Thursday, September 30, 2010

Going Dark on Facebook

I’m so glad “friend” has become an active word.
Facebook has taken that stalwart noun and made it an action verb. It can be conjugated. It has a present and past tense. He friended me. What a nice notion.

I’ve had the lovely experience in recent weeks of former students friending me. It’s so very sweet when they have the momentary thought of my being “the bomb” of a principal and choosing to find me online to tell me so. In that moment, they friend me, and I confirm their friendship. We usually exchange pleasantries:

“How’s it goin’, Mrs. Plath? How do u like your retirement? I’m going 2 DVC and it’s cool so far.”

“Great Brandon! So nice to hear from you! I know you’ll be successful!”

In the next moment, they forget that as their friend, I can now observe their online activities and overhear their conversations. I keep their lapses of memory in mind when they post a video of themselves and their friends circled around a buddy who’s hunkered down in a cardboard box with only his feet protruding. We all watch and laugh as he totters around, ultimately breaking through the circle and becoming a curiosity among the crowd outside AT&T Park. I try not to be too judgmental.

But now all our government secret agencies want to access to our email and social network pages. Actually, if a warrant is issued, they already have the authority to read our email and listen in on our Skype conversations, look at pictures of our grandbabies, and hear of our son’s job interviews. They call it “going dark.” They have the authority, just not the ability in this age of peer-to-peer communication without central hubs, and third party encryption.

Now they want insurance from the service providers that they actually can tune in when they want to. If approved, new legislation will mandate that service providers make all our stuff intercept-able / snoop-able.

It is the nexus of national security, right to privacy, and technical innovation.

We've been saying for a while; don't post it if you don't want the world to know about it. Now, not only can all your friends, dear and forgotten, observe your foibles, the government also will be free to misinterpret your words and meddle in your business!

A great big throwback to the sixties part of me says, “Keep 'em out of my facebook!” Then what comes to mind is that they don’t want in my facebook. Not really. Like most, my facebook page is about as intriguing as home movies have ever been, regardless of our awesome trip to Yellowstone. And honestly, I’m glad they’re huddled up in basements with headphones, looking out for me and foiling the bad guys.

But fair warning, if they decide to check me out on a slow news day, it might quickly become a slow snooze day. Just the idea of someone peeping, though, still gives me the creeps!

Then I think, it hasn't been that long ago since teenagers all over the country were talking about "the bomb." The Homecoming Dance was "the bomb." Their parents are "the bomb" (if they gave the kid what he wanted.) How many untamed geese would an agent have to corral before he realized the kid wasn't really talking about capital T, capital B, The Bomb, but rather ephemeral adolescent ecstasy? You feel me? (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

And what about “Muslim”? That might be a word that would catch an agent’s attention. I have former students who are Muslim, and they’re my friends on facebook. Two of them have moved back to their native Egypt with their family. One of them, now a university student, posts all the time.

I don’t usually respond to her updates since she’s a teenager still and I’m a grown woman. But she caught my attention recently when the would-be Quran burner was big news.

Reacting as a teenager might, and probably having forgotten I am part of her audience, she said the only thing Americans need to burn is fat. Hahaha.

I felt compelled to speak up and remind her that that nut did not represent America. That’s what a friend would do, help put things in perspective.

But, suddenly, it doesn’t seem so far fetched that a CIA agent, hunched over a screen in a dark room, scanning for trigger words, might have his attention piqued, as well. He might recognize our exchange for what it was, proud principal and passionate young student feeling their way through an emotional issue.

Or, would he flag her, and me, and tune in again regularly? He has to be discerning, doesn’t he?

If I knew he was there, I’d friend him, and ask.