UPDATED 11:00 EDT / MAY 15 2015


To whom it may concern…

Editor’s Note: Introducing a new column by McAfee, Inc. founder and security pundit John McAfee. “Get McAfee’d” is a series exploring the impact of today’s all-access culture, debating the true meaning of personal data security and calling out the responsibilities of those that own the data, those that provide the data, and those that utilize the data. A controversial thought leader in the security sector, McAfee is on a personal mission to educate the public on current security issues.

Resurgence of a questionable surveillance program


We are at a point in history where law enforcement and the powers that be are hiding cameras disguised as cacti that have been placed among the citizens within one of our American cities. Without any announcement or consultation with its citizens or the public, the town of Paradise Valley Arizona has been subjected to cactus cameras. This is only the beginning. As surveillance creeps into our non-digital world, one must wonder what the limits of technology in this capacity will be. Are our homes destined to be locations for police cameras? Will unseen drones and satellites track people the moment they walk out their doors to the time they return home?

Sounds far-fetched but in the post-Snowden age, nothing is far-fetched. This secret cactus camera incident sprung up just days after a controversial program coming out of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was revived. Originally announced just over a year ago, the department established an initiative for a massive database system that would capture information from license plate readers throughout the country. The precedent is set and these questions remain: Is this really the best use for technology? Who is watching and why?

To whom it may concern:


It is near certain that the authors of America’s “Declaration of Independence” and Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” — texts of agonizing beauty in the face of today’s harsh realities –could not have anticipated a world in which spy cameras are hidden in cactuses, the Government surreptitiously parses our verbal communications and the concept of privacy is fast approaching extinction. They could not have anticipated a world in which information is the prime commodity of exchange, at the expense of Grace, Compassion, Solitude and the remaining fragile components of the besieged human heart. What they did anticipate is that Governments, no matter how powerful, will always hunger for more power, and that Power inevitably corrupts.


Governments are composed of human beings, and all of the frailties that humans possess are absorbed into these Governments, and become active within these Governments. Hatred, anger, jealousy, fear, greed, distrust and the whole host of afflictions that humans must bear, lurk just beneath the surface of civility displayed by “Government”. When individuals become angry with one another, an injury of some sort will likely occur. When governments become angry, entire civilizations are wiped out. When individuals become greedy, they are no longer invited to dinner. When governments become greedy, starvation afflicts the weaker nations. When people become fearful, other people avoid them. When governments become fearful, the populace is included among those elements that the government fears, and the populace has nowhere to go. These truths are self evident to anyone who cares to look with the right kind of eyes.

More than 200 years ago, a document called the “Declaration of Independence” was penned, fortunately, by some very smart people. A small part of me wants to believe that these words were intended for “We of the Future Present”, so that we might recognize the similarities between our current conditions and the conditions under which they suffered. But that seems suspiciously self centered on my part. Please forgive my unforgivable paraphrasing of the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident;

–That people are endowed with certain unalienable Rights,
–That among these Rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among People, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

A scant 77 years after these words were written, a gaunt President Lincoln stepped onto one of the bloodiest battlefields in human history to admonish his current, and all future generations, to bear the responsibility of we, the Governed:

“We must now dedicate ourselves to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Powerful words.10255203_464114187078100_6885834877108926443_n

The approaching nightmare — “Capitalistic Totalitarianism” — is no dream or fantasy. It is the potential reality at our doorstep; balanced precariously between the Holy Grail of totalitarianism — absolute knowledge of the populace, and the fading cries of our desperate need for privacy.

I am not in any way suggesting an armed rebellion or riots in the streets. If I were, in any case, inclined to do so, I fear those suggestions would never penetrate the “Digital Barrier” – that semi-permeable membrane surrounding all matters of importance regarding the Web — and you would never read them. My well-discussed “paranoia” urges me to believe that some tiny segment of the NSA’s parsing algorithm is finely tuned to my voice.

But on a happier note, I turn 70 this year, and very soon I will reach the age where paranoia and perception converge on a blissful state called “forgetfulness”. I just hope the NSA can contain their urges until I arrive at that state.

Photo credit: @backdoorviews 


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