One of the biggest news stories this month was the “outing” of the PRISM electronic surveillance program run by the National Security Agency in the U.S., which monitors phone, email, and every other electronic means of communication that American citizens use, without the requirement of a court-issued warrant. As with every other unethical action of government these days, PRISM is carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism. The news story broke after it was revealed that Verizon was turning over logs of its customers’ daily calls to the NSA. All of its customers. We’ve since learned that Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple and others have been cooperating with PRISM. Company spokespersons have issued various denials, but then the legislation allowing PRISM forbids companies from revealing their participation. So what else are they supposed to say?

And don’t feel complacent if you live in Canada or another country—the whole point of PRISM is to monitor non-U.S. citizens’ interactions with Americans. The moment the data is directed through an Internet server on American soil (and the lion’s share of ’net infrastructure is in the U.S.) it becomes accessible.

Yet, I don’t think PRISM itself was the story—the bigger story is that most Americans aren’t upset about it.

And maybe they shouldn’t be. Maybe privacy as we’ve known it is a concept whose time has passed. Because it’s no longer possible.

Government surveillance of citizens has been a trope in a lot of science fiction. The book most often referenced is George Orwell’s 1984. Have we reached the era of Big Brother watching our every move? Well, Yes, as long as we understand that today’s Big Brother includes more than just government. Every time you use a new app or computer program you commit to an agreement that includes the app owner’s so-called “privacy policy” (What? You don’t read those 25 pages of legalese fine print?) Typically, it says they will only disclose your private information for reasons that will improve your use of their product. Who decides what uses fit that description? They do.

I’m always amused by the term “security camera”. Some modern cities are blanketed by them. Do they make you more secure? Not really. Crime hasn’t ground to a halt. I’ll accept that they help police solve some crimes, but that’s mainly because criminals are often really stupid. In the meantime those cameras capture dozens of images of each non-criminal citizen every day as they go about their lives.

Companies track all of your credit card and debit purchases, of course. And unless you’ve disabled the “location services” feature on your smartphone Google, Apple, and who knows who else can know exactly where you are at any given time.

The key to the Big Brother era is the computing power to bring all of those various bits of data together and correlate it into meaningful information. A few years ago, Target stores famously identified pregnant women because of the vitamin supplements, hand sanitizer, cocoa butter (for stretch marks) and other items they bought. I’m sure they’ve become much better at it since then. With all of the data sources, and the ability to put puzzle pieces together, it’s fair to assume that if you have a secret worth hiding from potential blackmailers, somebody already knows it. Would you rather have it in the hands of organized crime, big multinational corporations, or the government? Tough choice, huh? But if you insist on trying to protect your information, here’s a good article from PC World.

My wife says we need to go live on an island. I’ve tried to tell her about satellite cameras that can read a cigarette package from space, but….