I can tell you the exact date I knew I was being spied upon. It was six weeks after 9/11: Oct. 26, 2001. That was the day President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act. Ever since then, I just have sort of been working under the assumption that every electronic move I make has been classified and potentially experienced by someone else.
This suspicion was confirmed last month by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed the details of the PRISM and Tempora surveillance programs. “The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA datamining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks,” reported Glenn Greenwald on June 11. “The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March.”
There is an upside to this. Gangsters in music and movies have been warning us about the dangers of government officials monitoring communications for years. “They got my faulty tapped, but the po-pos hate it, ’cause I be talkin’ in code, street slang, so they can’t interpretate it,” one of my favorite rappers, E-40, once said.
Through these artists’ work we now have a blueprint of how to behave in this scrutinized existence. “Paulie hated phones,” says narrator Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in the 1990 classic gangster film “Goodfellas.” “He wouldn’t have one in his house. He used to get all his calls secondhand, then you’d have to call the people back from an outside phone. There were guys, that’s all they did all day long was take care of Paulie’s phone calls. For a guy who moved all day long, Paulie didn’t talk to six people.”