Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Why Domestic Surveillance Matters

I'm near completion of Mao: The Unknown Story, which describes his incessant quest for power — not just for political control, but domination of every human being he encountered. Although he fell far short of his dream of leading the Communist bloc and eventually the world, Mao was very likely the most complete monster of the century that gave us Hitler and Stalin.

And given the size of the population under his control, there's a strong case he was the worst tyrant who ever lived.

He thoroughly and cynically betrayed family, subordinates, allies and supporters; sent his own troops to needless deaths, starved many millions, countenanced the torture and killing of many millions more; squandered his nation's culture and its resources; pretended to be a great military leader but was a terrible coward and incompetent tactician; pretended to be a humble revolutionary but lived a life of opulence, self-aggrandizement and licentiousness.

Nevertheless, he was a master manipulator and brilliant exploiter of human weakness. Because he possessed no scruples, he could take both sides of an issue or no side at all, whatever suited his immediate purpose.

After 600 pages of Mao, George W. Bush doesn't look so bad at all.

Still, it's worth referring back to an earlier post made before revelations surfaced about NSA surveillance of domestic calls. Mao understood that one key to controlling the population was dampening the ability to have private conversations or express private thoughts. His methods were crude and brutish, but they worked. He nearly succeeded in stamping out independent thought in the world's largest country.

Surveillance and data mining technologies may seem less intimidating than public indoctrination, interrogations, forced confessions, torture at mass rallies and ubiquitous informants. But the ability to mine our phone calls, keystrokes, emails and credit card transactions may ultimately be even more intrusive and powerful. In the hands of unscrupulous leaders who also control the courts, these tools become very real threats to freedom.

I don't believe the President and our government have any such designs in mind. But then, millions of Chinese once believed Mao was their liberator.


Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

For maybe more than you want to know about data mining and why getting warrants for it isn't practical, read this post by amygdala.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

Another related item I found after posting this and didn't want to go back and rework the post... It describes sociopaths and certainly applies to Mao I've been reading about. Of course, the author was talking about other folks.

7:14 PM  

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