Poitras and Greenwald Make Me Feel Naïve

Ideas and Issues

public encryptionNew Orleans  Reading the New York Times magazine feature by Peter Maass on filmmaker Laura Poitras and reporter Glenn Greenwald’s interactions with Edward Snowden and the gyrations involved in handling his NSA documents, made me feel naïve and not paranoid exactly, but uncomfortable and almost scared in an oh-my-god-this-is-so-much-worse-than-1984-kinda-way. 

            Of course I had no clue what a “public encryption” key might be if someone wanted to send me a secure email or vice versa.   I’ve always assumed that if the government wanted something they could get it, and I’ve seen it happen of course, so I’ve lived accordingly by a run of the mill level of discretion rather than full blown paranoia.   Unfortunately reading all of this “I spy” stuff makes me wonder what world I thought we were really living in post-9/11?

            Here’s a good example.   These folks would not bring cellphones with them to meetings in Hong Kong because there is some way that conversations can be monitored and recorded through such devices even when they are turned off.   Are you kidding me?  How is that possible?

            I’ve traveled my share around the world, and like so many people I’ve gone through spates where I was put through secondary security and luggage checks upon reentering the United States, sometimes with my family stuck waiting for me or other colleagues and friends, but I’ve always bought the story from customs control that there was confusion about my name.  I’ve written Washington, gotten no reply, because they don’t ever admit anything, but was finally approved for Global Entry and eventually the problems stopped.  Reading about Laura Poitras constant harassment was unsettling, especially the fact that the government believes that they are bound by no laws, warrants, or privacy restrictions when it comes to their rights to keep  citizens – or anyone else – from coming into the country.   I recall a friend from Canada telling me about having to surrender his cellphone to customs agents when visiting the USA who then scrolled his email and texts to see if he had worked without papers in the country.  He could have not given them permission, but then they would simply have denied him entry into the country, so what choice did he have. Would we have any different options?

            Laura Poitras has a computer that is “airbagged,” which means that the computer has never been connected to the internet, so that she can read documents on that device without fear that anyone anywhere will be able to pick them up.  Wow!   She has to disable the GPS on all devices so that she can’t be tracked.   Heck, I thought it was enough that I never joined Foursquare or agreed to let Facebook pinpoint my location. 

            And, of course at this point while working on the NSA documents, she is in Berlin because somehow NSA can’t get her there and Greenwald is in Brazil, which is royally ticked about the NSA revelations giving him some safety, but clearly neither will be able to ever come back to the States until they have gotten rid of the NSA documents they are still holding.    They make a joke in the article about how much easier it is for people to deal with them, especially if Julian Assange and Wikileaks held these documents instead, but that’s gallows humor.

            They may not be in asylum like Snowden, but they are certainly in exile performing a service for all of us naïve to the ways of the new world of constant surveillance of all citizens.  We better get hip and get up to speed if this is what the new citizen journalism is going to be about.