We now know - due to some intrepid leakers - that Big Brother is watching just about everything that can be electronically monitored. It is commonly accepted that this watching is a result of the Patriot Act. But there is something that predates the Patriot Act that is the real enabler - Secret courts.

One of the National Security Agency’s key talking points since the PRISM program was revealed two weeks ago has been that its surveillance activities are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

OK. They are monitoring "foreigners" and at least it has some limited relationship to our judicial system. But what if our spy agencies are living up to the letter of the law but not the spirit by letting other countries spy on Americans and then accepting the results? Such sharing may already be in progress.

Lawyerly official denials of such machinations fail to reassure because of the third worry: that governments acting outside public scrutiny are not to be trusted. James Clapper, America’s director of national intelligence, told Congress in March that the NSA does not gather data on “millions of Americans”. He now says he answered in “the least untruthful manner” possible.

If only we could get such honesty from all our government officials. Oh. Wait. We do. On a continuing basis. There is a special metric invented for measuring government communications. It is the signal to lies ratio. It has been an especially bad couple of months for signal. We have learned a bit about how deep the lies go. It happens. Fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be.

How did we get here? It all started with Ultra and Magic in World War Two. Computers and code breakers. Bletchley Park and Langley, VA. What happened in the interim is that Internet came along (I was a late adopter - Dec of 1995 - there were already 20 million users) and people started communicating electronically. So there was safety in volume. Except that the surveillance was automated. Which you can do if you have enough computing power and a big enough pipe for the data. No one's privacy is safe. I assume I'm being monitored at all times. No matter what our government says. And it is not just government you have to worry about. Especially with this type of equipment available to all comers at reasonable prices. It may be that 1984 is inherent in computers and human nature.

Thanks to Jeff Condon for bringing this topic to my attention.

M. Simon's e-mail can be found on the sidebar at Space-Time Productions.

Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.