The Five Stages of NSA Surveillance Grief

If the recent leaks about the US government’s surveillance of all worldwide electronic communications have left you upset or confused, then you may be experiencing one of the five stages of NSA surveillance grief.

Much like Kuebler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grieving over death, the Five Stages of NSA Surveillance Grief shows the natural phases that individuals go through after learning that the US government has had complete access to all their electronic communications for many years.

1. Denial

Despite the articles about ECHELON network published since at least 1999, many individuals have convinced themselves that there is no way the US government could even have computer servers large enough to hold all of this information.

Individuals are commonly in denial that this really is possible. “You mean the government can read all my emails and no one in the media has told us until now? Where were the New York Times or the Washington Post, leading the charge for freedom, exposing the government for surveillance on its citizens that far exceeds anything George Orwell or Richard Nixon could ever dream of?”

Others have believed that their clever Facebook usernames or avatars in other online environments would be enough to fool any snoopers and so preserve their online anonymity. Still others have maintained a touching belief in US Constitutional safeguards, despite the loss of so many other civil liberties since 9/11.

However, since the Snowden revelations (however tame they seem to some), it’s hard to stay in the denial phase. Yes, Virginia: the NSA really does know everything that you do online.

2. Anger

After learning that the government has been logging your every email, text message and phone call, just in case, some individuals grow angry and say things like “This is unjust!” or “This is illegal.”

Others say: “I’m moving to Canada.” Then they realize Canada is equally under NSA surveillance, so there’s really nowhere they can go to enjoy secure electronic communications. They must live out the rest of the days like a rat in a maze, while the US government and friendly telecommunications corporations watch their every move. Some people are actually infuriated by this, as they once enjoyed the delicious illusion that their communications were sacrosanct.

More entrepreneurial-minded people even vow to take steps in order empower themselves. Some consider starting their own Big Data company to get in on the action. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them. Once you have collected enough personal data about other consumers, you will be a player in the corporate surveillance game, with all rights and benefits accruing to you, and none of the responsibility.

Unfortunately, for many people starting a Big Data company to compete with Facebook or Google is beyond their means.

So others make ludicrous vows, such as that they won’t use the Internet anymore, until they realize that they have been wasting their entire lives on the internet for years now, and they have very little life outside it.

3. Bargaining

The anger phase often gives way to the bargaining phase, as the newly enlightened individual realizes that he must compromise with the “new” situation.

Some people resolve to be more discreet with their Facebook postings (e.g., don’t post anything in favor of the Occupy movement as this is an obvious red flag).

Others realize that they should not bring their mobile phone (which tracks their every move) along with them if they intend to do anything illegal (e.g., play poker at a friend’s house and not declare their winnings on their tax return), or do anything simply compromising (e.g., visit their mistress without their wife’s approval).

Bargaining is a healthy stage, as the newly awake individual is blindly groping his way toward acceptance of the Orwellian superstate.

4. Depression

Unfortunately, after the bargaining phase, many people regress into depression. For many it is sad for them to learn that their supposed Constitutional right to be “secure in their persons and their papers” was just a big lie to keep them participating in a system that forces them to work fifty weeks per year, and stay connected (via their smart phone naturally) with their employer during most nights, weekends and holidays as well.

Many people treat their depression with anti-depressant medication, which often helps move them to the next phase: acceptance.

5. Acceptance

Most people simply come to accept that there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. If all electronic communications are caught in a government dragnet, their best option is just lay low, keep their mouths shut, and pray that they are not on some government watch list for daring to criticize the U.S.’s 2003 unilateral invasion of Iraq, for example.

Coincidentally, this is exactly the behavior that the government is looking for, showing the effectiveness of the system, and how the Acceptance phase is Win/Win for both individuals and the government alike.

Some people try to show their patriotism by claiming that they have always accepted government surveillance and even want it go farther, saying things like: “Why not put government cameras in our homes? You don’t have anything to hide, do you? You don’t mind if smart TV’s keep on an eye on you to make sure you’re not a terrorist, do you? If you do mind, then perhaps you are a terrorist.”

For some people the worst part of the Acceptance phase is accepting that some wormy conspiracy theorist they know has been right about this for years, and will probably say I Told You So, at the first chance. That’s the absolute worst part, far worse than the government knowing that you really like videos about Chinese women with really large buttocks.

For many, the good news is that they have nothing to hide after all. Unless you have cheated on your spouse, cheated on your taxes, or disagreed with any US government policies in last twelve years, then the government’s knowledge of your every digital move is little cause for alarm. It’s not like they have enough drones to attack everyone, so people who keep quiet will stay low on the government’s priority list.


Realizing that the NSA basically knows everywhere you have gone (or at least your mobile phone has gone), and everyone you have called, texted, emailed, or messaged for years, can be disturbing at first.

However, just as people learn to accept the inevitability of death, so can people learn to live with the inevitability that using modern electronic communications infrastructure is more like broadcasting yourself to the world than sending a privileged communiqué sealed with diplomatic immunity.

We hope that you can join countless others and move to the acceptance phase. Anger and denial are temporary phases that most people can learn to outgrow.

Author: Dan Geddes

Dan Geddes is the author of The Satirist: America's Most Critical Book and the editor of the online journal The Satirist: America's Most Critical Journal (, an astonishing collection of satires, reviews, reviews of imaginary works, fiction, essays, poems, and satirical news. He lives in Amsterdam.

4 thoughts on “The Five Stages of NSA Surveillance Grief

  1. Dan’s first article, 2014; remains a classic. Please see the video on Youtube too: Dan has a channel. Please subscribe!

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