November 2013 issue

Date:22 October 2013 Tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

INVASIVE – or simply a need to know?

Our cover story this month on National Security Agency (NSA) data mining has nothing to do with paranoia or conspiracy theories. It’s about the ways in which American government spooks gather countless items of data – phone calls, e-mails, images and videos – from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other communication resources, then analyse them for security threats.

You may ask why this is relevant to us. Here’s why: the NSA is authorised to snoop on foreign communications, collecting trillions of pieces of information from communications generated by people across the planet – and that includes us. As writer Joe Pappalardo points out, the NSA does not chase the crooks, terrorists and spies it identifies; instead, it sifts information on behalf of other government players such as the Pentagon, CIA and FBI.

It’s a complex issue. The US government was alarmed and outraged when NSA contractor Edward Snowden (allegedly) leaked classified documents that detailed how its sophisticated data-mining technology was used to track terrorists. The disclosure triggered heated debates over the sanctity of privacy, the need for security and the perils of government secrecy.

What’s your take on NSA data mining? Is it an unfortunate necessity, a gross violation of our right to privacy, or something in between? Read our story, starting on page 36, and tell us what you think.

Back home, airline pilot and BMW motorcycle enthusiast Freek de Villiers didn’t set out to build a “man cave”. He was perfectly happy with his life and had no desire to escape from his job, his domestic responsibilities or anything else. It just sort of… happened.

Associate editor Sean Woods was impressed by Freek’s immaculate workspace-cum-museum in Cape Town (“We’re talking operating theatre standards here”), where he gazed upon rows of painstakingly restored and imaginatively customised Beemers. He loved the fact that Freek – a self-confessed “Airhead” (after his love of air-cooled horizontal-twin BMW engines) – habitually visited scrapyards in search of spare parts, notably for a quirky machine dubbed Franken Beemer. The clincher: when calculating the requirements of a project, Freek tended to measure time in beers (as in “a six-beer job”). Sean’s summation: “This is our kind of guy.” Meet Freek and his bikes in “Magnificent obsession”, starting on page 46.

Intent on getting down and dusty, digital intern Sarah Adams packed her camera and set out for the remote Northern Cape for her first taste of Kalahari Desert SpeedWeek, an annual gathering of car and bike nuts (plus a sprinkling of aviation enthusiasts) characterised by friendliness and an urge to go as fast as possible.

There were café racers, ugly-but-interesting “rat” rods, classic muscle machines, very expensive supercars and other vehicles that defy categorisation. Oh, and some very cool planes, including a sigh-inducing Mustang P-51D. Sarah loved the aroma of oiled leather, dusty denim and petrol, describing the atmosphere as “near-as-dammit perfect” and vowing to return for next year’s event. Read “Desert showdown”, starting on page 70.

– Alan Duggan aland@ramsaymedia.co.za