‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (and the NSA Was Watching)

Although I don’t particularly agree with the views of this poem, I thought the ability of the writer to convey an important message through poetry was especially powerful. Surveillance is something that has intrigued me for some time now, as I have aspirations of one day becoming a police officer, and I feel as though I’m sort of riding the fence on how to feel about privacy, surveillance, and inalienable rights. I believe that we should be subject to surveillance, for the protection of the people, but I feel like there are still some privacies that we should be granted. The NSA and metadata, however, is interesting because it brings up the idea of public and private spheres of life. I think what needs to be discussed, instead of complaining about being under surveillance, is the definition of privacy.

Here’s an excerpt from Benjamin van Loon’s piece on privacy and the NSA:

“What if we consider, for a moment, that the things to which we’re entitled to hold private are in fact only nominally private? Take phone call metadata, for instance. When the phone was an emergent technology in the early 20thcentury, it created the possibility of long-distance communication that — by virtue of the mechanisms of the technology at the time — required the use of a human mediator, or operator, on public lines (see “Speaking into the Air” by John Durham Peters). As the technology evolved and was continually altered by the relevant social groups of private commercial industry and public policy, phone conversations became increasingly private — though party lines were a common telephone subscription option until the 1950s. During and since that time, telephone companies have set the standards of privacy for telephone calls (and now, cell/mobile calling), but the point remains that privacy emerged as a convenience for telephone usage and was later why party lines were outmoded altogether. Privacy was not an a priori right for telephone usage. Instead, privacy is nominally assured, though we take this assurance for granted and thus get upset when this nominal assurance caves at the slightest breeze.”


Of course we have a right to privacy, but what should be discussed now with the progression through the information age is what information private and what information is public. Since phone info was (and essentially always has been) public, what does that say about the NSA tracking that data?



Twas the night before Christmas, and all thro’ the house

The only sound to be heard, was the click of a mouse;

The family used their digital devices with little care,

In hopes that their wants just might be satisfied there;

The children they played on their smart phones in beds,

While visions from their apps danced in their heads,

From personal computers, to tablets, there was no cap,

All were settled in for a technologically wrought nap –

But within every device there arose a silent clatter,

Yet none in the sleepy house knew what was the matter.

But whether on Apple or Windows, with every app flash,

Every detail was logged, bound tightly as if with a sash.

There had been that wise lad – named den after snow,

Who had tried to give warning of what happens below

The surface of the devices – if pulled back…

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