Eavesdropping

Lance and I spent the afternoon at the cafe at Barnes and Noble working on stuff. At the table next to us was an Asian gentleman. Eventually we got into a conversation, and he told us he is writing a children's book. He is also teaching languages at the university.

Lance eventually asked him how he liked it here, and he said, well, he used to like it, but he doesn't feel welcome any more. One reason: He has pretty solid evidence that his emails have been monitored for the past several months. Who or whatever was monitoring the emails was marking them "read" before he even opened them. What's more, the emails started to arrive sorted by country of origin, something he can't do on his own computer. He has many friends in the mideast, and those emails were segregated out.

He was amazed at the crudeness of the survelliance. He didn't think it was possible--until word came out three weeks ago that emails to other countries were being watched by the NSA and FBI.

I know that many people take great comfort in knowing that our goverrment is watchen them ferriners. "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," is their favorite argument. "If they don't like it, they can leave," shout the comfortably native-born white Rushheads, who probably will never have an original thought worth monitoring anyway.

I don't want any government agency monitoring my email. Period. Are we so spooked by the possibility of terrorist attack that we are willing to give up our freedom of speech? Will this be our permanent state?

It is so easy to advocate eavesdropping when it doesn't affect you. It is so easy to say, well, tough--they can leave. But put yourself in the shoes of the millions of people in this country who might have friends in the mideast, or anywhere else overseas--many of these people are being permanently disillusioned about this country which talks about freedom but, when whipped up into a paranoid frenzy, seems to throw it away so quickly in the name of security.

A couple of years ago, I met a Spanish citizen here in Tucson. He was dark-skinned, but was Jewish. Even so, FBI agents knocked on his door the day after he had checked out three books on Afghan languages at the University library. (In case you aren't aware, the FBI is free to find out from University libraries who is checking out what.) He was asked why he was so interested in Afghan languages. The agents weren't particularly nice to him.

That man was also a student of languages. He is a musician as well, an assistant conductor for several opera companies throughout the country. The FBI agents made it clear that they knew where he had been for the past several months. Even though he was doing nothing more than conducting opera, they felt he was suspicious.

So we're safe from Jewish conductors.

When I have related this story to some people I know, they have been utterly blank--wondering, I think, why in the world I would object to the FBI monitoring some Spaniard? And, really, if a person has such bizarre interests, shouldn't we keep track of them anyway?

The monitoring, snooping and intimidation itself doesn't bother me so much as people's indifference to it. As the gentleman we spoke to today said, "The people must approve of it or it wouldn't happen."