Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
[For Immediate Release – an open letter from the Assistant Director of the National Security Agency]
To my fellow citizens,
We are sorry.
Let me repeat that to make my meaning unimpeachably clear: we are sorry.
There may be some naysayers amongst you who think that this apology does not amount to very much, that it suggests more remorse at having been “found out” than actual remorse at what we were “found doing;” however, please accept my assurances as Assistant Director of the National Security Agency that this apology is genuine. Many citizens of the United States, patriotic to the core and committed to freedom and liberty as they may be, sometimes do not realize the many layers of approval that a “formal request to issue an apology to the citizens of the United States” (form GRfA 01-52B) must go through before the apology can actually be made public – it requires dozens of signatures. For whatever it is worth, please note that the form was initially submitted almost a year ago – unfortunately the request was only approved yesterday.
So to repeat, we are sorry. It is really not as though we thought that programs like PRISM would never be discovered, it is that we did not think people would be so upset about them. When we brought these ideas to the members of the House and the Senate they thought they sounded great, and when we met with prominent executives in the tech industry they also seemed pleased to participate. But, and we had to submit a “formal request to issue an admission of being wrong to the citizens of the United States” (form AAW 02-USA) in order to state this: it turns out we were wrong.
Despite what you may read or suspect, we here at the National Security Agency are wholly and completely dedicated to upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution. It is for this reason that I am thrilled that recently declassified documents demonstrate the degree to which we had tried to comply with the letter of the 4th Amendment. As you no doubt know, the 4th amendment reads:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
And as I am certain you can appreciate, it is somewhat tricky to apply this perfectly to modern information like e-mails, or phone calls, or metadata. It is for this reason that when myself and other ranking officials from the National Security Agency originally met with prominent companies in Silicon Valley we proposed a (patent-pending) device called the “houses, papers and effects” machine (we were planning on calling it “HoPE”). This ingenious machine would have directly linked the incoming data streams to several industrial volume printers. Every e-mail and every phone record would have instantly been printed out, rendering these pieces of information clearly into “papers” at which point they would have immediately been fed into massive paper shredders to ensure that nobody had meddled with them (which would have been a violation of the 4th amendment). We had prototypes ready to go that promised total information capture and total adherence to the 4th amendment, but final approval did not come.
Unfortunately the project was deemed too expensive, which may be a result of aggressive lobbying on the part of the tech industry (they outspent the paper lobby five to one). With our internal efforts to propose a novel solution stymied we found ourselves left with no option but to partner with some of your favorite tech firms. Though these companies were not willing to let our agents travel between floors using their slides, play in their ball pits, or enjoy onsite massages, they were willing to give us access to massive amounts of data. When we expressed initial concern about how much information they were giving us, one executive shrugged and said: “don’t worry we’ll just put another sub clause in the Terms of Service, nobody reads those anyways.” After consulting with our legal advisors we were assured that such a response was more than satisfactory.
Yet now the executives of these companies have angrily turned on us, blaming us for damaging their reputations and costing them money, and at the same time it seems that many politicians in Washington are proposing all manners of “changes” for us here at the National Security Agency even as some people grouse that these changes will not amount to much change. Clearly we are in an untenable position.
It is for this reason that – effective immediately – the National Security Agency will close down its unpopular line of surveillance services in order to re-launch in the coming months in a new friendlier form. Having read the news we here at the National Security Agency know that tech startups with bold, uncompromising views for the future often run into trouble, and some do not make it. Yet we also know that one failure does not mean that one must give up, nor does it mean that investors will be permanently scared away. No, what we have learned is that the important thing is successful branding, and we know that we have not done a particularly good job at that.
A bald eagle with a shield clutching a key? Really? Clearly our image needs to be updated!
Which is why I am pleased to announce that the National Security Agency will be moving its official headquarters from gray and gridlocked government offices to the sunny reaches of Silicon Valley. In order for us to rebrand and re-launch we need to be where the most exciting advances in information gathering are taking place, and we need to learn from the example of those who have been able to gather all of that information without getting bogged down in hearings or having to fend off pesky journalists. After all, the best way to avoid debates about the “4th amendment” is to not be bound by it. We are still in the process, with the help of a top advertising firm, of determining our new name (Bookface, Gyougle, and Yahyou were all rejected due to “trade mark” concerns), and have been having a wonderful time thinking up all of the things that the acronym NSA can stand for (“Need Spaghetti Anyone?” was very popular amongst our analysts). Furthermore several respected venture capitalists have proposed that we should just get into investing in tech firms (they proposed we call ourselves the “New Start-up Allies” but we are not sure on that one yet).
Our plan in the coming months is to analyze the converging and emerging trends in world technological culture and join in on the fun! National Security Agency employees used to always fantasize about cool stuff like Google Glass in the break room, but until now we’ve never been the ones actually making and selling those devices. We are tired of being seen as “creepy analysts in boring suits” we want to join our peers: “not-creepy technologists in a hoodies” – careful study has revealed that the difference between “creepy” and “not-creepy” is the number of “0s” in your paychec. Would that contractor Mr. Snowden have been so willing to defect if he had been getting catered lunches, massages at work, chartered bus transport, a ball pit, an extra 0 or two on his paycheck? We think the answer to that is obvious.
We are confident that we can think of smart phones, operating systems, fun apps, e-mail servers, search engines, and wearable tech that will make you ecstatic for the opportunity to share your information with us! We actually suspect that tech firms have been bugging our break rooms for years in order to steal our analysts most creative ideas. The best part, for you and us, is that we will all be able to move beyond this silly “4th amendment” stuff because you will be able to simply click “agree” after reading through the Terms of Service agreement for our products. No more surprises! You clicked “agree” you can’t unclick it!
We know it, we have been selfish here at the National Security Agency. We asked for so much from you but we were unwilling to give you anything back. Well, all of that will be changing in the months ahead. The new NSA will come to be short hand for “New Snappy Apps” and in addition to knowing if you’re up to anything suspicious we will now also be able to offer you coupons, targeted advertisements, information on other singles in your area, and super fun games for which your friends can give you an extra life by donating “freedom points” from our soon to launch social networking site!
These are exciting times to be involved in information gathering, provided you have the right corporate image. But we’re working on that! Our new line of products will be unveiled soon and we’re excited to share them with you. We’re just having some trouble coming up with a final slogan (it seems “don’t be evil” and “making the world more open and connected” were both taken).
We’re sorry, we’ve gone about all of this “information gathering” business in a foolish way. As it turns out the joke has been on us all along, which is why we’re so excited to join our peers in Silicon Valley. That way the joke will be back on the right people.
John C. Sauron
Assistant Director of the National Security Agency
[Editor’s note: please be aware that the press office from the National Security Agency has refused to confirm the veracity of the above letter]
[Image credit: The background image “San Jose California Palm Tree 2010” comes from Wikipedia, uploaded by Michael]