Big Brother? Not Big Enough...
NOAH ADAMS, host:
A question for you: how far would you go to allow the government to win the war on terror? Humorist Brian Unger suggests that eavesdropping and telephone data collection don't go far enough. Here's today's Unger Report.
BRIAN UNGER reporting:
Washington is the new Vegas, because the newest play in our nation's intelligence gathering data collection is starting to sound like one high-stakes poker game. First, we're betting it's constitutional. We're betting that citizens don't mind sharing personal data with the government. And we're betting that it's effective, that it works. The pay day? Foiling a terrorist plot in the U.S. The jackpot? Catching Osama. If we hit either, we'll be very smart or just lucky.
Constitutionality, privacy, efficacy--those are big gambles in a democracy. And as anyone who plays poker knows, it's hard to quit gambling. Because when you're way down and there's nothing left to wager, you start looking for anything left of value to throw into the pot. We're gonna play for years and years if we want to win this thing, the administration says. So if you're still in, the Unger Report sees your phone calls and wants to raise you.
To really sweeten the pot, let's monitor what people eat. I'll bet there's some kind of dietary pattern that radical Islamists exhibit--an energy rich diet of oil, Middle Eastern grains, protein, to the occasional fast. If we collect data on people eating that diet, then compared it to those eating a non-terrorist diet--Big Mac's, Whoppers, Cheese Lovers' Pizza--then cross-reference those foods against a telephone database, especially calls made on the High Holy Days at suppertime, we might catch a terrorist at a supermarket or a Sizzler.
(Soundbite of cards shuffling)
UNGER: Now, if we're gonna go all the way with this data collection business, let's monitor what TV shows people are watching. Now, there are 5,000 households in the National People Meter sample provided by Nielson. This is what networks use to measure TV ratings. I'm betting if we add 280 million to the sample, we can really get inside people's heads. Presumably, terrorists love 24, Alias, and Malcolm in the Middle. Cross-reference that with shows they probably hate: Will and Grace, Desperate Housewives, and American Idol. Compare it to the terrorist food intake index, then cross-reference it with phone calls made on High Holy Days, we'll catch terrorists flat-footed, bloated, in front of their TVs.
(Soundbite of roulette wheel)
UNGER: Now, if we really want to bet the farm on data collection, let's monitor who's dating who. It's done in Hollywood. Why not in real America? Any terrorist worth his weight wouldn't be wasting his time falling in love or going to a Sandals Resort with his honey. So, if we start surveilling people who drink alone, visit Internet dating Web sites, who stay home on Valentine's Day, then measure those people against the food they're consuming, cross-reference with the TV shows they're watching, then all of that analyzed against the phone calls they're making, I bet we'll catch a terrorist who's depressed, parked in front of his TV, getting fat, and waiting for the phone to ring.
(Soundbite of cards shuffling)
UNGER: If we're going to collect data, let's collect some data. Are you in or what?
And that is today's UNGER REPORT. I'm Brian Unger.
(Soundbite of music)
ADAMS: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Noah Adams.
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