Do you feel watched?

Last Call

We asked somebody much more qualified than myself that very question. Edward Jay Epstein is an investigative journalist and former political science professor at Harvard. He wrote 15 fascinating books starting with “Inquest. The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth” in 1966 all the way to his latest work, “The JFK Assassination Diary: My Search for Answers to the Mystery of the Century” (2013).

Here is his answer:

Here is my view on the surveillance state.

EpsteinI agree with you that we are living under an extraordinarily dangerous surveillance regime. If Orwell had described in his book “1984” (published in 1948) a universe in which everyone carried a device that tracked their location every 3 seconds, it would have seemed outlandish even by the standards of science fiction. Yet, today people not only voluntarily carry such a device, and which not only tracks their location but communication activities, but they pay about $80 a month for the privilege.

What might be even more shocking to Orwell is that a large part of the surveillance regime proceeds from the election of individuals to participate in it for a very trivial reason – convenience. The two billion plus users of smart phones could turn off the GPS on most phones. They uncheck the waiver of consent to being tracked. They could remove the batteries (except on iPhone) when not in use.

Less than a fraction of one percent opts out of surveillance. So they accept being tracked every three seconds in return for finding a nearby movie, friend or pizza. Or consider the 450 million users of Gmail — the largest web-based email. All of them check their consent to having their emails read by Google

. In return they get free archiving of their personal correspondence, photographs and documents. Or the billion users of Facebook. Almost all voluntarily abnegate their privacy by allowing their activities, affiliations, “likes,” and list of friends to be tracked, analyzed, sold and archived.

All this data is routinely available to local and federal law enforcement agencies via subpoena or search warrant in a criminal investigation (as I learned when I obtained Dominique Strauss Kahn’s phone records from the Manhattan DA’s office). So are credit card records, EZ pass toll records, etc.

So here is the ineluctable situation. In a decade in which a large part of the population has elected to allow their personal information to be archived by a handful of so-called social media companies, telecommunications providers, and Google, knowing that all this data is available to others, including law enforcement agencies, it is all but impossible to prevent the ultimate social media, governments from obtaining this data, either by legal means, such as robo-warrants, or, as is done in China, by back door vacuum cleaning.

So what does it say about the digital generation that after it has been revealed by Snowden that the NSA archives their data, and it has both presidential and congressional authority to continue to do, that they don’t drop out of Facebook, close their Twitter account, cancel Gmail, turn off their GPS, and get rid of the electronic bracelet called smart phones? One answer I suggest is that protecting their privacy is not a higher priority for them than convenience.

— Edward Jay Epstein

Please e-mail with your comments or post your comments on my blog at
Where you aware of how much of your privacy you have given up? Do you care? Does it matter and what do you see being the consequences being for the generations to come?