Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day? The government is likely logging even the most mundane day-to-day computer habits of millions of Americans, but there’s a way to stand up against surveillance while also rocking out.
According to leaked NSA documents published by The Guardian last week, the United States National Security Agency is conducting dragnet surveillance of the communications of Americans, regularly receiving phone records for millions of Verizon customers while also being capable of accessing the conversations that occur over Facebook, Google and several other major Internet names through a program called PRISM. Now a 28-year-old artist and developer from Brooklyn, New York has found a fun way of warning computer users about potential government surveillance, and he’s incorporated one of the best-selling rock albums ever in the process.
Justin Blinder released a plugin for the Web browser Firefox this week, and he’s already seeing a positive response in the press if not just based off of the idea alone. His “The Dark Side of the Prism” browser extension alerts Web surfers of possible surveillance by starting up a different song from Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic “The Dark Side of the Moon” each time a questionable site is crossed.
Blinder told the Guardian that he built the program over the course of four hours with the hopes he could “create some sort of ambient notification that you are on a site that is being surveiled by the NSA.”
“I was really interested in the fact that, although the PRISM leaks were a shock to many of us, we pretty much already kind of know we’re being surveiled a lot of the time and giving away so much data,” he said.
Upon news of the phone tracking program, even members of Congress said they couldn’t get over how much information was being shared between the telecoms and the government. Walking out of a briefing this Wednesday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California) said, “What we learned in there is significantly more than what is out in the media today,” and described her reaction as “astounded.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said the program “represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” and the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the government with a similar complaint filed in federal court.
Separate from leaking a document about the NSA’s access to phone records, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden also gave The Guardian evidence of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL and others sharing private communications of customers with the government. When “The Dark Side of the Prism” is installed, users of those sites will be reminded with one of the most iconic albums of the twentieth century.
“I just Googled ‘Prism’ and the cover came up,” Blinder said. It just so happened that the long-time best-seller also fits the mood for exactly what the programmer was looking for.
“I didn’t want it to be too jarring because a lot of us seem to be giving in to being surveiled on a daily basis. I feel like people already know that. I didn’t want it to be alarming,” he said.
“The Dark Side of the Moon” was Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album and most commercially successfully, selling roughly 50 million copies and landing on the Billboard charts for 741 consecutive weeks. Surveillance, on the other hand, isn’t quite as popular: according to a Post/Washington Post poll released this week, 52 percent of Americans oppose the PRISM program.
With regards to Snowden, the American public is largely polarized on the issue. He’s been labeled as both a traitor and whistleblower and is currently the target of a Department of Justice investigation.
“He’s not a whistleblower, by the way, because a whistleblower actually wants the rule of law to be enforced,” Jeremy Bash, the former chief of staff for then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, told Politics Confidential this week. “He copied documents and he made a run for it. He may be actually aiding our enemies.”
On his part, Snowden said he leaked the documents because, “I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
Earlier this year, Pink Floyd lyricist Roger Waters lent his support to Army Private first class Bradley Manning, who is currently on trial for the largest intelligence leak in US history.
“We need more whistl blowers,” Waters wrote in a statement. “Blowing the whistle on our behalf is not just brave, it is heroic and it is our duty.”