Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the FSB

It recently came to my attention that the word “privacy” does not exist in the Russian language, and now I'm starting to see why.  I attended an orientation and security briefing at the US Embassy yesterday, which gave me a little too much insight into the mythical power of the Russian FSB.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the FSB (Federal Security Service), it's basically the post-Soviet version of the KGB.  They're responsible for state security, counterintelligence, border security, counter-terrorism, surveillance, and all that good stuff.  One of the more menial tasks that falls under that umbrella is keeping tabs on yours truly. 

I was told that all emails, phone calls, and texts are fair game because all digital communication in Russia is routed through FSB servers.  Okay, fine, I've always worked under the assumption that emails are not private.  In fifth grade, our teacher said that we should think of email like a postcard—something more public than a letter and which should never include anything you wouldn't want your mother to see.  I disregarded that advice in middle school and lost my school computer privileges for a month.  Before my email was reinstated, I had to take a class on electronic ethics and from then on, I knew that the middle school version of the KGB (a severe librarian with too much time on her hands) was reading all my correspondence. 

Once email replaced the telephone as everyone's preferred mode of communication, I abandoned the “mom” litmus test.  My Gmail account is an easily searchable database of all my deepest, darkest, and most embarrassing secrets, which the FSB is now privy to as well. I also learned that the FSB has the power to mess with my bank account, and I should consider all of my electronics “compromised” for the duration of their electronic lives. Seeing as I just bought a new laptop, it looks like the FSB and I are in it for the long-haul.

“Look, I'm not trying to make you paranoid. Sure, the FSB could release a video of you getting dressed in the morning, but what's the point?  That just makes them look bad.” These were the comforting words of the Embassy.  I'd hate to hear the version that's meant to scare me.

When talking about my new-found paranoia with my Russian class this morning, my Dutch classmate interjected, “FSB?  Are you sure you didn't mean to say NSA?” Fair point, Olaf.  Thank you for raising my levels of paranoia to those of a stoned conspiracy theorist.

I guess I should be flattered by all the potential attention I'm getting from the Russian and US governments, or at least the low-level hack who is stuck keeping tabs on me.  I wouldn't wish reading my journal on anyone, especially a non-native English speaker. And just a heads up if you're watching me change—I get pretty lazy about shaving my legs in the winter, so things are about to get decidedly unsexy.  Enjoy the show, my friend.


  1. Great post, Jess. :) Always enjoy reading your blog.

  2. I am soooo curious to know what middle school Jessie wrote to have her computer privileges revoked.

    1. Nothing scandalous! I think middle school Jessie forwarded too many chain letters. She also frequented chat rooms during her free period, but that flew under the radar.