We are hearing stories and rumors, facts and flights of fancy, truths and misdirections, and enough information overload to the point that our heads are spinning and we end up so confused that we likely just shake our heads, take a couple analgesics for the headache and go off to forget the whole mess. Unfortunately, once we know that our every communication, our every internet search, every web site we visit, every purchase we make, and even our every move is being tracked, stored and can be retrieved any time in the future and collated to make any story desired about us believable. Add to that the fact that with computers tapes can be made in which there is nothing that cannot be produced showing us doing anything from sleepwalking to murder and saying anything from the kindest compliments to the worst treasons. When we delve deeply into the potential powers that the government could use in nefarious efforts to paint us as guilty of any crime and part of any conspiracy which they could ever dream up we realize that the powers that be have the ability to make our lives into whatever scheme their sick little minds desired. But at some point in our paranoid fog the thought creeps into our consciousness, when and how did all of this start and how long has it been turned against the people?
The beginning of modern data mining was espionage, both between rival city states and within city states by the different members of the ruling court. Espionage was accepted by the common person as it was something that did not affect their lives and it also diverted the ruling classes from further ruining their lives. That has all changed as it is now utilized by governments in order to control the lives of the people. Totalitarian governments have long been known to have secret police and entire departments within their governments which collected information on the general public and went even deeper on persons of interest. The targets usually contained the wealthy, political activists and anybody who was thought to be a potential problem, threat, rival or simply somebody who may need some convincing to assist with gathering information on any others. With the advent of the electronics age espionage became both more technical and also easier to employ against a wider set of targets. Even as electronic data increased geometrically, the ability to gather and store data increased exponentially far outstripping the rate of increase of available data. The unfortunate fact is that the ability to collect data has reached the dream point for the political class as they can now record everything. And since they have the ability to collect every iota of available data they have reached the obvious conclusion, they collect everything, why not.
The first major data collecting on masses of people in the United States where anybody who may be of use or importance was monitored for whatever secrets or damning information that could be uncovered was FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover. His files on politicians, leaders of industry, and anybody who was somebody became stories of legend. But J. Edgar Hoover would have salivated had he ever seen the NSA system known as Echelon, the forerunner of Prism. Echelon was preceded by international signal monitoring between nations but Echelon was capable of such volumes of data gathering as to make everything preceding it seem almost amateurish. Today’s data mining capabilities make Echelon appear almost primitive. Echelon was implemented over a quarter century ago and gave the NSA (National Security Agency) unprecedented capabilities outstripping their wildest dreams of the founders back in 1952. With Echelon the NSA finally realized their dream of having the capability to collect data on almost anybody their little hearts desired. But even the immense gathering powers of Echelon were outpaced by the amounts of data being generated very soon after its inception with the addition of general use of the Internet plus cell phones and a simple explosion with the advent of the electronics age. The onset of the electronics age also provided the solution to the unimaginable amounts of data generated. This presented the NSA with the opportunity to meet the challenge before them, the ability to collect all data from all sources. This required an extensive storage facility. That is exactly what the NSA just officially opened in Nevada where they estimate they have sufficient storage medium to store every electronic signal generated worldwide for the next century. Even if it only does as advertised for half that time, it will still have been an impressive system.
Echelon caused a stir amongst many people who follow government abuses, politics and conspiracy theorists. Much of what was known in the public about Echelon was refuted by government as the NSA and others denied its existence. Eventually, like anything which requires large numbers of people to run the equipment and make the raw data into something presentable that had real uses and meaning, the secret got out and enough became known that denial was no longer possible. Armed with the experience of the warnings and denials over Echelon, the revelations about Prism are easily believed by the people and thus no attempt appears to be in the works for denial. That leaves the government with the choice of facing the music or making what they are doing appear to be both necessary and innocuous. Trust one who was a believer and ever suspicious of Echelon, Prism is every bit as dangerous with levels of misuse beyond the wildest of imaginations. We have already been witness to the powers of Prism. General Petraeus and General John Allen were early victims of the powers of Prism as they were disgraced into retirement by the revelation of their private emails. The information of their emails that were released did not result from their government email accounts but from their private email accounts. The power of Prism became evident in these two cases as once those who wished to destroy these men’s lives took the knowledge that there had been emails that might be of a questionable nature and then gathered the entire history of these emails simply be entering a query into Prism data search and waited for the results. Presto, everything that matched the query for the past decade at their fingertips to use in any manner against these men. These were private emails and before you claim they should have known better than to leave such evidence, what would your bosses think if they had access to every email, chat, instant message, tweet, and Facebook entry you have made over the past decade? Would your job be safe? What about that comment you made after a particularly bad day about that slave-master who runs your office? That is the potential damage anybody in our government with access to Prism can bring down on any citizen of the United States for the foreseeable future. I am fairly sure that Prism also is collecting data from other nations as well and its capabilities are being made available to friendly government within limits. With Prism now fully activated and connected to the immense storage facility in Nevada the government can continue collecting every electronic signal and run their queries at their convenience as the data will be available for the rest of time, well, in theory at least.
Some may be interested in what are the main differences between Echelon and Prism other than the sheer immensity of the data that can be stored indefinitely by Prism versus Echelon. Well, that actually is the basic difference. Under Echelon the government entered key words and phrases which could be adapted depending on what were deemed to be of interest. With Echelon they had permanent key words such as bomb, President, terror, attack, assassinate, kidnap, Echelon, and the names of important or noteworthy people. When a piece of data crossed the Echelon data input channels containing any of these keywords it was saved and if it contained the right combination or sufficient numbers of key words, it was marked for review by an actual person. Echelon was monitoring all the trans-Atlantic phone cables, satellite uplinks and downlinks, Internet providers’ data points to the Web, and numerous other data points which were considered necessary or sensitive. The main deficiency of Echelon was the amounts of data it was capable of both storing and monitoring. Prism does not have such limitations as it has the capability to take in all the data that the NSA can manage to find a method to intercept. There is no requirement for keywords with Prism. Using Prism does require keywords but they can be entered well after the data was stored, not using them as a hurdle to clear in order to be stored. When accessing the Prism database one enters the names and keywords which they wish to pull the data on just like we do when searching the Internet. The difference is Prism has far more data than the Internet and Prism can track any piece of data in its memory back to the person or people who were parties to the conversation or otherwise connected to the data. Prism has another capability that too many will be even more ominous. If you wish to track the movements of someone you only need to enter a few key numbers to gather tracking information for them from that point further. Whether Prism has the ability to track one from past data it would likely be limited to tracking where any person received a cell call or used their OnStar or tracked their lost vehicle. Any way one looks at the power and potentials for misuse of Prism, it definitely is a sign that Big Brother has arrived and we may soon need to monitor our every facial expression so that our faces do not arouse suspicions, after all there are cameras almost everywhere.
Beyond the Cusp