Still under the impact of the latest edict of our very own Wizard of Oz, reducing the weight of State surveillance on its citizens, and even foreign Governments — this would include Brazil’s Dilma, who took serious offense with N.S.A. —, the crisis of the week comes to reinforce our growing awareness that, definitely, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Royal “we,” of course.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against more freedom and less vigilance, not at all, but between you and I, today everything has a high price that we must pay.
While my compatriots at “home” are still horrified with the uncontrollable wave of scandals in the “forsaken motherland,” here in the Unites States I was stupefied by the level of violence and interference of this inflated State against Aaron Swartz, a young Jewish genius from Harvard — who with a snap of his fingers could change our daily experience. Swartz was a kind of well-intentioned “hacker”, “hacktivist,” if such a thing exists. The movie I watched wants to convince us that it does.
Swartz’s great contribution to Internet freedom, which was also his death sentence back in 2013, was realizing that Government-funded academic research ended up far away from public access, irrevocably intermediated by leeches who charge a considerable fee for something that, in theory, we have already paid: The funding resources for these documents come from taxpayers, through the merciless “Income Removal System.” And so it happened that, through an action at the same time daring and transgressive, but also slightly criminal (the boundary is tenuous), Swartz downloaded to his computer hundreds, thousands of theses stored in JSTOR and made them widely available. For free.
Another sort of cool thing Swartz did was stopping the American Congress from getting not one, but several flies (not files!) into our virtual soup — a terrible pun that only makes sense in Portuguese, for a change, let me explain. “Soup” spells “sopa” in Portuguese, and SOPA is the official acronym for “Stop Online Piracy Act,” a bill that the American Senate faithfully rejected due to the hacktivist’s effective performance. SOPA intended to “control” online copyright infringement, from what I could understand, excess of control, in a way that would shut down several websites we love, Wikipedia, for example, of which Swartz was an editor.
The problem is that not all of these wise young men with extreme hacking talent are nice people, as this apparently naïve Aaron Swartz, who under the weight of official investigation ended up hanging himself at age 27, in his Brooklyn apartment. In fact, very few among them are trustworthy, something I learned this week the hard way.
Of course, my wonderful achievement of escaping the growing debacle of the Brazilian financial jungle to enjoy a first world stability has its own high price, and I don’t mean the rent, or new construction costs, much less the lawyers’ fees, that up to now I brilliantly managed to avoid.
On my arrival, the first thing I did was to overcome a common Brazilian frustration: the high price of computers. As my Dell was already going downhill, freezing all the time, I went to the nearest Staples and bought myself a super Toshiba, as I already told you. In the very first week, while still installing software and apps and tuning up the “machine” to start the difficult tasks it was supposed to perform, I decided to download some “free” fonts that were missing in the new inDesign version.
Woe is me. I was soon assailed by a plague that, although it does not stab you in the stomach — as the latest “fashion” in the streets of Rio —, it certainly ends up truly skinning you: the infamous virus “Tiny Wallet”, which sticks deep in the entrails of the machine, in such a way that you can never get rid of it. You may think you did, but then, out of nowhere, voilà, the incubated sickness recrudesces. It was my “global deflowering”, and until this day I am dealing with the consequences of this virtual rape, putting it on the back burner as my mother taught me and trying to forget.
So last week, seven months after these prior events, my computer started to behave in an erratic manner, and I could not figure out why. Google search was now and again interrupted, and I suddenly got a warning that “I had exceeded my search limit”, well then, what would that be? Google search is the pièce de résistance of my daily work, something I affectionately call “Google editing,” that was impossible a few years ago.
I consulted with my friend Caetano, who is also my dedicated “web master” from Minas Gerais and to whom I turn in crucial Internet emergencies. He advised me to take some security measures, to log out of Chrome, turn off the computer, restart, log in again. Nothing helped. I kept stalling; and the computer kept getting weirder by the day, even Chrome’s icon in the menu bar was now gone.
Yesterday morning I noticed that my Word was also behaving weirdly. Some Eastern characters started to show up in the font toolbox, and I could suddenly see some “words in Asian characters” listed, oh, well. I wondered: Would that be the ultimate invasion of modernity by China?
It was not the worst. I found out that neither Skype nor Word were allowing access to the web, and this was disturbing because it prevented constant updates and even installing a revising tool in Greek of which I was in need. And so it happened that Chrome, apparently failing to update, invited me to know the “new Google security tools”. Surprise, surprise: there were three computers using my Google account! Three! All of them in American territory, Oregon and two other places.
Well, to make a long story short, I did everything Google recommended, and at this time the invaders are blocked. Everything is back to normal, and reinstalling Word also tackled the Chinese invasion. It was hard work, I had to change all my passwords, a typical day in “virtual hell.” I even feared that my bank account had evaporated, but fortunately, it remained untouched.
For those who think I’m overreacting, know that here in the United States “identity theft” is such a common crime that insurance against it is advertised on TV. Alan, who was quite hysterical in Brazil, is even more distressed, since his worst fears are now justified.
Now I wonder, was Obama really wise to lighten surveillance on American citizens? Was the film criticizing the barbaric abuse of the law that brought Aaron Swartz to a sad end advocating the right thing? Or is all of that nothing more than official incompetence, a vast misunderstanding disguised as Social Justice, similar to the failed and dangerous American actions in the Middle East?
I don’t know. What I do know is that although I’m now entitled to follow at will the yellow brick road, it is very uncertain who will finally get hold of the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
Yes. Paraphrasing Riobaldo, a famous Brazilian literary character, “living is very dangerous.”
What a drag. God, I’m so tired.
Have a nice Sunday!
To be fair, while we (!) were writing this chronicle, the NY Times announced as the “latest news” that the Obama administration, secretly and without “public consultations,” actually expanded its anti-hacker activities through the N.S.A. On the other hand, the Chinese are now being accused of a maxi-invasion of United States Government computers, breaching data dating as far as 1985. What a world!
This, not to admit that we found out that the fiends from Oregon (but Caetano said they could also be from China, I was prophetic or what?) used my email illegally and as a result I was blocked as a spammer. Go figure.