By Jason Newell:
In the film “1984,” the protagonist is caught acting subversive to “the Party” when he’s caught by cameras copulating. Unbeknownst to him, a camera was hidden behind the mirror in his room for rent; and moreover, the Party planted blasphemous material in the “minimized” dictionary. (The minimized dictionary being a shrunken down vocabulary intended to provide “pro-Party words”.) After the crimes are reviewed, a Party member tortures the protagonist and forces him to agree to what’s essentially the contemporary equivalent of alt-facts. But what is the primary intention of this scene when paralleled to America’s War on Terror?
Snowden’s provocative revelations have afforded valuable insight for the American people. One such disclosure provided information on the American government’s PRISM program, which collects data in massive storage facilities with the intention of creating a retroactive terror profile. For example, if I were to be accused of providing material support to terrorist organizations, a “terrorist profile” could be used against me. Basically, phone calls, Facebook user likes, Google searches, and even logons to Skype, would be pieced together to build a personal profiled marred in assumed culpability.
But here’s the issue: the data collected isn’t all that specific in the sense of constructing a terrorist profile. More specifically, cell phone data may simply provide locations, while Facebook likes might be nothing more than facetious behavior, i.e., what if I like “Hitler” on Facebook? Who’s to say whether or not it’s an idolization like or one done out of jest? Therein lies the problem. The data isn’t very revealing and attempting to invoke a retroactive profile has the capacity to produce a false criminal narrative.
From a legal standpoint, retroactive culpability presents Constitutional issues as it’s not legal to apply a criminal statute retroactively. Therefore, the Patriot Act’s intelligence provisions bring up complex legal questions in relation to the State’s authority to analyze old data. If, let’s say, “providing material support” to a terrorist group in the form of Paypal payments is currently illegal, but the said terrorist group wasn’t – at the time of the payment – classified by the State Department to be one, then how can my retroactive actions be criminal during the present?
And even more worrisome is the government’s ability to store a citizen’s data – this contemporary reality raises pressing 4th Amendment issues. What is the extent to which the government can intrude into my personal life? Similar to “1984,” the government can literally monitor my actions within the parameters of my household by manually turning on cellphone and laptop cameras. The aforementioned privacy concerns should presumably motivate the average American to demand intelligence specifics. If the American government isn’t responsive to a citizen’s privacy questions, then it should be aptly renamed “The Party.”