Now that Edward Snowden is out of the limbo of the Moscow airport transit zone, he's free to unveil his latest exposè: Living in an airport is nothing like that Tom Hanks movie.
OK, not really. But we did learn about a program called XKeyscore, which supposedly has the technological capability of searching everyone's emails, chats and web browsing histories.
I want one.
But it's still scary. Last week, we learned about a Suffolk County, N.Y. couple who were visited by law enforcement because they searched online for, among other things, "pressure cooker" and "backpack." (Think "Boston bombers.") There were apparently other flags from the husband's work searches. Still, knowing that randomly Googling "best all-purpose firearm," "bulk-rate ammunition" and "when is Las Vegas most crowded" one evening could land me at the wrong end of an interrogation hardly bolsters my faith in civil liberties.
Of course, this column will be published online with my name and my Very Serious face attached, and I'll promote it on social media - so even talking about my fictional Google search is bound to alert someone, somewhere.
As long as I'm on the hook, let's have some fun.
See, to filter the approximately eleventy-billion pieces of online information generated every six hours or so, the NSA or Homeland Security has to have some screening mechanism. There's a list of supposed keywords that's been circulating, and while there's legitimate criticism that it's a fake list made up to satisfy a court order to release the list, it still gives us a starting point on how to get noticed by the anti-terrorism complex.
For instance, let's talk about living at an airport. I've never had the pleasure of visiting Moscow, but the Austin, Texas, airport would be a good place to be stuck in customs. There are tacos and barbecue and Tex-Mex. It's the bomb! Your taste buds will explode at the airport!
Then again, airports are very confining. I'd rather take a road trip. Here's a description of my road trip - the asterisks indicate DHS keywords that allegedly would get my online activity flagged.
I'd start in Tijuana*, then cross the border* to San Diego* and head east - at least, as long as I didn't get food poisoning* or an infection* from drinking the water. I'd want to hit places I haven't been before along the way: Tucson*, Nogales*, El Paso*, maybe even Ciudad Juarez*. Perhaps I'd find places to buy and eat home-grown* produce. Then, at the end, I'd fly home on Southwest* Airlines and post photos from my trip on social media*.
Pretty ridiculous, wouldn't you say?
Snowden doesn't deserve the "whistle-blower hero" plaudits that have been heaped upon him, given that he deliberately set out to get this information and then fled to China and Russia with it. He did do something useful, though. He started a conversation about privacy versus government's legitimate investigative interests, and he forced the government to review and publicize the safeguards it uses to keep its powerful search tools in check. That's always a good thing when you've got a power security apparatus, even if the guy helping to do it is in it for all the wrong reasons.
And now that this is published, I guess we'll see how much of a threat the government thinks I am. The smart money's on "as scary as an old brown shoe," but if I don't show up for work Monday, please - someone - check to see if I need a good lawyer.