There will not be an Occupy Wall Street for the NSA

Eric Garland Greatest Hits 1 Comment

The revelations of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency now stretch on into the second month. The response from the American government has been awesomely inchoate, ranging from simply not showing up at work to kinda-pretty-much lying to Congress in front of everybody, to…lookie!, it’s Bolivia with the guy who did all this…aw never mind.

For those of you not familiar with how Washington works, this is their way of saying that, “Yeah, we’re doing it, whaddya want?” They don’t even have it in them to come up with a non-stupid looking cover story. It’s July after all – summer! What do you expect for your measly tax contribution?

Perhaps you are now thinking, “The other shoe is going to drop, man! Look at all those protests in Egypt! People are going to take to the streets and get their rights back!

Here’s my prediction on that: No way.

occupy-police-batonOccupy Wall Street may be the last such protest you see in the United States for many years.

  • It took a lot of energy.
  • It created a lot of media buzz.
  • Eventually, it attracted the same people who are lost without Phish being on tour.
  • At the end, a lot of people got police batons upside the head.
  • Nothing much changed in terms of DC/Wall Street corruption (the next head of the SEC still ended up being Mary Jo White, JP Morgan’s barely former defense lawyer)

The Occupy Wall Street protests were America’s tip of the hat to its 1960s protests, whether by Martin Luther King or by students protesting the war in Vietnam. The major, major difference being – the demographic majority is in power and close to retirement now. Baby Boomers who were (quite wisely) uninterested in being drafted into a murderous geopolitical boondoggle in Vietnam were able to make their power felt through sheer numbers in the street. This gave the model for the Occupy protests, except this time, the Boomers are close to retirement and their accounts are usually run by Wall Street. So, not surprisingly, the biggest output from Occupy was a series of batons against a series of skulls. Justice is one thing, but leave my retirement alone!

So, no – I do not think you will be seeing protests around Fort Meade any time soon. This is largely because most people don’t even know where it is or what it is, and also because a baton upside the head will be about the gentlest thing to happen to you if you are dumb enough to try to engineer a frickin’ protest at Fort Meade.

Here’s what I think will happen:

The most chilling effect might by on tech startups. I would bet that every VC pitch from here on out will list NSA PRISM as a potential risk, the kind of thing that will put every new tech product in a precarious position regarding its brand. Every tech product ever pitched hopes to hit exponential scale, thus making it monetize-able – but this will also make it a candidate for including it in one of these government program things. And while people aren’t likely to quit using Google or Apple products all of the sudden, your stupid new gimmicky app might have a sudden exodus if it is suspected of being a backdoor for cyberspooks.

Also, I surmise that you will see a lot more 29 year olds protesting via techno-embarrassment. The Powers That Be think they are in a position to remain in control. Clearly, they don’t believe they have to explain much to us hoi-polloi unwashed non-clearance-havers, or Dianne Feinstein wouldn’t sound like a tenth-grader in her first high school theatre production every time she tries to talk about PRISM. And Occupy Wall Street set the expectations for the next street protest – you can have your fun, but when we want, you are done. 

So Millennials like Edward Snowden have learned that you don’t just run out into the street and start demanding change. You can do something much more powerful – dump a few lines of code into public, or a PowerPoint slide or two. The fact is, this NSA PRISM business has been a non-secret secret (i.e., if you were curious, you knew about it) but it has been powerfully embarrassing. There are a lot of things like that around government and industry, practices that would make a lot of people angry, quit your business, vote for your next primary challenger. And while the Powers That Be might be able to resist change and transparency, the kids in the back running the computers are more able than ever to embarrass them with relatively little effort.

Just imagine your Senator having his Internet history published to reveal his complete obsession with Amanda Bynes’ recent troubles. Or, more importantly, every email between he and his contributors regarding upcoming legislation.

The 27 year olds groaning under the weight of massive student loans and a crummy job market are not going to protest your system – they are simply going to make it look stupid.

This will save money on cardboard signs and pepper spray.