[Low-tech isn’t all bad]

One advantage of living in a relatively low-tech country with a bribable bureaucracy and sloppy law enforcement is that projects like Admiral Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness don’t seem feasible here. Too expensive, too complicated, too much training, too many computers, too many miles of cable, etc., etc. Secret services lay their hands on what they can afford to — for instance, they can monitor an individual’s e-communications. They’re supposed to get a court order first, but I don’t see why they can’t just do it at will, since no one would notice. To monitor all users’ communications would be, I hope, prohibitively expensive.

[Added later] Putin has recently enlarged the scope of the FSB’s competence, merging into it the border guard and government communications agencies (in the early 1990s, the FSB was a much-weakened successor to the KGB). The merger not only gives more power to the FSB’s bosses (who are bound to abuse it, for such are laws of nature); it also makes it more difficult to criticize the agency in a non-destructive way. Now if you want to lash out at the FSB, say, in a newspaper column, for tapping someone’s phone line, you have to make sure you target only the the tapping department, and not the anti-terrorist or border patrol units, or you risk sounding like a nihilist and turning yourself into an easy target for crude criticism.

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