NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Breaking News

Local News

July 6, 2013

The age of surveillance

(Continued)

Politics wasn’t his preoccupation; it was a mere distraction. How I wish I had his instinct — and his intelligence. David at the time was working on a book, “The Rise of the Computer State,” that we all thought was a work of madness. It described the threat computers posed to personal privacy and civil liberties. I worshiped the man, but I thought his theory was nuts. We all did.

The computer, after all, seemed terrifying only in its complexity, not in its capacity. In those days, you couldn’t look anything up on the computer, nor send a message. You could only type on it, and to all of us accustomed to tearing up sheaves of copy paper when we wanted to rewrite our newspaper leads, it was a godsend. Easier typing: What a concept!

But gradually I came to see that David understood what was before our eyes but what we could not envision: that the capacity to link information and to share it widely also was the capacity to learn what information individuals possess, what links individuals have, what communications individuals conduct. It is the capacity, in the language of a long-ago age, to look at people’s library cards, to ransack their garbage and to make guilt-by-association a federal crime. It is the capacity to give companies, governments and individual citizens the tools that J. Edgar Hoover sought — and the megaphone that Joseph R. McCarthy possessed.

There is no going back, of course. We cannot un-invent the computer, nor the cellphone, nor the capacious abilities we have to communicate — and to be surveilled. But we can be aware that we are living in a perilous age where our tools are also our minders and, sad to say, where our leaders see threats to our civil liberties in the narrowest possible way, when they should instead see those threats in our laptops, thumb drives and iPhones.

Text Only | Photo Reprints

Port Pics
AP Video
Ariz. Inmate Dies 2 Hours After Execution Began Crash Kills Teen Pilot Seeking World Record LeBron James Sends Apology Treat to Neighbors Raw: Funeral for Man Who Died in NYPD Custody Migrants Back in Honduras After US Deports Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme Former NTSB Official: FAA Ban 'prudent' EPA Gets Hip With Kardashian Tweet Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in the Netherlands Biden Decries Voting Restrictions in NAACP Talk Broncos Owner Steps Down Due to Alzheimer's US, UN Push Shuttle Diplomacy in Mideast Trump: DC Hotel Will Be Among World's Best Plane Crashes in Taiwan, Dozens Feared Dead Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails Raw: Mourners Gather As MH17 Bodies Transported Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament
Special Features