So this morning, my Twitter feed brought me a post on xojane by Bronny Zigmond, a “fatshion” blogger. She talked about how she’d been posting photographs of herself in clothing she liked to encourage other large women to be happy in their bodies. But when she started checking who was linking to photos on her blog, Tumblr, and Flickr pages, she discovered that it wasn’t just plus-sized women:
I quickly noticed that my outfit photos were also being reblogged onto porn or jerk-off Tumblr accounts. These were blogs run by guys who would use their Tumblr as their personal jerk-off folder. They would reblog photos of naked fat women, fat women in porn, and then also photos of me wearing the new cute dress I’d just bought from Top Shop. Often they would even include detailed comments about what they wanted to do to me sexually.
But it didn’t stop there.
Some of them began coming to my blog and leaving comments about how they loved my thick thighs or how they loved “BBWs” (a term I have never identified with at all). Others sent me sexually explicit emails. I was hosting my outfit photos on Flickr and at last count I had 164 users blocked on there. That’s 164 times that I logged on to see that a user had favorited multiple photos of me and clicked on their profile to realize, “Oh, hey, it’s another perv who is sexualizing images of me without my consent.”
Result: one blogger silenced, a bunch of people who might have enjoyed and been uplifted by her work in the way she wanted left with a duller, quieter internet.
Meanwhile, on another part of that same internet, Reuters reports that some of the intelligence information that was—honest—only for national security has been making its way to the Drug Enforcement Agency for more ordinary prosecutions via a special interagency clearinghouse.
The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.
But even the people doing it know that that kind of sharing isn’t kosher, so they’ve been training investigators to lie about using it.
“You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.
After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”
(Remember, when you read that line about “finding an excuse”, that there are lots of laws to find people in violation of.)
There is actually a term in US legal parlance for evidence obtained illegally, and evidence obtained via illegally obtained evidence: Fruit of the Poisonous Tree. It’s the rule that means that following investigative leads obtained by breaking the law invalidates whatever you find when you get there for use in court. There are exceptions, into which I am certain that this process will be crammed one way or another, but the principle is that illegal police work contaminates the results.
So those NSA records that we’ve been hearing about? The process of collecting and collating all of our communications metadata that they can even arguably lay hands on, allegedly for national security? In some quarters, it must look like an orchard of poisonous trees, and at least one part of the legal system is already making jam from what it bears.
Do you know the old riddle about what’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?
The Reuters story is half a worm. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this process is more widespread. I wouldn’t be astonished to hear that local law enforcement and the state police are sharing this data like fashion photos on a jerkoff Tumblr. Your data. Mine. Not because we put it out there for their use, but because they can, because it’s there like a picture of a beautiful woman in a lovely dress, and our desire for reasonable privacy and decent justice is as significant and relevant to them as Zigmond’s desire not to have strangers slobbering over her fashion photos.
But unlike Zigmond, we as a society can’t easily quit this internet gig. Even if you aren’t on Facebook, you probably have a shadow profile. Even if you use Tor, the G-Man may be there before you. And the other people and companies you deal with may not be as careful as you are.
So what to do? Bruce Schneier has a suggestion, though even he doesn’t sound bullish.
Curbing the power of the corporate-private surveillance partnership requires limitations on both what corporations can do with the data we choose to give them and restrictions on how and when the government can demand access to that data. Because both of these changes go against the interests of corporations and the government, we have to demand them as citizens and voters. We can lobby our government to operate more transparently — disclosing the opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would be a good start — and hold our lawmakers accountable when it doesn’t. But it’s not going to be easy. There are strong interests doing their best to ensure that the steady stream of data keeps flowing.
Speaking as a woman on the internet, which is to say, someone who assumes that the question is not whether I get my turn in front of the troll firehose but when, I’m not sanguine either.