June 17, 2013

"An extraordinary fuss about eavesdropping started in the spring of 1844..."

"... when Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian exile in London, became convinced that the British government was opening his mail. Mazzini, a revolutionary who’d been thrown in jail in Genoa, imprisoned in Savona, sentenced to death in absentia, and arrested in Paris, was plotting the unification of the kingdoms of Italy and the founding of an Italian republic. He suspected that, in London, he’d been the victim of what he called 'post-office espionage': he believed that the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, had ordered his mail to be opened, at the request of the Austrian Ambassador, who, like many people, feared what Mazzini hoped—that an insurrection in Italy would spark a series of revolutions across Europe. Mazzini knew how to find out: he put poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand into envelopes, sealed the envelopes with wax, and sent them, by post, to himself. When the letters arrived—still sealed—they contained no poppy seeds, no hair, and no grains of sand. Mazzini then had his friend Thomas Duncombe, a Member of Parliament, submit a petition to the House of Commons. Duncombe wanted to know if Graham really had ordered the opening of Mazzini’s mail. Was the British government in the business of prying into people’s private correspondence? Graham said the answer to that question was a secret."

So begins "The Prism: Privacy in an age of publicity," by Jill LePore at The New Yorker.

21 comments:

AllenS said...

Hey, Obama, if you're reading this, fuck off motherfucker.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I new a guy who joined the Merchant Marine right out of high school. One of his jobs was he had to clean the captain's cabin. The captain would hide salt tablets in various places to make sure there was no slacking.

My friend quit in short order and claimed that the last thing he did was crush all the salt tablets he'd saved and put them between the captain's bed sheets.

I didn't believe his story.

Mitchell the Bat said...

One of my jobs growing up was to use a shovel to clean up the dog dirt in the yard, a task I performed with little enthusiasm.

FATHER: Did you clean up the dog dirt?

ME: Yeah.

FATHER: If I find any dog dirt out there it's going in your bed.

ME: Aw, sheez. No fair. I'll do it again. Sheez.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Gnu.

Mogget said...

I am glad Mr. Obama wanted this debate. The urgent need for this debate is one of the few things we agree upon.

Darrell said...

The New Yorker knows that Obama is AWESOME!

The Drill SGT said...

At the Beginning of the 20th century there was a near revolt in the State Department, when it was proposed that the US should break the diplomatic codes of friendly powers. "Gentlemen do not read the mail of other Gentlemen"

There was a revolt by the cryptees when they were directed to break the Vatican codes. Until they did, and discovered a treasure trove of useful intel. Apparently even diplomats and spies told the Jesuits more than they should.

Before PRISM, one of the ways the US got around the NSA prohibition against spying on US citizens was to spy on Brits. In return the GCHQ in the UK, spied on Americans. Neither violated their respective laws...

edutcher said...

They opened Ben Franklin's mail, too.

Nonapod said...

"the defense of privacy follows, and never precedes, the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case for privacy always comes too late. The horse is out of the barn. Your photograph is on Facebook. Google already knows that, notwithstanding your demographic, you hate kale."

I don't deny that as a truism. However, to me that's not a justification for what our government has done. Just because the ability to do something exists in and of itself doesn't mean it shold be done.

At any rate, I'm not as concerned about the general privacy issues as I am about the issue of the potential abuse of power. I actually don't care that much if some random G-Man reads my emails or Facebook posts. I care much more about the threat of targeting of political enemies.

hawkeyedjb said...

"thrown in jail in Genoa, imprisoned in Savona, sentenced to death in absentia, and arrested in Paris"

I can't find absentia on the map

cf said...

Ironic.

I was just thinking yesterday that, all of a sudden, personal mail is more private that anything We do by cell phone or email. It is not part of the autopilot scoop-up.

If the post office were a private company instead of an arm of the out-of-control government, they could point that out, and maybe even drum up business.

Gallows humor.


traditionalguy said...

I remember it was Ben Franklin who was charged with publishing a British Lord's secret mail that had been intercepted in the Colonies.

Robert Cook said...

"At any rate, I'm not as concerned about the general privacy issues as I am about the issue of the potential abuse of power. I actually don't care that much if some random G-Man reads my emails or Facebook posts. I care much more about the threat of targeting of political enemies."

The plain truth is that if our government is watching all we do, reading all we write, listening to all our communications--which it is--we are all assumed to be political enemies of the state.

William said...

The banality of my life and political beliefs gives me some immunity from government prying. They will come for the government agents before they come for me.....Life. Is so much less stressful if you restrict paranoia to those enemies who are actively plotting to kill you, such as, for example, Al Queda.

William said...

There are members of our government who are actively plotting to put IRS agents in prison because of their political activities.

AllenS said...

Robert Cook said...
The plain truth is that if our government is watching all we do, reading all we write, listening to all our communications--which it is--we are all assumed to be political enemies of the state.

Hey, Obama, fuck you in your ear, motherfucker.

Robert Cook said...

"The banality of my life and political beliefs gives me some immunity from government prying. They will come for the government agents before they come for me.....Life. Is so much less stressful if you restrict paranoia to those enemies who are actively plotting to kill you, such as, for example, Al Queda."

You have no immunity from government prying...it's already happening and your online communications have been and are being sucked up in the digital dragnet along with everyone else's.

As for your being immune from oppression by your government, the banality of your life and political beliefs notwithstanding, you--and we all--are at greater peril from our own unchecked government than we are from Al Qaeda.

(I live in NYC and witnessed 9/11 firsthand, being only blocks away throughout, but I have not, even from that first day, ever felt the slightest fear for our nation at the hands of Al Qaeda. The very method they used to bring about their terrible crime reveals their poverty of means. They have neither the manpower or weaponry nor the access to our mainland* to pose any real danger to us.)

*(I abhor and refuse to use the term "homeland," which smacks too much of Naziism and their self-reverential term "fatherland.")

Rusty said...

William said...
There are members of our government who are actively plotting to put IRS agents in prison because of their political activities.

Good.

Carl said...

Well, this is how the Roman Empire died. Eventually people got sufficiently fed up with the arrogant Imperial prat asserting the latest holy imperial whim, and banded together under some local strong man to send the bureaucrat from the capital home tied to his horse, his imperial paraphrenalia jammed up his arse and his throat cut. The wrath of a people pushed too far can be frightening. F-5 tornados ain't in it.

Nichevo said...

funny, Robert, how the Russian "Rodina" or motherland probably never gives you a moment's uneasiness.

Nichevo said...

funny, Robert, how the Russian "Rodina" or motherland probably never gives you a moment's uneasiness.