Thirty years ago, the Internet was invented after American scientists got annoyed at having to lug around hard disks the size of Kurla just so they could watch two pixels worth of Sasha Grey. We appreciate how far we’ve come from the old days, when we had to actually write letters and post them to strangers explaining how their mothers were — to use a cricketing term — great dispatchers of the short ball to the on-side.
But our information is also a giant gold star tacked on to our backs every time we log in, making us susceptible to horrible practices like unfettered surveillance and LinkedIn requests. All of this came to the fore last week, after former CIA employee and current geek hero Edward Snowden blew the whistle on PRISM, a top-secret NSA surveillance program that began in 2007, which enables the US government to listen to citizens’ phone calls, read their emails and texts, watch their Skype conversations and basically delve deep enough for the relationship to qualify as a colonoscopy.
PRISM is a collaboration that allows the NSA and FBI to demand private user data from major companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Skype and Apple, which said that it was only spying, like, ironically. I know what you’re thinking and yes, this is shocking. I mean who the hell even uses Yahoo? What kind of records is Yahoo giving away? “Hey, we just bought Tumblr, so here’s a classified report on cats that look like lesbian Ryan Gosling.”
Before the exposé, Snowden left the US for a place that supported free speech and the right to dissent, which was, um, Hong Kong. His future plans involve travelling to Jeddah for Oktoberfest. Snowden fears a hit on his life from the Triads, which is composed entirely of six-year-old Chinese assassins who kill during the lunch break at the iPhone factory.
Meanwhile, reports suggest that PRISM allows authorities to pretty much watch as you type. The level of access is unnerv-JUST KIDDING WE WOULD NEVER SPY ON YOU BY THE WAY DID YOU KNOW THAT LAST NIGHT, ASHISH GOOGLED “SEXY BUGS BUNNY OUTFIT + LEATHER”.
This isn’t just a US-specific concern, because we have our very own Content Monitoring System (CMS), which was activated last month, and allows the government to bypass mobile companies and directly dig into phone calls, texts, emails and social media activity. Also, we have no privacy protection, and freedom of speech seems to be reserved almost exclusively for murderous whackjobs.
(I’m sure the spies will give up after trudging through 479284 messages that go, “Once boy ask gurl if she lyk him she say no he die of hart brake and she say she not lyk him, she luvz him, I crie evrytiem, fwd this to 10 ppl or luv of ur lyf vil serve u halwa made of warts”.)
The Mumbai police also set up a Social Media Lab last month, which, to quote their spokesperson, “will monitor topics that are trending among the youth so we can plan law and order in a good way.” So if the daily chatter on Twitter is anything to go by, our cops will end up monitoring people moaning about exes while getting drunk in traffic and eating Narendra Modi-flavoured cupcakes, even as Kamaal R Khan offers a scholarly critique of Sherlyn’s Chopras.
I can’t wait for our very own version of Snowden. Think about it. A few years down the line, a spy reveals that the government has been listening to everyone’s phone calls, and all hell breaks loose. Arnab Goswami demands to hear those recordings, mostly because he wants to hear his own voice again. Arundhati Roy writes a 10,000 page essay on how Maoists are subjugated by being forced to use Blackberrys. Meanwhile, Bollywood gets inspired, and the legendary Abbas-Mustan (whose all-white ensemble has been described by designers as, “It makes them look like human tampons”) unleash their latest spy thriller, titled Nazar: The Sight. Tagline: U r watched.. In it, Saif plays a spy who, in a pivotal scene, hacks into a supercomputer by seducing the hard disk. And eventually, the Congress backs down when we agree to let them rename the internet to ‘Shrimati Sonia Gandhi Antarrashtriya Com-puter Mayajaal’.
Dear leaders, clamping down on free speech is blasphemous, sort of like clamping down on funny hats at the Vatican. If I wanted the Centre to do my thinking and talking for me, then I’d just run for Prime Minister. In fact, go ahead and check out my resume right now. It’s on my laptop. You know how to reach it.
Ashish Shakya is a writer and a stand-up comic.
He co-writes the TV satire, The Week That Wasn’t.