Yes, The NSA Is Tracking You. Get Over It

A German writer is fed up with the hypocrisy of an exhibitionist society outraged by the limits of privacy. Yes, you are being monitored. Now get back to your celebrity Twitter feed.

What did he expect?
What did he expect?
Henryk M. Broder

- OpEd-

BERLIN — Imagine the following situation: An exhibitionist doesn’t have curtains on his windows, so those on both the street and courtyard sides of his apartment can see everything that goes on inside — what he does, who comes to visit, who he goes to bed with and wakes up next to.

The exhibitionist doesn’t just casually let this go on; he actually wants it that way. It’s the way he lives.

Then one day he notices that one of the neighbors has a telescope facing his apartment. The exhibitionist calls the neighbor. “How dare you spy on me. You’re invading my private space!” he yells into the phone, furious. “I didn’t think you cared, maybe even liked it,” the neighbor says, defending himself. “Yes!” the exhibitionist screams, “but not when you do it!”

You’ve guessed where this is going. A society of exhibitionists gets teed-off when it’s watched by voyeurs. Professional ones, as it happens in the present NSA brouhaha, in the service of foreign powers.

German blogger Sascha Lobo says he feels “astonishment, dismay, outrage, irritation, a sense of powerlessness, anger and revulsion,” and Germany’s President Joachim Gauck wonders “if I can openly phone or e-mail at all anymore.”

These are amazing reactions given that our multi-directional, equal, free and transparent society is built on three pillars: quashing the private sphere, exhibitionism and voyeurism.

“Like a beach for nudists”

It’s not just on the train that we have to put up with business people discussing private matters with their significant others or personal assistants, absolutely unconcerned that we really don’t want to know. And celebrities of all stripes seem to feel obliged to share their private lives with us via Facebook, Twitter or one of the TV formats specifically created to deliver news-that’s-not-really-news to a society of voyeurs, who absolutely want to know what a well-known actor’s illegitimate son has to say about him, or how a famous actress is doing in rehab. Check out shows like Brisant (ARD) or Explosiv and Exclusiv (RTL) on German TV and you’ll see why the only places in the country that still have peep shows are places where television reception is poor.

All must be revealed! Germany is like a beach for nudists. Instead of perceiving people who “out themselves” as perpetrating a form of indecent exposure, we cover them with praise for their “courage.” And if somebody isn’t up for such exposure because they want to keep their private life to themselves, they are constantly prodded to go for it.

For example, to “help” gay soccer players come out, the German Football Association (DFB) has published a brochure entitled Fussball und Homosexualität ("Soccer and Homosexuality"). Its purpose is to provide “support for homosexual players both male and female.” In addition, German Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who favors “informational self-determination,” has asked national trainer Joachim Löw, together with national team players, to participate in Christopher Street Day (an annual European LGBT street event).

“Participation on the part of the DFB in 2014, with their own float, would be a great sign because it would be so visible,” she explained, without for a moment thinking of the right to “informational self-determination” for players who are gay but don’t wish to come out, or heterosexuals who don’t wish to be taken for gay.

Meanwhile, three dozen German writers have written an open letter to Angela Merkel urging the German chancellor to protect them from “foreign intelligence agencies monitoring our phone calls and electronic communication” because “this is an historic attack on our democratic constitutional state in the form of a reversal of the principle of presumption of innocence to presuming the guilt of millions.”

“The reversal of the principle of presumption of innocence to presuming the guilt of millions?” But that’s something we all experience daily.

Technology is two-sided

Presumption of innocence goes out the window when you’re filmed at the bank even though there isn’t the slightest reason to suspect that you’re out to steal other people’s money. Presuming the guilt of millions has become routine. If I want to fly to Frankfurt from Berlin, the purchase of the ticket alone apparently justifies the suspicion of planned hijacking.

“The historic attack on our democratic constitutional state” has to all appearances no consequences for the individual citizen. That’s the big difference between Gestapo and Stasi activity — on the surface the latter produced no damage, human or otherwise.

In Germany alone, 500 million “metadata” are monitored every month! But so what? If it were 500 or 5,000 we should worry, but 500,000,000? We can just keep on phoning and sending e-mails, no problem. The bigger the hay stack, the smaller the needle.

Anybody who books an Amazon adventure holiday or a Himalayan trekking tour on the Internet uses their smartphone to call up a map of Timbuktu or the Google Earth app to help them find their way on a stroll through Calcutta. They should not be surprised or irritated by the fact that the American government is in a position to follow — and register — their footsteps.

Anybody who takes a subway or bus ride home and doesn’t want to risk ending up on a mortuary slab instead has to be prepared to pay the price for the added security of a phone. We benefit from technology in other ways too. For example, a patient being operated on in Hildesheim will welcome the fact that a specialist located in Houston, Texas, can look over their surgeon’s shoulder via Web cam and help him or her through the procedure.

The Internet is not the first “dual use” invention. The printing press meant that both the Sermon on the Mount and Mein Kampf could be published. Atomic energy can be used for medical purposes — or bombs. Dynamite is useful to blast through rock when constructing mountain tunnels just as it can be used to blow up a train.

And this is not something that’s going to change. Today, any mobile phone can be traced to its location, even if the device is turned off. And when cash becomes obsolete because printing and distributing bank notes is supposedly just too expensive — and we have to pay for every cup of coffee and every ice cream cone with a chip card or our mobile phone — it will not only save the tax authorities a lot of work, it will also wipe out what little remains of our privacy.

And don’t say the no-money thing is impossible. The first mobile phones capable of taking and sending pictures came onto the market in 2000. Before that, such a thing was unimaginable.

Meanwhile, you can post the photos online immediately and share them with “friends” that you’ve never seen or spoken to. But God forbid we should ever be “spied on.” What those writers are defending is not “the principle of the presumption of innocence” but their own innocence in the face of reality.

A laptop is not a travel typewriter, and the Internet is not a collection point for carrier pigeons. There are only drawings of the Titanic's demise, but the collapse of the north tower of the World Trade Center was broadcast live. And the “historic attack on our democratic constitutional state” also has its benefits.

It brings clarity, for one thing. About the borders of privacy in the digital age, but also about writers who overreach themselves, and exhibitionists who get all huffy about voyeurs.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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