Remember when the CIA was a dark, malevolent force lurking in the shadows of our lives, tapping our phones, reading our mail, and planting explosive devices in Castro's cigars? Well, they're baaaack. Only now it's the National Security Agency, and they're snooping into your e-mail, cell phone conversations, and Lord knows what else.
What we do know is fairly limited. According to an account in The New York Times, the spooks are heavily involved in data mining, combing through billions of electronic records, looking for patterns that might identify the behavior of terrorists.
We know that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing AT&T for allowing the spooks to tap into their datacenters and that the government is trying to quash the suit by claiming such information is a state secret -- which is about as far from a denial as you can get.
We also know Attorney General John Ashcroft, Acting Attorney General James Comey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller nearly resigned over domestic spying activities in 2004, forcing the Bush administration to change tactics.
And we know that Congress recently handed the spooks a virtual blank check for spying on conversations with foreign nationals, although they promise to revisit said blank check in six months.
And even if we did tell you what the agency is doing, we'd have to kill you -- and then flush all evidence of your existence down the memory hole.
“Until recently, we didn't have to worry much about the government spying on us,” says Larry Ponemon, director of the Ponemon Institute, a privacy management consultancy. “Now somebody decides that you're a terror threat or they don't like you for some reason, and you can't get on a plane. It may not necessarily happen to you, but it could happen to someone you know.”
Bottom line: Keep your nose clean and watch the plainclothes.