Thursday, September 25, 2014

The NSA Is Reading My Email

This isn't paranoia on my part.

As some of my readers here know, I am a sculptor. I carve stone. In addition I repair sculptures in some cases. I don't work on really expensive stuff, or anything by noted artists, or anything valuable by virtue of age - I don't have formal, conservator training - but that doesn't stop people from emailing me and asking for those kinds of repairs, or asking questions about how to get such repairs made by someone else.

And I've had questions from a fair number of places... much of the US, Australia, and England, at least.

But two days ago I got one from Pakistan. A very nicely spoken (well... written) gentleman there has a couple of very old, broken, Buddha sculptures, and he was looking for some advice on how to fix them. I replied and told him what I could, as I do with everyone who asks such questions of me. (The gist of my advice, of course, was to find a conservator. 2000+ year old sculptures need to be repaired by an expert.)

This morning he sent me a picture of one from his collection that is unbroken. I don't feel like I should publish it here - I haven't asked for permission - but it is lovely. He also asked for advice on how to safely display his sculptures with less risk of additional breakage.

And once again I replied, discussing the issues around displaying them, and telling him about museum putty.

This is all completely innocent, of course. Or is it?

I've now exchanged multiple emails with someone in Pakistan, and that someone has also sent me a picture.

Wanna bet I am on the NSA's radar now? And probably their equivalents in at least the 5 eyes countries? You know I am.

If my emails weren't being monitored and saved before, they definitely are now.

And I had to think about whether I would reply to these emails or not. I actually sat at my desk for a couple of minutes wondering if it was worth the risk - of getting tagged by the NSA as communicating with someone in Pakistan, someone I don't even know personally - to discuss sculpture repair. That's appalling.

Imagine what this could have looked like. What if we'd talked about something more delicate, like the state of politics in his home city, or religion.  Ponder that for a bit.

The direction the US has taken is a dangerous one. Each day we look more and more like the dictatorships we claim to oppose, and it happens one tiny little step at a time. One little freedom given away in the name of "security". One little act of self censorship because someone might be watching.

I'm sure this blog post will only cause the NSA to watch me that much more closely. And possibly other agencies as well... FBI, CIA, who knows. And apparently various presidential directives and secret interpretations of certain laws make that all completely legal.

It makes me sick to my stomach.