Justice Department as a whole, it’s the Defense Department, it’s the entire friggin’ government.

In fact, remember the Total Information Agency, that governmental spying program that was shut down over privacy concerns? Turns out it wasn’t really shut down. (TIA Lives On:; Feb. 23, 2006)

It’s like the government’s a drunk on a bender. They couldn’t stop even if they wanted to. And they don’t want to.

Secondly, they’re not just trying to track down terrorists. In a September 28, 2003 New York Times article, it was revealed that the government is using the USA PATRIOT Act (remember, that “essential tool” in the war on terror), to “investigate suspected drug traffickers, white-collar criminals, blackmailers, child pornographers, money launderers, spies and even corrupt foreign leaders, federal officials said.”

Reports have come out that the NSA and Homeland Security have been spying not only on suspected terrorist organizations, but on news reporters, anti-war organizations, a Gay and Lesbian club at a south Florida law school, and the Quakers, among others.

Thirdly, they’re not just spying on suspected criminals and opponents of the war. On February 9th, 2006, two members of the Department of Homeland Security stormed into the Little Falls Library in Bethesda, Maryland. Their targets? Patrons using library computers. For what purpose? Not for sending emails to Al Qaida, not for looking up how to make atomic bombs, not for signing up for terrorist summer camps.

The Homeland Security officers were cracking down on viewing porn on the internet.

Like most library systems, the DC-Fairfax Virginia district has policies regarding the use of computers in their facilities. While viewing porn on the net isn’t encouraged, it’s not forbidden, either. At least, not by the library district.

However, the Department of Homeland Security apparently had other ideas. Granted, according to the Washington Post, the two officers were allegedly reprimanded for their conduct, but not before detaining and questioning one patron and scaring the piss out of several others.

And it’s not just a pair of Barney Fife-type Homeland Security cops, either. As part of a wide-ranging investigation into online child pornography, the Department of Justice has requested the search engine Google to turn over records regarding tens of millions of internet search terms and web addresses in an enormous online fishing expedition. While the war on child porn is important, how many of these tens of millions of search terms and web addresses that have nothing to do with child porn will be nevertheless closely examined by the Feds if Google loses its fight to keep that information private?

Did you look something up on Google last summer? While I’m sure you didn’t do anything illegal, do you necessarily want the government to know what you did?

My fourth big concern about Big Brother is the American People. To quote Walt Kelly’s Pogo Possum, We have met the enemy and they is us.

let’s face it. We’re a society of self-promotional addicts. We’ve got websites, webcams, voyeurcams, digital cameras in our cellphones, weblogs, (I myself have succumbed to the temptation of blogs. Check mine out at This is in the interests of full disclosure. Plus a little shameless self-promotion). All this is coupled with an insatiably gossip-mad press, celebrities who are famous for no other reason than they want to be famous, (e.g. Paris Hilton), and, of course reality television. Real live people exposing their every action, thought, and whim for millions to see. Andy Warhol had it right, but he was thinking small. We’re not seeking fifteen minutes of fame; We’re after at least a half-hour primetime block for no fewer than thirteen weekly episodes.

what’s wrong with all this? The more attention we seek, the less we treasure our privacy. And the more we get used to airing our dirty laundry in front of thousands or millions of people, the smaller are our expectations of what should be and is nobody’s business but our own.

So when the government starts snooping in our bedrooms, rather than scream bloody murder, our tendency these days is simply to shrug our shoulders and say, “so what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that to this point, the decisions about what we choose to expose to the public are still ostensibly up to us. We pick and choose what to reveal. We weigh the consequences of exposure versus preserving our privacy.

that’s not the case when the government gets hold of our sexual secrets. Does anybody out there not worry about what the Powers that Be might think of what websites we visit, videos we watch, and magazines we read? Remember, the current bunch of yahoos in charge used eight thousand tax dollars to cover up a bare-breasted statue in the main lobby of the Department of Justice a few years ago.

So, how do we stop them? By not giving in. By not allowing someone else to define for us what is acceptable to expose and what is not. And by saying, as loud and as often as possible, “Mind Your Own Business!” And by respecting other peoples wishes when they say that to us. It’s like what actor David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier, ” spamalot, among others), says: “My life is an open book. It’s just nobody else’s business who reads that book.”

And if we don’t draw the boundaries, the Powers That Be will draw them for us. Which they’re already attempting to do.

More on that next month.

J.T. Benjamin
March 2006

“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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