Or, The Man is on My Tubez! A discussion of the idea that the government is monitoring our activities on the Internet. It appears to strike fear in the hearts of people across the country. But how realistic is this fear?
First, let’s look at the number of individuals conducting activity online. According to the US Census, 306+ million individuals currently reside in the United States. Broadband access is available in approximately 60% of American homes. In 2008, according to Internet World Stats, just under three-fourths of the population was using the Internet. More and more individuals have computers at home, and the use of computers in libraries is growing in order to provide access for those who do not.
Second, let’s look at the number of individuals employed by the overnment who are supposedly monitoring this activity. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has around 30,000 employees — special agents, support staff, and executives. Roughly 14,000 of those are special agents, those who actively conduct investigations. This is the federal agency with primary authorization to monitor the activities of American citizens and others on US soil. Both the CIA and the NSA have jurisdiction primarily extraterritorially, so they can’t cover the online activities of individuals in the United States.
So, we have 14,000 individuals who are allegedly monitoring the online activity of 200 million other individuals. And this is on top of their other responsibilities investigating bank robberies, white collar crime (mortgage fraud and Bernie Madoff, anyone?), identity theft, kidnappings, domestic and international terrorism, attacks on US interests abroad (embassies, ships, etc), and cyber crimes. Just from a statistical standpoint, does this make sense?
Relax, people. Not only are there nowhere near enough government employees to monitor your online activities, but also, most online activities are an exercise of your First Amendment rights. That alone is not grounds for the Feds to come knocking on your door. Just stay away from the kiddie porn and we’ll all come out just fine, okay?