Palm Sunday is the fictional account of a private agency that is secretly monitoring the Internet. They are in the business of culling massive amounts of data from the private communications of ordinary people, without their knowledge. They do this by tapping into the underlying infrastructure of the Internet.
Their intent is to create a "societal profile", a snapshot of what Americans are concerned enough to be communicating about. Originally intended as a mechanism to predict when the United States might be in peril of losing its place of preeminence, the process has been subjugated to the whims of a power hungry leader with his own peculiar agenda.
When a ten-year-old boy finds a hand-held computer and brings it home, it opens a window into the clandestine activities of a secretive agency.
Making Palm Sunday
Everyone uses the Internet. Email, file transfers, online transactions, browsing…
But once you press Send, what happens to your data? How exactly does it get to its destination, and how is it vulnerable to spying? In Palm Sunday all Internet data is being mined while in transit, and no one would be the wiser, but for the mugging of Robert Slocum.
When his palmtop computer is stolen, it opens a window into the clandestine activities of his employer, and turns them against him.
About the Author
William R. Vitanyi, Jr.
Bill lives in northwestern Pennsylvania with his family and many pets. He is an Edinboro University of Pennsylvania alumnus, with a Bachelor's degree in Russian Language and additional certifications in computer programming and operations.
In 2009 he proposed and established the Impact writing contest, in which students at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. submitted paragraphs of 200 words or less on a topic of their choice. The authors of the paragraphs with the greatest impact won. Over 40 students participated.
He has written several books, numerous articles at Hubpages.com (see under Hubs on this page) and founded the Build-A-Book project.
Bill has appeared in several independent films, and served as script supervisor in Schism, an independent film by Lyon's Den Productions about one man's descent into Alzheimer's. In 2003 and 2004 Bill won third place awards for his writing at the St. David's Christian Writers Conference. In 2008 he won an IPPY award (humor) for The Official Guide to Office Wellness.
Title: Palm Sunday
Author: William R. Vitanyi, Jr.
Page Count: 352
eBook Publisher: Bayla Publishing
Robert Slocum casually tossed down a shot of whiskey, pursed his lips at the bite, and followed it with a swallow of cold beer. He didn't drink much, and he hadn't today. The single shot with its beer chaser was simply part of a routine he always followed before meeting a client. Throwing a few bills on the counter, he nodded at the bartender and walked towards the exit.
It was late, well after midnight, and a mix of drizzle and sleet had just started to fall. No matter, his car was only half a block away. He stepped onto the poorly lit sidewalk, and had gone no more than ten paces when something struck him a savage blow to the back of the head.
He felt himself falling, slowly corkscrewing towards the concrete walkway, as if in slow motion. Powerless to stop himself, he crashed to the ground as darkness slowly engulfed him. The faint perception of something tugging at his clothes, and distant voices, were among his last memories as he slowly lapsed into unconsciousness.
The inexorable flow of data across the centuries has progressed from leaflets, to books, to copper wires, to fiber optics and beyond. This flow requires an infrastructure, and in today's world that means the Internet.
When you think Internet infrastructure, think wires, controlled by private companies, carrying millions of bits of data just like yours. Even though you may be using a cell phone or tablet to access the Internet, and this uses a wrireless signal, ultimately your data is passing over physical wires, be they copper or fiber optic.
So what happens to your data when you press Send?
The Internet is not really one thing. It is a collection of interconnected networks, some very small, like the one in your own home, and some very large. Through connections between networks, you can reach any other point on the Internet, whether it's a web page, an email address, or something else.
The largest of these commercial networks are called backbones, and they carry an enormous enormous amount of data. In the United States these large backbones are owned by only seven companies. They are:
Although there are many smaller players beneath the level of these few giants, to gain access to the larger online world requires that you join their network, so there is a degree of centralized control of the path of the data flow. More importantly, the streams are actually gushing rivers, a torrent of data conveniently funneled into a few massive pathways. When one is mining a valuable commodity, having that commodity available in known veins of never-ending ore is optimal.
If you have ever used a computer, watched a television program, or lived on Earth, you have probably heard the word database. In a general sense most people understand that this means a place where information is stored, but what exactly is a database, and why should you care?
A database is in fact a place to store information, but this information is stored in a very specific way. A database is constructed of tables, which consist of rows, which contain columns. Those columns contain the data.
A database table looks very much like a spreadsheet, with rows and columns. The difference is that a database table's columns are predefined as to type and length, whether or not they can be empty, and other criteria. Once defined, data stored in a column must conform to the column definition. A database can, and usually does, contain many tables, some of which relate to each other to make it easier and more efficient to look up data. Computer programs can reference database tables to process transactions, search for specific bits of data, or to otherwise read or manipulate the data.
There are many different database products, but the most prevalent are Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, and Informix, to name a few. Cost and performance are considerations when choosing which databse to use, and some are free, while others are quite expensive, both to purchase and maintain. Many organizations use more than one database system.
Once populated, a database can be searched very quickly. The language used to search a database is called Structured Query Language, or SQL, and a typical SQL statement might look something like this:
Where Lastname = 'Smith';
This search would return the last name, first name, and telephone number for everyone with the last name Smith that is stored in the table called Table_01. The search could be done manually by a person, or by a computer program, and can be far more complex, limited only by the data contained in the database, and the expertise of the people extracting it.
Populating a database with data from the Internet backbones would provide an ongoing source for searches for specific keywords, phrases, or any combination to find conversations of interest. Although searches that dig into the domestic communications of U.S. citizens are strictly regulated by law, we cannot know what we cannot see.
If all that is required is a database and some SQL queries, then what is to prevent someone with access to the tools and a desire to snoop from digging into the data mine? A mine, incidentally, that contains your information, and mine.
Two things. First, the law. However, even that is less of a protection than it once was, with the advent of the Patriot Act as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enabling statutes that give the government the right to surveil the Internet.
The second is encryption. Much of the traffic on the Internet is encoded with password protection, but cracking that code may not be as hard as once thought. Some have suggested that the National Security Agency (NSA) designed the pseudorandom number generator widely used for generating algorithms used in encryption, and know its weaknesses. If true, this would allow for easier government decryption of intercepted Internet traffic.
Logically, why would the government collect all that data if they couldn't decrypt it anyway? Further, if the technology is in the hands of the government, how far off is its transfer to private entities? Such secrets do not remain secret for long.
If you have a smart phone, and who doesn't, you may think that you can avoid the data stream of the Internet when you browse online. In fact, although you connect to the Internet either through your cell network or a wireless access device, your data is still ultimately traveling across the internet infrastructure. The wireless aspect offers convenience, but as far as the Internet is concerned, it is still just a way to get to the wires.
Communications are now largely Internet based, with much of the data travelling across a limited number of high traffic backbones, which may be susceptible to surveillance. Database technologies exist that facilitate rapid accumulation and mining of vast quantities of digital information, a difficult to resist source of raw data.
Social freedom is a democratic imperative, but if privacy of communication is violated on a national scale, that freedom is at risk. The hidden nature of the Internet infrastructure places it out of sight and out of mind, but if we are at least aware of the potential, it may be a first step in perserving our treasured privacy.