Rules For Living In The Total Surveillance State

Snowden says, I and I agree, that we have a short window of time to dismantle the government’s surveillance machine. If we wait too long it’ll be too late, and nothing the people of the world can do will be able to stop it.

But let’s say it’s already too late, and some of us make the decision to just live with it (I say this only partly tongue-in-cheek).

We don’t fret over the government knowing everything about us by collecting our online activities from willing corporate partners. We just live and enjoy our life, and try to avoid doing anything that might catch the attention of our government.

Like Robert Scoble, we simply revel in being surveilled. Hey, at least we know someone’s paying attention.

We just fade into the masses, so to speak. Don’t even think about things that might get you in trouble.

It’s not totally impossible. I visited the Soviet Union in 1980 with my parents, and there was some joy in that country. People find a way to survive.

But my biggest problem with all this is we don’t get a rule book, and the rules will constantly change. The Russians had it easy, all they had to do was support a single political party, without fail and for their entire lives.

We don’t have it nearly so easy.

We know that under this administration we shouldn’t associate with the Tea Party, oppose abortion, join the NRA, or make donations to the President’s political opponents.

That’s pretty clear. I can live with that.

But what if a republican gets into office next? The rules will change. People getting abortions may be targeted next. Or who support “common sense” restrictions to the Second Amendment. Or who donate to that president’s political opponents.

Sure, we can probably see some of that coming and change our positions on key issues deemed important by the new government. We’re not stupid, after all! We can see the writing on the wall and change our core beliefs right as the new administration takes power.

But we won’t be able to go back and change our history. They’ll see that a decade ago we donated to Planned Parenthood and voted for President Obama. Suddenly, going out and buying a gun or two won’t be enough. The new government will know we’re not true believers in the cause. We’re secret left wing or right wing extremists, and guilty of a new crime – engaging in personal behavior designed to fool the surveillance state.

Yes, I can easily see a future law that prohibits us from engaging in behavior that is designed to trip up the surveillance machine.

Knowing this, we know that we need to start being careful today in order to ensure our ability to live tomorrow.

That means the only rule to living in our particular kind of surveillance state (where the machine is permanent, but the targets swing wildly over time with the whims of democracy) is this – be completely apathetic. Support nothing and condemn nothing.

Do nothing to draw attention to yourself. Think carefully about every email, phone call, Facebook like and Twitter favorite and make damn sure that doesn’t conflict with our government’s goals either today or tomorrow.

And in the meantime, support the only political party that really matters, the NSA. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook now. It might get you a little lenience later on when they’re tracking you for buying that Prius.

The NSA is good. The NSA protects us. The NSA knows what’s best. They’re here, and they’re here to help.

25 thoughts on “Rules For Living In The Total Surveillance State

  1. J. Peterson says:

    I wonder if this will bring back some of the personal encryption technologies that started to appear in the ’90s for email, etc. I could see apps for doing encrypted Facebook posts or Tweets using public key technology. Some of the methods I use for email now incl**NSA REDACTED**

  2. Douglas says:

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.

    [T.S. Eliot]

    Maybe not the world but this country. All political parties should adhere to this rule:

    Never grant a power to your own that you would not want your opponents to have.

  3. And that’s before the Chinese or the terrorists or the telemarketeers hack into the NSA database and start using it.

  4. A german with brain says:

    Terrorists succeeded in taking your freedom.
    With the help of your government.

  5. Anonomous Coward says:

    When Westinghouse makes a nuclear reactor for the U.S. Navy, they use designs that are the safest reactors in the world. When they build a reactor for a power company, they are not allowed to use those safe designs. The Public has less value to our government than our Sailors.

    Similarly, the NSA will never be hacked. And the superior techniques they’ve developed for digital security will never be allowed into the commercial market – otherwise, the NSA would not be able to hack _us_. They’re probably more secure than the military, and they’re probably hacking the military, too. Can’t be too careful when it comes to who might be a threat, you know.

    • lyesmith says:

      The NSA is exactly as secure as the mental state of its employees. It is people human beings working for the NSA who has access to your data. One goes crackpot, greedy or being pressured by foreign agency or criminal organization and your data is out.

  6. Brett Stubbs says:

    “That’s pretty clear. I can live with that”…

    Unfortunately, you described a significant portion of the population. Both sides will use it to smear people. Many commenters are using the point similar to Schimdt, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear”. But as Snowden puts it: “You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody — even by a wrong call — and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision decision you’ve even made…to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer”.

    “Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.” — Cardinal Richelieu (1585 – 1642)

  7. Kirk Eisele says:

    You know what is really sad? I actually hesitated a moment before choosing to like this article. It is sadly likely I’ll be on a list somewhere, at some point, as a result of a search query seeking people who ever expressed sensitivity to a lack of digital privacy because of this comment.

    • CppThis says:

      I’m already on a list, specifically the “you can fly but only after we scan your driver’s license and phone HQ” list. Just one of many that our federal overlords probably aren’t supposed to have but do anyway because rules for thee but not for me. But I can’t like this article because I don’t use social networks. That’s the real rule for living in the total surveillance state: don’t dump your stuff in the river and act like there’s nobody downstream.

  8. Andrew Hoag says:

    It’s interesting if not ironic that this is happening simultaneously with the debate in Europe about their Privacy laws. The “right to be forgotten” is something the US Internet companies are trying to water down and/or remove, yet is the crucial piece you allude to here.

    • CppThis says:

      Except ‘the right to be forgottten’ doesn’t work, because it assumes that the government and tech companies play by the rules which they never do. Once that data is out there it *cannot* be rowed back.

      The real scandal is that everyone put so much trust in a system that anyone can easily siphon from.

  9. Eventually, we will all surrender.

  10. BB says:

    I started a new identity for all my Facebook comments to pages. Commenting on Facebook pages is the worst public exposure you can get. I also sometimes use a VPN account (, especially when I want to access blocked TV content. But I guess it can be used for privacy issues as well. VPN traffic is said to be encrypted and the encryption key I think changes fast enough to avoid decryption. Have a separate browser opened, with no account logged in (like google, facebook, etc), in icognito mode and with VPN on for all web surfing. This will not protect your personal gmail as they seem to be handing the data directly to the government, but there must be some other email providers in other jurisdictions. Or maybe we need a service with bitcoin-like security, that everyone can join and that has a way of scrambling traffic.

  11. lyesmith says:

    Lets not forget that it is not just about the data of US citizens. But everybody who using those services. And those people are not protected by US laws.

    Also not forget that those data sits in distributed data centers all over the world. Those are owned not by US companies but local daughter companies. Why shouldn’t other countries require the same amount of access that US does?

  12. Jorge Williams says:

    I’m fucked.

  13. McBeese says:

    Consider a different perspective: A large part of my ‘freedom’ consists of my ability to fly in a plane or sit in a cafe without worrying about a bomb going off, and I want to keep it that way. The freedom to enjoy life is more important to me (and I suspect most, if they think about it) than worrying about our government security agencies tracking my Facebook posts. As Bill Maher said, “We live in an age of nukes.” I for one am glad to hear that the NSA is proactive. Reactive is not good enough.

  14. Benjamin Franklin says:

    «Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.»

    • Mcbeese says:

      Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that quote from Uncle Ben. Respectfully, I happen to disagree that any liberty is being given up or lost. I can choose to be more selective in my use of Internet services for personal use if it makes me feel better, or I can protect my anonymity using tactics like like prepaid unregistered phones, anonymous twitter accounts, etc., but honestly, for now, I don’t see that it’s worth the effort.

      • The problem is that we’re being stripped of Actual Liberty, in exchange for the Potential for Safety. For the Implied Promise of being safe. Even if we were asked beforehand, not a fair trade in my book.

  15. In 1984, the book, Winston Smith tries to imagine writing down thoughts against Big Brother. I remember being afraid of my employer reading my blog back in 2003 because people could get fired for blogging back then. So you had to be careful what you said, and about using your full name. Now if we are ever a target for whatever reason, “they” can do some digging in your private data. So like a game of wack a mole, just don’t stick your head up too high. Stay in line and shut up.

  16. Pritam Patil says:

    Really a nice article to read..I’ve never been in the state of surveillance but reading your article I think I’ll love to live in one.Thank you sir

  17. Guillaume says:

    I’ve read your coverage of this NSA-gate over the weeks. It is brilliant and inspired, although this issue has been brewing for years (Echelon anyone?)

    You should check my friend Nicolas over at who has been publishing encryption solutions since 1999. I’m afraid encrypting our emails is the only thing we can do right here right now to start regaining some freedom.

    Please continue to be that virulent advocate asking for the truth.

  18. Hi Mike

    I’ve read your posts about the NSA-gate over the last coupke of weeks. Spot on as always. Although this issue has been brewing for years (natural evolution of Echelon).

    You should check my friend Nicolas at He has been developing email encryption solutions since 1999. I’d guess that’s the best way to communicate privately and freely for now.

    All the best and keep pushing to uncover more truths!

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