This ‘hangup’ really ‘bugs’ me

June 15, 2013

As I understand it, they can’t listen to all of the people all the time. On the other hand, they may be listening to some of the people some of the time.

By the way, don’t “they” work for us? Just checking. It’s hard to tell, these days.

The snooping strategy worked quite well for the three killed and more than 260 injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, didn’t it? The two explosions occurred despite the fact that authorities reportedly were tipped off beforehand that the Tsarnaev brothers might have been a threat.

Some ask, why worry about conversations being recorded if you have nothing to hide? That’s not the issue. The real question is this: Should our government representatives and agencies follow established legal guidelines using probable cause and warrants issued only for specific cases? Or should we throw the law out the window because an individual or group randomly decides to ignore it? More recently, I’ve heard well educated people who can’t agree whether these tactics are allowed under the Patriot Act.

I could almost agree to allowing my conversations to be recorded, if not for two things. First, I’d be afraid that the people hired to sort through the billions of emails and phone calls might be former fast-food restaurant drive-through attendants. You know, the ones who get what you say right about once in every 10 orders even if you repeat the order twice.


Second, with my pathetic cell phone service the person I’m talking to can barely understand half of what I’m saying. I can only imagine how much worse it would be for someone half asleep in a warehouse in the Nevada desert.

The opportunity for misunderstanding seems to be immense. Innocent comments could become red flags.

A friend of mine is a major fan of the Baltimore Orioles, and has an extremely low opinion of the always-tough division rival New York Yankees. I can’t count the times he’s told me over the phone how much he hates the Yankees. You’d think he wanted them dead. Now, imagine a 22-year-old computer nerd who has never watched a baseball game in his life hearing that a group from Baltimore is headed to New York – and the caller clearly hopes they slaughter the Yankees mercilessly.

Seriously, what might be referred to as the “mining” of key words and phrases will actually be done via computer technology. Facebook and other sites use similar technology – quite annoyingly – in order to target users for specific ads.

An interesting article written by Alex Fitzpatrick, published online ( last July, warned that social media site Facebook was using scanning software to monitor chats “for words or phrases that signal something might be amiss.” He also noted, “If the scanning software flags a suspicious chat exchange, it notifies Facebook security employees, who can then determine if police should be notified.”

Fitzpatrick added, “The software pays more attention to chats between users who don’t already have a well-established connection on the site and whose profile data indicate something may be wrong, such as a wide age gap.”


In keeping with my sports theme: A 60-year-old man chatting on Facebook for the first time with his 9-year-old grandson should avoid telling him that he hopes his Warriors massacre the Patriots this Saturday. And the grandson should definitely avoid posting the reply, “Yeah, we’re gonna kill ’em all.”

One more thing about the issue of recording and storing our conversations and emails. Why shouldn’t taxpaying private citizens also have access to them, based on the Freedom of Information Act? Wouldn’t you love to find out what your friends and favorite enemies are saying about you?

And how about having access to what our politicians are plotting behind the scenes? That might actually be a fair trade-off, as long as they feel the need to ignore their boundaries with no hint of a conscience.

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