Monday, June 10, 2013

Was It Something I Said?

by C.J. Chase

If you follow the news, you may have heard of the latest possible scandal involving PRISM or Boundless Informant. And if you have, I hope you’ll enlighten me in the comments section. I’ve been trying to get a handle on this, and everything I read and hear seems to contradict the last thing I read/heard.

Is it a data storage facility for every email, phone record, carrier pigeon message and Inkwell blog comment ever created—or just a means to track foreign threats? The paper breaking the story claims the US government is amassing an unprecedented repository of every possible form of communication Americans engage in. The government spokesman claims they only look for possible threats. Of course, given (1) the recent revelation about the government tracking of AP reporters’ phones and Verizon customer phone records and (2) the admissions about the IRS targeting certain groups for extra scrutiny and audits, the government’s credibility on the privacy front is somewhat lacking these days. (In which case, hello, government analyst assigned to track me. I hope you’re enjoying the Inkwell blog. And do be try one of my books while you’re reading.)

Knowledge is power, and few things attract the proud like power. After all, if I know best, that it only stands to reason you should do as I say. Satan’s three temptations of Jesus all involved power – either the misuse of power (changing the stones to bread, throwing himself from the temple) or the prideful acquisition of power (bow down, and Satan would give him all the kingdoms of the world).

Data is easier to track, gather and analyze than ever before, and in the information age, data is king. Manipulating past data allows companies to predict future behaviors. For example, based on your credit history, credit card issuers analyze the risks/rewards of offering you credit.  

But with every new bit of data collected about you, the risks to your privacy, your finances, and perhaps even your person increase. There’s a cool techno-word for attempting to acquire data from unsuspecting or too-trusting people (data such as passwords, credit card numbers, etc.)—phishing.

And while some might say we don’t have to worry about government data collection if we aren’t doing anything wrong, we know all governments on earth are comprised of fallible human beings. Do you remember in 2008 when a government employee leaked private financial information about “Joe the Plumber” to the press? More recently, a spokesman for a traditional marriage advocacy group testified before Congress that an employee of the IRS leaked confidential donor information to political opponents—opponents who then proceeded to harass the donors. 

I confess to a certain queasiness about the notion of anyone collecting data about me. Have you ever heard it said that once something is on the Internet, it can never be erased? It will exist somewhere, in cached bits and bytes.Whether through an honest mistake or malicious hacker, private information sometimes becomes public knowledge.

Do you know who else keeps data about us? In Matthew 12:36, Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (ESV). 

Ouch! Ponder that for a minute: Every. Careless. Word. Have you ever impulsively said something you wish you could call back? Yelled at your children? Snapped at your spouse? Complained about the minister? Gossiped about someone who annoyed you? You know the problem with that children's ditty "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It's not true. Words said with anger or scorn hurt. 

And those hurtful words reveal deep facets of our character. Just like companies use the information they collect to learn about us, our words reveal what is inside. Right before Jesus told us the consequences for idle words, he said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12: 34b, ESV)

I don't know the truth about whether the US government is spying on its citizens. But I do know that in the end, everyone—writers, readers, bloggers, mothers, teachers, lawyers, presidents, janitors, and government data collectors—will have to give an accounting before God. And that's reason enough to choose my words with care this week.

Do you have privacy concerns in the Internet age? How do you find balance between privacy and convenience?

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her current release, The Reluctant Earl, is now available  in online bookstores. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at  


  1. I imagine it's true because big brother has been doing this for years in ways we cant imagine. I cant argue with using sneaky methods to track criminal or terrerist activity. But then where is the line?
    I have to wonder how many new jobs could be created if the govt really wants to read our emails. Ha ha. I barely have time myself!

    I think what would happen is your info will be accessible but ignored.
    the biggest concern for me is how easy it is for unscrupulous people to hack through financial and password info.

    The govt will decide to protect us by creating a system of scannable password that is uniquely us and we can have it embedded in our skin or done as a retina scan.

    Brilliant. We are being set up to be begging for the mark of the beast.

  2. Deb, did you read about the school (actually, I think it involved several schools in one district) that collected retina scans on all the students -- without even notifying parents? Well, actually, the school didn't collect it. They contracted with a private company. There was an uproar, and the school claims the data has since been destroyed, but data is so easily replicated today. Do you trust a big, impersonal government or company? Sure, some are run ethically, but they all have fallible people in them.

    That's why I sometimes like to retreat to my historical settings. You know if someone burns a letter, there's no photocopy or scan lurking out there on a hard drive for someone else to find. Of course, we perhaps understand that verse about giving account for every careless word better than people who didn't have to wonder if everything they'd ever typed was in a database in Utah.

  3. Very interesting post, CJ. I hadn't heard of PRISM although I was just talking to hubby and he was listening to something on the radio about it.

    As a former member of the military, none of this surprises me. Probably because a war is won or lost based on the interpretation of the intelligence team. (That's Intel not brain power or lack thereof.) You can have the most effective weapons in the world but if the enemy knows when you'll use them, they can strike your weapons first.

    Very good reminder of Matt 12:34b. Thank you. I needed a kick in the butt today.

  4. I think we all know that these things have been going on for years and years, that what we DO know is probably the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and that it will continue to escalate as we approach the return of Christ.

    That said, I try to rely on Paul's instructions in Romans 13 regarding having a right attitude toward civil leaders and authority.

    As for Internet privacy... there is no such thing, ask any teenage hacker.

    Good things to ponder, CJ. Our knee-jerk response to this kind of stuff is probably not the Christ-like response we should have.

  5. Are you sure it's every word?! Yipes! Good post, CJ.

  6. I apologize for leaving out half my punctuation. I will blame it on some early morning fuzziness or as a way to confound the government.

    I've learned a few lessons about watching what came out of my mouth and off my fingertips. A lovely reminder of focusing on what's important in these crazy days.

  7. Yikes. The school collecting retinal scans on students is pretty disturbing.

    I've always figured "they" were tracking our calls, etc. It never really phased me since I worked on a military base for so many years. There, they did have a way to pick up certain words that were said during a phone call. It was kind of like being in an airport - there are certain words you just don't say.

    However, that doesn't make this other data collection right. I don't think they're actually listening to our calls. It's more like looking for patterns. My pattern would be pretty boring.

    I don't buy the government's response that we can't have 100% protection without giving something (freedom) up. Why? Because "they" can't give us 100% protection.

    We have to put our faith and trust in Jesus, and not the government. And that's about as political as I get.

    Great post, CJ. Great scriptures from both you and Niki.

  8. Anita and Niki -- I guess I do suspect the worst. Which is why I sometimes like to do unpredictable things, just to mess with everything. I am so on the grid. My cp writes geopolitical thrillers about terrorists. You should hear our phone conversations sometimes. (Well, just go work for the gov and you probably could hear our phone conversations.)

    Lisa, unless you can find an amendment somewhere, it really says "every" -- which is why I find it so scary.

    Deb, I must have been just as tired because I didn't notice the typos. (And I usually notice, which makes me wonder how many typos are in the post if i was that tired...)

    Suzie, I agree there will never be 100% security so long as there are humans on the planet. Unfortunately, there are always creative people who use their ingenuity for evil. (Think of all the good they could do. But they don't.) I do sort of feel sorry for those in government. They can't guarantee 100% safety, but as soon as something goes wrong, people will be looking for someone to blame (beyond the perpetrator).

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  10. Very interesting. I need to come back and really read this when I have more time.

  11. This makes "Person of Interest" look tame. I'm not surprised, though. This sort of thing has probably been happening a lot more and a lot longer than we all know.

    I like what Niki said about following Jesus, which includes respecting authority, but keeping Him in our focus.

    And very timely reminder to watch what I say. I've been snappy lately. And I don't mean in my dress.


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