Tuesday, January 24, 2006

White House Puts Friendly Face on Domestic Surveillance

Fights laws, checks and balances, and ethics with marketing

WASHINGTON - Facing growing controversy from numerous quarters about his domestic surveillance program, President Bush and his administration have launched a series of initiatives designed to make the surveillance seem less unconstitutional and more criminally cute.

Working in conjunction with toy manufacturer Fisher Price, the White House unveiled Fisher Price’s My First Wiretap, targeted at ages 4-6. The package comes with a plastic phone, earpiece bug and silly putty adhesive, twenty feet of string, and a can for listening to conversations. Expansion kits for opening mail and e-mail are in development and slated for Christmas 2006.

Taking a cue from McGruff the Crime Dog, the administration has also ordered 13 episodes of the cartoon, Buggy the Curiosity Fly. A comical insect with special night vision eyesight, Buggy spends each episode flying from wall to wall and using the information he gleans to fight terrorism. The premiere episode shows Buggy uncovering a conversation between two terrorists during an ACLU meeting, and each episode ends with Buggy uttering the catchphrase, “Help Buggy get all the buzz on terror!”

For adolescents, the White House felt something more edgy would be necessary, so the President and his advisors held a secret series of meetings with clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch. The controversial clothier came up with a series of apparel almost daring the government to spy on them. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” “Hope you liked my e-mail, G-Man,” and “Hey Uncle Sam, let’s make the phone sex a threeway,” are just some of the slogans that have been created.

“Combining detached irony with a kind of slacker conformity is really how one can control the millennial generation,” said Abercrombie head designer, Rufus Faust. “It’s like we’re saying everyone expects you to rebel against this unconstitutional intrusion into your private life, which is precisely why you shouldn’t rebel against it.” The first shipment of clothing has already sold out, with celebrities such as Paris Hilton sporting the t-shirts.

Cartoons and reverse rebellion were deemed inappropriate for adults, however, and the administration already had one television avenue for promoting aggressive intelligence gathering without respect for laws or logic, Fox’s 24. Instead, the President decided to appeal to the pocketbooks of his constituents.

The new “Friends and Family Surveillance Plan" allows U.S. citizens to enjoy free long distance when they talk to family members and acquaintances within their group, dubbed a “cell.” In exchange, the plan members give the National Security Agency unlimited access to those conversations.

Critics of the administration have blasted these efforts. “Calling this pandering would be an insult to panderers,” said Myron I. Relevant, of the left-wing think tank People Against Private Surveillance, Monitoring, Eavesdropping, Auditing, and Reconnaissance. “Even Miramax during the Oscar voting wouldn’t stoop this low.”

But many citizens seem to see nothing wrong with the efforts. “At first, I was kind of uncomfortable with Friends and Family, because I just didn't think it was right for the government to listen in on my conversations,” said Henry S. Pigeon, an accountant in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “But then I got my long-distance bill, and I saved enough to buy my youngest one of those My First Wiretap kits. And besides, like my teenager always says, ‘I’ve got nothing to hide.’”

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