Memo to the NSA: You Have One of 725 Domestic Steve Robinsons Spooked
FlaglerLive | June 14, 2013
Internal NSA documents claim the top secret data-mining program gives the US government access to a vast quantity of emails, chat logs and other data directly from the servers of nine internet companies. These include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Apple. The companies mentioned have all denied knowledge of or participation in the program. (The Guardian)
I can’t sleep. I toss. I turn. Could someone at the National Security Agency be reading my Yahoo emails? Worse, could a high-school dropout from Booz Allen Hamilton be sifting through my private, online conversations?
I lie awake, my mind racing, trying to recall words I’ve typed and sent to friends, relatives and the odd business acquaintance. I bolt upright and turn on the light: The bourbon emails! What will they make of those? Perfectly innocent of course, but could someone at the NSA think otherwise? My friend Jack was out of town, and asked me to enter ABC Fine Wine & Spirits’ bourbon sweepstakes for him. A couple of weeks later I was notified—by email!—that I had won the right to purchase an expensive bottle of rye bourbon at a reduced price.
I sent Jack a celebratory email: “The bourbon is in the mail.” How suspicious does that sound? Now I am sweating. What other word starts with the letters b-o? There is even a message from the mysterious “ABC”: “The store should call you to let you know that the order has arrived and is available for pickup.” Cryptic, yes, but I try to calm myself down. Surely, the NSA spooks will trace the email back to the liquor retailing giant. But with all those billions of emails to sort through, what if they don’t get around to it?
This is needless worrying, I tell myself. Problems always seem worse in the middle of the night. I turn off the light and lay my head on the pillow. I close my eyes, but then I remember: The potluck dinner emails! Now it’s not just me—I’ve ensnared a whole group of friends! And my wife!!
“We’ll bring the salad,” was our emailed contribution. Salad, the spooks will surely say—what a transparent code word for some diabolical ingredient. Or equally diabolical abbreviation. Didn’t Saladin defeat the crusaders? The emails raced back and forth through cyberspace: Dave was bringing ribs; Kim was whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies; Sarah was preparing her specialty, eggplant parmesan! How many keywords and metatags (whatever they are) lit up at NSA headquarters, or on the screens of the ethically-challenged dropouts at Booz Allen Hamilton?
I consider my options. Should I call everyone on the email chain and warn them? No. Calls from my phone at 3 a.m. would set off even more alarm bells. So I settle back down and try to reason with myself. Surely, the NSA would know that potluck dinners are just … potluck dinners. And eggplant parmesan is eggplant parmesan.
I try to doze, but my mind is feverish, wondering whether those lunatic-fringe emails I receive that warn about a Muslim plot to impose Sharia law in America will simply be seen as a clever cover.
My eyelids grow heavy and I finally begin to drift off. But in less than a minute I am wide awake and nearly hyperventilating. My name! What if someone with my name were up to something sinister—how would the spooks know it wasn’t me! Steve Robinson is not as common a name as, say, John Smith, but it isn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski either.
I turn the light back on and fire up my laptop. I pause for a moment before deciding to take a chance that the spooks and dropouts are asleep, or at least dozing in front of their computers. With shaking hands, I find a Website called HowManyOfMe.com, and the result hits me like a punch in the stomach. There are 725 people in the U.S. named Steve Robinson! I stare in horror at the screen, not daring to venture anywhere else in cyberspace.
Are the NSA computers sufficiently fine-tuned to make the distinctions between me and some shady character who has hijacked my name?
There is only one way to find out, so I sit down again to type a search. The results come to my screen in a nanosecond and a chill runs down the length of my spine. How will they know I’m not the Steve Robinson arrested in Newport, R.I., for felony drug distribution last summer? Or, much closer to home, in Daytona Beach, the Steve Robinson who was convicted of two felonies he committed barely two months after his release from prison? Clearly, this is a bad guy—but he isn’t me. Honest.
I force myself to return to bed. I try to convince myself of the futility of appealing in the middle of the night to some unseen spy in front of a flickering screen in the bowels of our nation’s enormous eavesdropping apparatus. I haven’t done anything wrong, I tell myself. I’m just an ordinary citizen, living his life at the beach, doing his best to be a good husband and father. Surely, I have nothing to worry about.
The sun is beginning to rise as sleep finally overtakes me. But my dreams are troubled. Of course, I will awaken to find my identity secure and my life history as clean as any 60-year-old man’s can be, right? They have nothing on me, right? Right?