On that day 16 years ago, I sat and cuddled my babies while I watched events unfold with horrified eyes. I’m older, now, I must be because the babies are grown tall and strong. One is off in college, the other is writing essays and exploring school options herself. The younger two weren’t even born yet. They know what happened, and yet they are not fully aware of how the ripples from the towers falling have impacted them, because they never got a chance to experience before and after.
Perhaps it’s better that way. To have been on the cusp of history, not to try and be a bridge between then and now. To only know that the TSA is a nuisance when flying, and not remember when it was much more relaxed. To not be aware that the advent of Homeland Security has led to ever-increasing erosions of personal liberty and privacy. For them this world is normal.
We joke, with friends, about the eyes watching us online. I have a friend who swears that her NSA watcher actually posts comments on her blog, which is simultaneously amusing and terrifying. I don’t think I’m worth them paying any attention to, but on the other hand that’s what bots and intelligent algorithms are for. But why me? Because with any bureaucracy, there’s going to be a shift in priorities. Jerry Pournelle, who we tragically lost just days ago, formulated his Iron Law about that years ago. Once you put a bureau in place – Homeland Security, the TSA, et al – they are going to fight to justify their existence. Do the threats that struck our nation sixteen years ago still exist? Yes, I’m sure they do. And we need to maintain vigilance against them, because they have struck again. It’s just that the attention to those incidents has been deflected by media reporting that those attacks weren’t terrorism. So in order to justify the watching, the watchers have to find more targets to look at. And that leads to the neverending dilemma: who watches the watchers?
Increasingly we worry over living in a surveillance state. Our lives are conducted online, from our banking to our most intimate details, which leads to vulnerabilities like the Equifax leak. Were they hacked? yep. Was the whole mess necessary? Probably not. But this is how we’re doing things, with credit checks and everyone’s information at the mercy of a big company. The SSN was never supposed to be what it’s used for. Not that it matters – we’re here, now. My kids think of this as normal. They don’t see the pitfalls inherent in the systems. Even I don’t always think about it – you can’t, or you’d get paranoid. Is it paranoia when the problems are real? Identity online is superior to identity in person, in some ways. If someone steals my identifying information through the Equifax breach, am I the real person, or is the scammer the real Cedar Sanderson? How do I prove to a monolithic company that no, it wasn’t me who requested that credit card/mortgage/car loan? Do we need to return to an era of doing business face to face? Am I a bot, or is he a bot? You can tell when you look me in the eyes I’m real.
We joke about the internet of things. I was explaining to my mother-in-law this weekend that the refrigerator she’s looking at buying can be controlled from her smart phone. She laughed that her phone was smarter than she was. I didn’t bring up hacking. Why? Why worry her with the thought that someone could possibly hack her fridge? She’s having enough trouble with the idea of using her phone as a mobile computing device, and frankly I’ll suggest she not hook the fridge up to an internet connection. You can’t hack it if it’s air-gapped.
We live in a new world. The old one fell with the towers, and we’re still digging out of the rubble of it. There’s no going back to how it was, there’s only going forward and making the best of what it is, now, here. Which is not to say that we should just be content where we are. vigilance, not only against the possibility of another attack, but against the overgrowth and overreach of the bureaus created to guard against that possibility. Cancer is the proliferation of self-cells into a tumor that diverts the body’s energy and resources into itself – that is a direct parallel to the world we find ourselves living in today.