Privacy and the Government’s Dossier on You

The government’s spying apparatus has ratcheted up. This occurred earlier this year. New details are now emerging. If the government collects data on all Americans and trolls through it looking for crimes or potential crimes, and if you have not committed a crime, what’s wrong with that? The latter is the common argument that dismisses government spying. I said earlier that we are entering a Kafka-esque world. When I read The Castle and The Trial years ago, they made a deep impression upon me, as much or more than 1984 by Orwell. Kafka’s novels provide one perspective on what’s wrong with government spying on everyone. Privacy and liberty disappear simultaneously via this spying for the innocent as well as those who have committed crimes or contemplate doing so. How? Here’s a taste of what Kafka-esque means.

First, each person is “small” but faces a “large” government. That government is bureaucratic. The small person is against a faceless thing that he or she doesn’t know how to defend against. This bureaucracy can divert the person from one office and procedure to another endlessly. The frustration with this is enormous. The person loses the capacity to act freely and must contend and defend against charges and suspicions.

The bureaucracy is inscrutable and powerful. Its resources  dwarf each person’s. The purposes of this spy-bureaucratic machine are unknown to the individual. It is making decisions over lives but people are not privy to them and can’t affect them. The power relationship between you and government is altered drastically when the government creates a dossier on you. You are in the dark. You are helpless and powerless. You feel that way, and you are. You are placed on the defensive. You no longer can act freely. Your freedom and your privacy both vaporize. You become fearful of speaking to others and expressing yourself  because this is going into your dossier and may be used against you. Not knowing what the government is looking for or what it may concoct, your freedom is drastically inhibited. You weigh and measure every ordinary activity, every association, every contact with a foreigner, every contact with an ordinary American for fear that they may be under  suspicion and investigation and that you will be drawn into it by your association with them.

You may be called into an interrogation at any time for reasons unknown. You will have to face this alone or else hire expensive counsel. You do not even know what the potential charges might be. You are subject to incriminating yourself, even by innocent remarks. You become subject to searches and seizures. Strange men in dark suits show up to question you, your neighbors and people where you work. People around you pull away from you out of fear, thinking you must be guilty if they are investigating you.

Your enemies and people who dislike you or are antagonistic to you or want to drag you down, these people inform on you. They add to your dossier. You face unknown accusations by unknown people. The authorities begin to place “holds” on your activities. You find you cannot travel without their approval. You cannot do a bank or credit card transaction without the approval of some bureaucrat or without getting permission in some procedure. Doors close and you do not know why. In The Trial, the protagonist meets with his death at the conclusion. Two men slit his throat, as I recall, and he has no idea why.

The first sentence of Kafka’s great novel begins as follows: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had 
done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.”


7:47 am on December 15, 2012