To be honest, I do not use social networking services. Not Facebook, nor Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Google+, VK, Tumblr, Baidu, or any of that other crap. It’s not for me. I do not feel comfortable publishing my life on a page that can be accessed by everyone in the world that has internet access (especially the government). In my eyes, it is just a tool to make money. You provide these companies with your data (ie. your life), who then mine and analyze it. Then, they subsequently sell all of that information to the highest bidder. It doesn’t always work out very well for everyone involved. Mark ‘Zuckyzuck’ Zuckerberg has made billions of dollars doing this. Unfortunately, I’m in the minority. Everyone I know uses social networking of some shape and form. They looooooooove to have public conversations with their friends about things that (probably) should be discussed in private. When I tell them about the objectively unethical business practices of these shady companies, they shrug and call me a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist. ‘I don’t have anything to hide’, they respond. Of course you don’t. In that case, you should defecate with the bathroom door open. What? I thought you didn’t have anything to hide? Isn’t that essentially what Facebook is doing? Tracking your IP address as as you go through the internet, even if you’re not logged in? You never consented to that.

Most of my friends use Twitter and Instagram. Twitter is a service in which every single one of your posts has to include less than 140 characters of text. Instagram is not a cannabis delivery service (get it? Instagram?). Rather, it is a service that encourages users to post terrible photos with hideous filters applied to them. Neither of these ever appealed to me. I can see why they appeal to others, but to me, they’re a waste of time. Why would I want to look at the awful pictures my friends have taken with their phones?

Even if I don’t use services like Twitter and Instagram, they have their uses. In a political sense, I can see how they can be so important. Protestors in Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, Russia and Egypt have used Twitter because it allows them to communicate and organize in a fashion not possible even 10 years ago. In 2008, when Islamic fundamentalists left more than 100 dead in attacks in Mumbai? Twitter was there. In 2009, when the Iranian government began spraying the protestors with acid from helicopters? People on Twitter managed to get their message out. It’s ubiquitous. When important stuff goes down, people take to the internet to document and discuss it.

Oppressive governments must be quaking in their boots.

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Code Academy. Casper Diamond is my name on Facebook.

If you’ve paid any attention to the news in the past few years, you’ve seen the videos of mass demonstrations all over the world. Revolutions, civil wars, and mass unrest the world over. Occupy Wall St. Tunisia. Yemen. Libya. Egypt (twice). Syria. Thailand. Russia. Bahrain. Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan. Lebanon. Venezuela. The list goes on. And on. And on. The world is changing, and with the internet, we all have front row seats to watch it unfold the moment it happens.

Recently, Thailand has been teetering on the brink of a revolution. In 2008, business tycoon and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra fled the country, convicted by Thailand’s supreme court on corruption charges. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister (as she was second in command in the ruling political party in parliament, the Pheu Thai Party). In Thailand, corruption is endemic, perpetrated by every political party that has gained a majority in parliament in recent memory. On November 1st of last year, parliament passed a bill that would grand amnesty to Thaksin, clearing him of all wrongdoing’s committed since 2004. People filled the streets of Bangkok, protesting the amnesty bill. They opposed the amnesty, saying that it would set a terrible precedent for future instances of corruption. Several days later, the senate (Thailand’s upper legislature) rejected the bill, but the damage was already done. The people called for immediate removal of the Pheu Thai Party from power, saying that they had abused their power long enough. From a western prospective, the corruption is clear. A leader granting amnesty to her brother. The conflict of interest is clear and obvious. The protests are ongoing, and the chances for meaningful reform looks grim. The people of Thailand have a long and bloody fight ahead of them.

Late last year, Ukraine blew up. The president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was expected to announce a trade deal with the European Union. A sweeping, far reaching trade agreement that would potentially set Ukraine a course to join the EU. Then, on November 21st, Yanukovych announced that the talks suspended, and that Ukraine would establish closer ties with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (similar to the EU, but comprised of Russia and it’s allied post-Soviet central Asian states). Thousands of Ukrainians filled the streets of Kyiv, criticizing the government for being a corrupt puppet regime controlled by Putin’s regime. Vitali Klitschko, former heavyweight boxing champion and opposition leader in parliament, called for new elections and for Yanukovych to reconsider the trade announcement. These requests were ignored, and relations between the opposition and the government deteriorated further. On December 17th, Russia announced $15 billion in interest free loans that would be provided to Ukraine to prevent them from the country from defaulting on it’s debt. On January 16th, anti-protest laws (dubbed ‘the dictator laws’, by the protestors) were forced through parliament, giving the government vast and sweeping authority to ‘deal with the situation’ in a forceful and apolitical way. This incited an incredible amount of violence. People in the maiden (the name for Independence Square, where the protests were centered) began launching fireworks and molotovs at the police, now calling for the resignation of president Yanukovych and his government. By the 18th of February, Kyiv was on fire. The country was in revolution, looking at a full blown civil war between the Russian east and the Ukrainian west. Over the next few days, police began using live ammunition, firing at the protestors with AK-47’s and shotguns loaded with buckshot. It looked grim. On the 23rd, Yanukovych fled for Russia, convinced that his regime was on the brink of collapse. He was right. Parliament impeached him in a unanimous vote. Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison. The gross corruption and excess of the Yanukovych government became as clear as day.

 

The internet has fundamentally changed how these conflicts unravel. In a technological society, no longer can an oppressive government suppress information to the point where it can prevent the spread of the truth outside of it’s borders. The internet exists outside all borders. Outside all prior notions of political and ethnic boundaries. As the events in Kyiv were unravelling, me and my boyfriend were glued to the video streams that were being broadcast from the maiden. As the people in Ukraine fought against their oppressive regime, they were not alone. Far from it. The entire world was watching. Listening. Hoping. Praying. Years from now, historians will look back at the early days of the internet. Mass unrest. Protests on a scale never before seen. Oppressive governments fell. Toppled like dominoes, one after the other. Spreading like wildfire from America to the Middle East to Eastern Europe to Central Asia to South America and beyond. Who knows when it will end? No one knows. Gil Scott-Heron was right 40 years ago: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It will be live streamed.

You may have heard of the term ‘STEM’. It is an acronym that stands for ‘science, technology, engineering, and mathematics’. In short, it’s a catch all term for careers that rely on those subjects.

It may seem like common sense to say that our country relies heavily on these careers. Maintaining America’s dominant position in the world requires a large workforce with proficiency in these fields. American businesses require large numbers of engineers, designers, and knowledgable technicians to design and manufacture the products that we rely on everyday. The cars we drive? Designed by mechanical engineers. The gas in the car? Extracted by petroleum engineers. The computer I’m typing this on? Designed by electrical engineers. The equipment in hospitals? Designed by biomedical engineers. The energy that is produced to electrify your home? Produced in plants maintained by nuclear engineers.

Obviously, we need people trained in STEM careers in order for our nation to function, and the reliance that we have on these careers is only going to increase over the course of the next decade. In fact, the projected increases in the number of STEM jobs far exceeds the growth in other sectors of the economy.

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Source: http://www.ed.gov/stem

On average, the wages that STEM careers provide far exceed those of non-STEM jobs.

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Source: http://www.esa.doc.gov/Blog/2011/08/03/stem-where-are-women

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people are receiving education in these fields. People just aren’t interested in becoming proficient enough in these subjects to acquire the required degrees and certification to obtain these types of careers. In fact, this problem is grave and systemic. According to the Department of Education, the United States currently ranks 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations. That is pitiful, and it needs to change if the United States is going to maintain it’s relevancy in the coming decades. How can we possibly compete with China when they’re churning out competent STEM trained laborers by the millions?

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Source: http://www.lee.edu/stem/grads-by-nation/

As a human biology major, I am extremely happy with the growth that STEM careers are projected to receive over the next decade. It increases the probability that I will receive a well paying career, through which I can support myself and eventually a family. Unfortunately, I seem to belong to a small minority of students who share my dream. The supply does not exist to meet the growing demand for STEM educated workers, and it’s going to really harm all of us if it does not change soon.

Break out those math books, kids.

I am a junior and I am a human biology major. I chose to study this for several reasons: the medical industry is extremely broad and growing (increasing the likelihood of me obtaining a job when I graduate), it is a science that has few math requirements (arithmetic is not my strong suit), and (above all) I want to help people. With my degree, I hope to become one of two things: a nurse or a paramedic/firefighter. The thought of sitting in the back of an ambulance and doing CPR on someone in cardiac arrest excites me greatly. It’s the perfect way to help those who need it most. Who needs help more than someone who would literally die without your assistance?

Information technology and computer science have changed the field of medicine completely within the past several decades. Things like MRI machines, ultrasounds, mammograms, colonoscopies, pap smears and countless other recently developed technologies have transformed the field of medicine into one of preventative care (rather than one that fixes illnesses as they crop up). Using these techniques, doctors can predict the probability of one developing an ailment, and thus can prescribe lifestyle changes to prevent it from developing. This alone has the potential to save and/or improve countless lives. Several decades ago these advancements were unheard of. In the 1960’s, electroshock theory treatments and lobotomies were common place, ruining countless lives due to impure ethical standards and medical ignorance.

Last summer, I took an EMT certification course at Hudson Valley Community College. In the course, my instructor told us of a study that was conducted several years ago that attempted to analyze the pace of change in the field of emergency medicine. Their findings? Every 10 years, 35% of the established protocols are revamped or changed completely. That is insane, and the pace of change is only going to increase.

I am entering the field of medicine at a very interesting time. Long established techniques and technologies are rapidly changing as we obtain more knowledge about our bodies and how they work. There is no telling what will be standard practice 10 years from now. 3D printed prosthetics? Cloned organs? It sounds like science fiction, but it is not. Before we know it, these new technologies will be common place in hospitals around America.

When Arthur C. Clarke said: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, he was right. If doctors from the 1960’s walked into a hospital today, they wouldn’t believe their eyes.

Webster has two definitions for citizen. The first: ‘the fact or status of being a citizen of a particular place’. The second: ‘the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community.’ To me, the second definition is more true. Yes, citizenship is a legal construct. We are ‘citizens’ of America, which grants us certain rights and privileges in the eyes of the American government. This does not capture the whole picture. There is more to being a member of a state than citizenship.

In fact, in order for a society to function properly, we (as citizens) are entrusted with the health and management of the state. Because we exist within a democracy, the most powerful weapon that we have to prevent mismanagement and tyranny is our vote. Leaders implement bad policies? Corrupt? Inept? Vote them out. Influence others to use their votes. Organize. Make some noise. Disobey the establishment. The people of lesser democracies dream of such political freedom.

This is our civic duty. Our incredible responsibility as citizens to see that our country continues to function to serve the will of the many, not the few.

For years we were warned. People like William Binney, Russ Tice, Thomas Andrews Drake had warned the populous about the growing influence of the national security state. As early as 2004, whistleblowers started to emerge from the opaque organizations they were employed for. They foretold of a government that collects, stores, and attempts to analyze all of the country’s internet traffic without a warrant. That an overly broad interpretation of section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act allowed the government to issue a general warrant for all of the communications in America, because it is potentially useful in a counter-terrorism investigation (regardless if it is useful). Since these organizations were within the Executive Branch, there was virtually no oversight by either Congress nor by federal judges. By coming out from the shadows and warning us of what’s going on behind closed doors, these brave men and women put themselves and their families in grave danger. Unfortunately, their calls were for reform were suppressed. Debate was stifled by hawks that wanted to continue to surveillance. In federal court, challenges brought against the surveillance were dismissed because of a lack of legal standing. Of course, how can you prove that the government is spying on you when that information is classified?

Then, in June 2013, that information became forcefully unclassified. Edward Snowden, National Security Agency contractor, employed by Booz Allen Hamilton covertly stole a collection of 1.7 million classified documents from the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Virginia. He got out of the country as fast as he could, first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, and distributed the documents to the journalist Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian.

Those documents contained a treasure trove of highly classified information, much of it damning and worrying. In fact, much of the information he stole was so secretive that it was classified at a level above top secret. Numerous programs have been revealed to the public since. PRISM, where the government works with the technology firms to collect vasts amounts of information from it’s users. MUSCULAR, where the government collects unencrypted information as it travels between Yahoo and Google data centers (without their knowledge or consent). DISHFIRE, where the NSA (in collaboration with it’s British counterpart, the GCHQ) collects  millions of text messages daily in an untargeted global sweep. DROPOUTJEEP, where the government is able to remotely retrieve information from the iPhone covertly (information includes but is not limited to voicemail, contact list, location data, SMS messages, and they can remotely activate both cameras and the microphone). Top secret court orders that force Verizon to hand over all of their ‘metadata’ (that is, data that gives context and specificity to other data). Tapping directly into intercontinental fiber optic cables.  Spying directly on the heads of state of Brazil and Germany. Industrial sabotage directed at a Belgian telecom company. Devices called IMSI-catchers can collect all cellular communication within a ‘several kilometer radius’. Think that’s scary? The LAPD uses IMSI-catchers regularly in their investigations.

It gets even crazier. A division within the NSA called the Tailored Access Operations intercepts deliveries of computers and laptops in order to install spyware on devices before they reach their destination. They even have the capabilities to sabotage and infiltrate computers that aren’t connected to the internet, using covertly planted radio transmitters that can send information to relay stations miles away.

Perhaps most damaging is the weakening of encryption standards. According the 2013 NSA budget request submitted to Congress, the NSA’s specific goals and use for the funds includes ‘influence policies, standards and specific technologies’. When taken at face value, this doesn’t seem to mean much. Upon closer examination, the true horror of what they’re doing is revealed. The NSA paid RSA (the company that creates most of the world’s encryption standards) $10 million to use a weaker algorithm in their random number generator used for their encryption called DUAL_EC_DRBG. They also influenced an encryption standard named A5/1, which is commonly used by cellular phones globally. They’re inserting holes into encryption standards that are used by everyone, including the government itself. They are doing this so that they can break into encrypted data if they need to. Problem is, by creating this vulnerability, they are opening the door for particularly clever hackers and nations (specifically China and Russia) to use the vulnerability themselves. This puts everyone at risk. Credit cards, banking information, state secrets, technological research and development, nuclear codes, infrastructure (gas, water, waste, roads, mass transit…)…  All encrypted with the weakened, poisoned standard. Unfortunately, Obama failed to address this concern with his recent reforms.

The government isn’t thinking about slowing down either. Oh, no. The NSA is spending tens of millions of dollars every year to create their next generation of encryption cracking quantum supercomputers. The federal government is spending $2 billion to create a data center in Utah to store all of the collected information. They expect to increase their efforts regarding encryption, as they see it as an important SIGINT (signals intelligence) battle to be won over the next decade. Without Snowden, who knows when the public would have learned about this? After all, in 2006, whistleblower Russ Tice said “there’s no way the programs I want to talk to Congress about should be public ever, unless maybe in 200 years they want to declassify them”.

My friends call me a paranoid freak, and maybe I am. Maybe I’m not. The NSA’s system works on a system of ‘hops’, you only have to be 3 degrees of separation from a terror target to become a target yourself. That is, if you are a friend of a friend of a friend of a terror suspect, you too are being surveilled. I’m friends with several foreign born political activists, a few of which have had direct confrontations with state and federal police during Occupy Albany. All of this means that I am definitely being surveilled by the government.

The American government might not be doing these things with malice. In fact, the NSA is probably dedicated to it’s mission to help Americans. This does not mean that I want them to have the ability to sift through everything that constitutes my digital existence, especially when the rules defining the surveillance are so broad and vague.

We may never be able to fully appreciate what Snowden has done for us. His actions sent unexpected shock waves through our society. Snowden’s job is complete. Now it’s time for us to do out part and change our society for the better with the new information that we have. Maybe we’ll finally have legal standing after all.