It’s a readily known fact that I love The Washington Post, the greatest newspaper in all the land.
It was an addiction started by my high school journalism advisor Peter Huck who mandated that I read the paper every day. In those days it was free for students. He even assigned quizzes to make sure my classmates and I retained every ounce of information from the A-section.
By the end of my freshman year, I was hooked. The daily dose of award-worthy fact kept me wired in. Ingesting the news became a lifestyle and The Post was my lifeline. It’s still my first source for news when I’m away at college. My four clips from The Post are still the highlight of my resume.
This preamble, of course, serves as a segue into my discussion of The Post’s latest accomplishment: another Pulitzer-worthy, four-month investigation of the internet escapades of the National Security Agency.
It turns out, as The Post found with the help of Edward Snowden, the vast majority of information — nine out of 10 users worth — intercepted by the NSA simply followed ordinary Americans like you and me. It’s something I don’t think many were surprised to hear.
My mother loves to inflate my ego as I make forays into political journalism with Bethesda Magazine so she speculated that my capacity as a journalist would land me on an NSA tracking list in a number of years.
That prospect was at first endearing and terrifying, but then it got me thinking: I’ve got a pretty robust online footprint as it is. At some point, it wouldn’t surprise me if a bit of my online information fell into the NSA’s hands.
Why not do our men and women in uniform a favor? Here’s everything you should know about me, Jacob [Middle Name Redacted] Bogage, should my name ever cross your screen.
Am I likely to be a threat to the United States of America? Well, that was up front. In a word, no. Maybe to ice cream cake or key lime pie, but a threat to the U.S.? Not a chance. You’re looking at the guy who chickened out of a game of paintball at summer camp and ran home crying after getting hit by an air-soft pellet. I hate frogs and won’t go near snakes (though they’re pretty cool). I generally abhor anything that looks remotely dangerous. No, I’m not a threat.
Am I likely to be a target of the NSA? I really don’t know. Eventually, I’d say. Why? My entire life runs online anymore. I email, Facebook, Tweet and Linkin (used as a verb?) from three devices. I text message from two. My music is everywhere. I shop online. Hell, my daily agenda even runs online. If I forget to put something on my calendar, odds are I’m not showing up.
If you tracked my purchases online, you’d know I just reloaded my Starbucks app (finally a gold card member!) and that I almost exclusively fly to the Kansas City airport. Two years ago I bought a “gently used” putter off Amazon for $9.99. Delivery was free.
Who am I? I’m a journalist, but I’m guessing you know that. It’s probably the reason I showed up on your screen. I’ll write about basically anything you put in front of me: from tornados to interior design; cops to school lunches; football to fireworks. It’s a large part of my identity, my entire Twitter bio, my Facebook occupation and my Linkedin headline. I devote an entire website to every single journalistic work of mine and I’ve written for college papers throughout the South and Midwest.
What do I talk about? I’m an open book, but then again, everyone must be when you can intercept information from every corner of the world. In the past week, all electronically, I discussed my mental health history, a couple past relationships, my living situation at school, my work plans and hockey players in the state of Minnesota.
Who do I know? I’m close with my family and I have different groups of friends spread throughout my hometown, the immediate metro area and my college campus. Most of my close friends don’t know one another but they know of one another. I’m incredibly close with my family and my grandparents are local. I try not to burn many bridges. Give me a name from Olney and I bet I know the name if I didn’t graduate from high school or play Little League with a relative.
What do I know? Hard to say I know anything of interest to the NSA. I know my dad rode his bike to old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore after Sunday school to watch Johnny Unitas and the Colts. I know Cal Ripken Jr. didn’t wine about getting up early. At least that’s what my dad told me when I was little.
At this point, if you couldn’t find some information about me online, I’ve told you. Know what that means? I’ve got nothing to hide, but even if I did, the NSA showed us all how easy it would be to find it.
These domestic espionage allegations mean it’s up to millennials — our most technologically literate population — to determine the value of privacy in the foreseeable future.
To a large swath of the population (myself included), privacy, especially online, has been thrown to the wind. My goal on the web is to tell you who I am, where I am and hopefully entertain in the process.
I’ve chosen (perhaps foolishly) to trust the online community with the personal revelations I make.
Here’s the bottom line: the NSA gives us a chance to examine who we are and how we want to be seen by others because, as Snowden has helped us learn, we are always seen.
Perhaps it’s an invasion of privacy, but perhaps also it makes us think about a new era of online discourse, where trolls can be instantly unmasked and we can’t hide behind our keyboards.
Let’s not forget there are untold benefits to transparency. One of which happens to be the knowledge that you’re being watched.