It's been one hell of a week in national security and personal insecurity. Here are some of the highlights.
• Late last week, the House narrowly defeated legislation that would have defunded the NSA's domestic data collection. The 205-to-217 vote was the closest thing we've seen to actual bipartisanship since Congress approved all of this spy stuff following 9/11.
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• The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald released news of yet another, even more sinister and comprehensive, NSA spying program. Called XKeyscore, it "allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals," per Greenwald.
• The Senate Judiciary Committee publicly spanked the spooks for spying on innocent Americans and threatened to send NSA Deputy Director John C. Inglis to bed without his dinner. Now even the NSA's staunchest defenders in Congress are starting to do DC's oldest dance: the backpedal two-step.
• Ed Snowden was finally allowed to leave the Moscow airport and received a year's asylum in the land of ballet and borscht. My recommendation to the Snowman: Keep your head low and your lips sealed. Journalists and whistleblowers have a funny way of disappearing in Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Predictive search, unforeseen consequences
Still, all of that pales to what happened yesterday -- or at least, what we thought happened yesterday. Freelance journalist Michele Catalano published a piece in Medium about a visit her husband received from members of a joint terrorism task force at their home on Wednesday. Six plainclothes officers with badges and guns pulled up in black SUVs at their home in East Meadow, N.Y., and proceeded to search their house and ask detailed questions about their Google habits. She wrote:
They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son's bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.
Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked....
Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren't curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.