Big Brother just posted a selfie

By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 09, 2014

I have an idea for a new sitcom. It will be one of these workplace comedies about the NSA operatives who are listening in to all of our phone calls and reading our personal emails.

In fact, they are watching me write this in real time, right now, and can probably see my face as I bite my lip and think via the little camera eye at the top of my laptop. They just watched me take a sip of Pepsi.

In this comedy, there will be the usual stuff: the office romance, the Monday morning grousing by the break room coffee machine. One of the guys has been monitoring two teenage girls texting each other for the past six months, and he has gotten way too involved in their teen drama.

"Oh no he didn't!" he might holler into his headset, staring at the monitor, his hair mussed, his eyes hollowed out with dark bags underneath. "He was supposed to take Marcy to the prom! That dog!" Cue the laugh track.

I'm picturing something like "The Lives of Others" (the story of an East Berlin secret police officer listening in to political dissidents), but lighter in tone.

This is my thought process after reading in Time about Edward Snowden, who was almost person of the year. (Don't feel bad, Ed. Pope Francis is a rock star!).

Snowden, all of 30 years old, was a contractor for the National Security Agency, who apparently didn't want any part of the rest of his life to be free of complications, so he stole a bunch of information from the agency, ran off to foreign lands and started leaking intel to press around the world. What we learned was probably what most of us suspected to be the case anyway, that the U.S. government is carrying out a massive program of surveillance around the world, spying on the phone calls and Internet transactions of its own citizens and even high-ranking foreign dignitaries. Also, we learned that maybe NSA should ask a few more questions when interviewing potential contractors. Get the HR folks from MBNA; they were like inquisitors.

The government even has people playing online video games like World of Warcraft to make sure we're behaving in these games. Best. Job. Ever!

The ensuing moral outrage highlights the sort of multiple-personality disorder that has taken hold of us as a civilization.

"How dare the U.S. government spy on me in my personal life!" says the average American, before posting a scandalous selfie on Facebook and going into intimate detail about their ex under the status update.

I have seen educated professional people I work with post "I will cut you!" to others on their Facebook page for all to see.

We live in an era of accountability for our behaviors and the things we say. People experience harsh consequences for some of the things they post online.

Yet this doesn't seem to stop politicians from taking naked pictures of themselves and employees from dancing in YouTube videos to say "I quit!" rather than turning in professional resignation letters. It doesn't stop the mayor of Toronto from smoking crack! We are of two minds.

Americans especially all seem to want to be famous. They do weird things now, like taking pictures of their food and posting them online. Why do you take pictures of your food?

But the government is supposed to turn away, not look, not invade our "privacy."

And I'm of two minds as well. Part of me takes comfort in the idea that I'm not the guy the government is looking for. However, there is a vast difference between me choosing to publish a picture of my omelet (again, I don't know why I would) and the government deciding to make a note in its databank of all of the people I associate with. As a journalist, maybe I am going to be seen as unsavory at some point in the future, and my associates guilty for knowing me.

So maybe Snowden's a hero.

Of course, every time a bomb goes off somewhere, killing innocents, we all turn to the government and say, "Why didn't you stop this from happening? Who was asleep at the switch?"

Can we have it both ways?

I've been watching this show called "The Fall" in which Gillian Anderson plays a detective tracking a serial killer in Belfast, Ireland (not to be confused with the town just up the road). She says in one scene that the killer has the advantage because he works in shadows while the police operate in the harsh light of the media. This probably describes how some of the people tasked with keeping us safe and secure feel.

I think there is probably a sweet spot between letting our guard down completely, giving in to the notion that no one wants to hurt us, and monitoring/suspecting every citizen without probable cause. Our Constitution does a pretty good job of showing where those lines should be drawn and we need only to follow it.

It is 2014, and the prophets of the last century turned out to be right about a great many things. Big Brother is watching indeed, and we trust him about as much as he trusts us.

On a lighter note...

We have been watching a lot of "Doctor Who" at my house, and although it's a family friendly show, some of the images are kind of scary for my 8-year-old daughter Samantha.

So the other night, Samantha was calling to me from her bedroom, scared.

When I came in, she was lying there with a stuffed mouse (from the book "If You Take A Mouse to the Movies), a stuffed cat, and two stuffed dogs.

I said, "How can you be scared? You have all of your friends here with you."

She said, "But Dad, they're not fighters."

I assured her it was OK. After all, NSA was watching us the whole time.

Daniel Dunkle is News Director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. He can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.

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