Update – 3/4/2014 In light of the Snowden revelations, this old post becomes remarkably prescient.
Update – 6/27/2013 Note: with the recent “discoveries” of how the government is spying on the U.S. public using communication companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Google, Yahoo, Apple and others, this post becomes even more important for people to read and consider. Today I am adding new information to help you understand the issue which will show up at the end of this post. I tend to feel that truth is often found in unusual places. I teach my students in college about how cognitive bias serves to narrow our vision and helps to cement a false belief system that is not based on anything real necessarily. Being able to see beyond our own biases and consider new ideas without necessarily buying into them immediately just because they appeal to us personally, is an important trait in being able to get to the truth I have found. the preposterous idea one day can become mainstream truth the next. So please read through to the end for the newly added material!
Disclosure: this article was written first to investigate what was happening with surveillance in the USA and secondly to see if there was a presidential candidate who was addressing issues related to right to privacy as granted in the Constitution. This was written during a presidential campaign and part of the article points to a candidate who did address these issues. However, the information herein is timely and as recent events have shown with the issue of Snowden releasing information on how the govt has been spying on all Americans has made this piece written a year ago interestingly prescient.
Everything that is made is designed. Design makes an object useful, perhaps more purposeful. Normally we think of design as something that is for products like chairs and airplanes, shoes, guns, shirts, houses, communities, and computer systems. Things that help us live more fulfilled lives. But what about a surveillance state, a system for control or surveillance? This is a different kind of animal and I think that when it comes to these things our minds tend to switch into a mode of thinking that ceases being critical and questioning a lot of the time. It’s up to those in power to figure that out. They deal with secret information and after all, loose lips sinks ships, right? But all of these notions are themselves fed into us. We do not come out of the womb believing that we ought not question how a system for surveiling the public ought not be questioned. But this IS something that is designed. With purpose. For certain results. What exactly would go into a surveillance state, and why would anyone want to infringe on someone’s right to privacy in the United States? And really, to what end? It might help to understand what forms of surveillance there are and how information is supposed to be gathered. Its gone from people listening in over phone networks to much more sophisticated methods as well as means that you might not have even considered is part of the eavesdropping game in these United States. But first, a little history.
The History of Surveillance
It used to be the eyes on the ground was the neighborhood policeman who walked a beat. Police were still used to direct traffic, and things were simpler then. The world of electronics was just beginning to come into use. As with all technology, things were very expensive and bulky at first, which meant that having this form of technology around us was limited to things like computers, some radios, and specialty equipment. But fueled by an explosion in technology, the types of devices that could communicate wirelessly and increasingly higher wavelengths began to proliferate. The C.I.A. is created after the second world war and the N.S.A. was created in May of 1949 under the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support intelligence efforts (1)
Since then, along with parallel developments in signal technology and the development of a digital method for encoding and reading information over a broad range of electronic equipment, the technology used for surveillance has broadened. In the mid 80’s the rise of the internet served to be yet another platform for surveillance. By this time, though, much of the “listening” had become automated with keywords being picked through the vast chaff of signal communications via phone, internet, and even fax transmissions (via image recognition). The world of surveillance has become incredibly sophisticated, costly, and invasive. It’s an example of something that has been allowed to grow way beyond any reasonable bounds. Many ignore it since it’s just out of their notice while others are deeply concerned how this infrastructure is going to affect our rights to privacy. Fed by a wholesale liquidation of many privacy rights and standard procedures such as warrants for wiretapping as well as gathering records on suspects, the surveillance state in the U.S. has grown based on one event that happened on September eleventh in the year two thousand.
Currently the surveillance state in the United States costs about 75 billion dollars a year. This figure is expected to grow as our government continues to upgrade emergency medical response equipment, install surveillance cameras, set up sophisticated radio networks, and outfit airport screeners to detect an evolving list of mobile explosives. Currently the security industry is a growth sector of our economy, and states have benefited from a sudden influx of revenue resulting from business being created in this sector of the economy. After Columbine, some 10 billion was spent just to outfit schools with security cameras (2). The business of watching is expensive, and for some a financial boon. It involves makers, installers and monitors for the equipment or technology being used. A long list of benefits occur as a result of a security system being put into place in a courthouse, for example, benefits that involve people monitoring equipment, people employed to install as well as manufacture the equipment. The benefit to a cash strapped local government is that it results in much-needed revenue. All of that and we have not yet touched on the technology our government (the NSA in particular) is most likely using to tap into video cameras mounted on traffic lights as well as in businesses where they are tied to the internet. Many security cameras now have this as a standard feature, along with motion detection to alert you, from, say, your home, whether anything is moving around your business location or second home, for example. If it goes over the phone lines, the government can eaves drop on it! Sound paranoid? You should read on….
The L.A. Times explains the situation as it stands right now very well in its article about the rise of surveillance and domestic monitoring of its citizenry:
Thanks to new laws and technologies, authorities track and eavesdrop on Americans as they never could before, hauling in billions of bank records, travel receipts and other information. In several cases, they have wiretapped conversations between lawyers and defendants, challenging the legal principle that attorney-client communication is inviolate.
Advocates say the expanded surveillance has helped eliminate vulnerabilities identified after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some critics, unconvinced, say the snooping undermines privacy and civil liberties and leads inevitably to abuse. They argue that the new systems have weakened security by burying investigators in irrelevant information.
“We are caught in the middle of a perfect storm in which every thought we communicate, every step we take, every transaction we enter into is captured in digital data and is subject to government collection,” said Fred H. Cate, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who has written extensively on privacy and security.
A robust debate on the intelligence gathering has been impossible, for the simple reason that most of the activity is officially secret. In lawsuits alleging improper eavesdropping, the Justice Department has invoked state secrecy to prevent disclosure of classified information and systems.
In May, two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that Americans would be disturbed if they knew about some of the government’s data-gathering procedures. But Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said they were prohibited from revealing the facts.
“When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted” surveillance law, “they will be stunned and they will be angry,” Wyden said.
The National Security Agency, which eavesdrop on foreign targets, once had to get a court-approved warrant to monitor a U.S. citizen’s communications over wires that traverse the United States. Now the agency is free to vacuum up communications by Americans and foreigners alike, as long as the target of the surveillance is a foreigner. (3)
A Question of Finances
At a time when our nation is stretched to its limit fiscally, there is some question about all of these expenditures. Some lawmakers don’t worry about WHERE the money comes from as long as their own districts get a piece of the pie, or pork. The problem, though, is there is no free lunch, and the money comes from somewhere. If its not being covered by a budget with actual tax revenues, its a form of spending that is called deficit spending and the effect this spending has is the same effect that someone with an unlimited credit card has in their own spending. Eventually, debt can be raised so high that it erodes the economy and the value of the dollar being used as the vehicle for exchange. Economists are pointing to this having happened in the face of uncontrolled spending both on the Iraq, Afghanistan, and now (it looks like) Iranian conflicts. The country, which has been through a major bursting of its economic bubble (in housing originally), now is slipping not just into recession but what many economists call a recession. Spending continues, though, all in the name of keeping America safe.
When you look at a peeler in the store, you want to know how well designed it is, how effective its going to be, right? Its one reason why we test drive cars, why we visit houses and why we try on clothes. We want to make sure that how their designed is for the use intended. If something doesn’t fit, we don’t buy it. In the case of government spending, there is a larger lobby going on. Imagine seven people standing outside your dressing room explaining to you WHY you should buy those jeans. One person walks up to you and slips you a brochure that explains all of the benefits of the jeans you are looking at. Someone else walks up and explains why buying those jeans isn’t a good idea. This is the process for how things can be purchased at the government level. Its all about influence and the art of the sell. We have been sold on our need to be kept secure by technology. The problem, however, is that what is meant to keep us secure is actually invading our privacy.
So what are the actual numbers on the National Security letters, which are those unconstitutional methods for getting information without a warrant? There have been 192,500 National Security Letters issued between 2003 and 2006, according to an audit by the Justice Department inspector general. The numbers have dropped sharply since then, but the FBI issued 24,287 National Security Letters last year for data on 14,212 Americans. That’s up from a few thousand letters a year before 2001(4).
In this new take on how privacy is being eroded as fast as you can imagine, our own government doesn’t NEED to keep extensive networks tracking people. As more and more people grow dependent on the internet, its easier to simply track people. When you blog the software may ask you where you are. On Facebook, there is the same option. While on the one hand this is to help companies get a sense of the habits of their public and what they want and need in an effort to anticipate future buying behavior, it is also a weird Big Brother activity that pushes technology way beyond anything that we are used to or even want. I am asked what my phone number is when I buy lumber. I get a club card at my local grocery which teams my buying up with who I am, my age, my sex and my address. On the one hand it provides information to the company in exchange for specials to me, but it also is an intelligence gathering device that can be used by other entities such as the government. Did you read a book on terrorism last month? Did you watch the movie “Spare Change” which questions the official story of 9/11 or do you support a presidential candidate such as Ron Paul who is calling for dismantling all of these intrusions into our privacy? For some, it doesn’t matter. for others, though, its seen as a gross misuse of the public funds for a spectrum of activity that has not caught a single terrorist seeking to board a plane to blow it up since 9/11. in fact, it seems that the best our government can do is to encourage would-be terrorists to build bombs and then arrest them later for doing so (yes this has happened)
So is all of this surveillance paying off? Are we safer as the rise of this surveillance state? Now that its such big business, will we be able to wean ourselves off of it? To read more about what’s happening, go here.
Have we stopped any planes? Have we been able to stop domestic terror like Columbine, or Virginia Tech? If all of this technology is supposed to make us safer, could it be that we simply conceived the priorities all wrong?
If you think that the Obama administration is the champion of freedom, materially, nothing has changed from one administration to the next.
Bush gave the NSA the authority to eavesdrop on Americans communicating with foreigners abroad without first obtaining a FISA warrant, deeming the process too slow. As a U.S. senator, Obama condemned the so-called wireless wiretapping after the New York Times made it public in 2005. But when he ran for president in 2008, Obama voted for legislation that granted retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that had secretly helped the government eavesdrop.The law also retroactively legalized other forms of surveillance, former intelligence officials say, including “bulk” monitoring that allows the government to intercept all email traffic between America and a range of suspect email addresses in, say,Pakistan.
Privacy advocates say the government should acknowledge how many Americans have had their communications intercepted in recent years. But after Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee requested that information, the Obama administration responded in July that it was “not reasonably possible to identify the number.” (5)
The question is, is this new car in our drive way making life better for us, or is it infringing on our freedom, our right to privacy? On new years’ day Obama signed the NDAA (the National Defense Authorization Act) a piece of legislation providing our government the carte blanche it needs (and wants apparently) to call any citizen a terrorist, arrest them and execute them all without any observation of the writ of Habius Corpus, or due process. Such individuals do not have a right to an attorney and can be held indefinitely. The problem is that abuses will happen as individuals who are inconvenient to a political party are “rendered” in this unconstitutional way by those individuals who have the power to say so. At this point it’s no longer up to a judge to serve a warrant for police to look in your apartment. Abuse can and will happen as the past has shown. It’s very much the very same thing that happened in Salem Massachusetts when someone called another a witch. They were drowned for a perceived or feared evil (when all along it might just have been that one woman was jealous of another woman and how all the men take notice of her, for example). Or, perhaps, in the same way that Senator Joseph McCarthy did back during his tenure in office, he sought to spread fear where there was no real reason for being fearful. Perhaps what is happening is the same thing, a means to change and erode our freedoms on such a massive scale that its mind-boggling. Most people do not seem to care or notice. And its true, as long as it doesn’t affect them, or as long as they don’t notice, it just isn’t a big deal, right? And yet, the problem is, it affects all of us.
Has there been abuse as a result of all of this? There has. To read more about the problems go here. There have been huge abuses of the money spent. One such instance involved over 500,000 dollars in funding going to a North Pole outfit for search and rescue equipment (a creative way to get much-needed equipment probably) as well as lapel pins and phone cards in the state legislature of West Virginia. There are areas that are given equipment that they aren’t even sure they need. There hasn’t even been a threat assessment done, just what appears to be a guess based on what some feel could be a threat. One state legislator describes the spending as being as random and out of control as his mother headed out the door with the charge card. The ACLU has a good series of articles outlining their biggest concerns about the Patriot Act and how it should be reformed here. Do you know where your Congressional leaders stand on the issue of the Patriot Act, the surveillance state and the flow of your information across networks without your knowledge or even consent? There is only one presidential hopeful running today who even brings up the issue of privacy rights, and liberty. It seems that for as much concern as there has been over this issue, there are precious few who are bucking the establishment trend and fighting for freedom from such intrusions. I include some links to this candidate and some of what he says and is about.
Because all of this is public, we all bear responsibility to change something if we do not feel its working. The purpose was to make us safe, and yet the numbers involved in this entire enterprise is specious at best. In the March issue, 2011, Harper’s Index expressed the point this way: “Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning: 29.”
As a final note, as mentioned in the article “The rise and cost of American Surveillance” the author includes these points to consider about abuse and how the Patriot Act has been used to abuse and rewrite the Bill of Rights:
- The FBI admitted in a recent report to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board that it violated the law at least 800 times on national security letters, going well beyond even the loose safeguards in the original provision. According to the report the FBI “may have violated the law or government policy as many as 3,000 times” between 2003 and 2007, according to the Justice Department Inspector General, while collecting bank, phone and credit card records using NSLs.
- As Adam Sewer of the American Prospect notes: “It’s no secret that the FBI’s use of NSLs – a surveillance tool that allows the FBI to gather reams of information on Americans from third-party entities (like your bank) without a warrant or without suspecting you of a crime – have resulted in widespread abuses. All that the FBI needs to demand your private information from a third-party entity is an assertion that such information is “relevant” to a national security investigation — and the NSLs come with an accompanying gag order that’s almost impossible to challenge in court.”
- NSLs were used by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to demand that libraries turn over the names of books that people had checked out. In fact, there were at least 545 libraries that received such demands in the year following passage of the Patriot Act alone.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) uncovered “indications that the FBI may have committed upwards of 40,000 possible intelligence violations in the 9 years since 9/11.” It said it could find no records of whether anyone was disciplined for the infractions.
- Under the Bush Administration, the FBI used the Patriot Act to target liberal groups, particularly anti-war, environment, and anti-globalization, during the years between 2001 and 2006 in particular.
- According to a recent report by the ACLU, there have been 111 incidents of illegal domestic political surveillance since 9/11 in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The report shows that law enforcement and federal officials work closely to monitor the political activity of individuals deemed suspicious, an activity common during the Cold War – including protests, religious activities and other rights protected by the first amendment. The report also noted how the FBI monitors peaceful protest groups and in some cases attempted to prevent protest activities.
- According to a July 2009 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, only three of the 763 “sneak-and-peek” requests in fiscal year 2008 involved terrorism cases. Sixty-five percent were drug related.
We need things that make our lives better. Good design is about that. This, however, is a gross waste of much-needed resources and also serves to destroy America as we know it. The coup isn’t that someone flew planes into buildings, it’s that it allowed the powerful an entrée into our lives, all of our lives, in a wholesale erosion of basic rights that were fought for and paid for in the blood of Patriots (such as the Revolutionary War).
We are in an election year and as I look more closely at what the Democrats end Republicans are saying about the challenges we face with a debt crisis, multiple wars and a swiftly growing surveillance state, I do not see anyone who is championing this cause, except for one candidate. I do note that this one candidate predicted the housing bubble, as well as our current debt crisis. Increasingly popular, he has been ignored by most media except that he continues to show growing popularity in his run for the nomination. I think given how he has been ignored by the mainstream, its worthwhile for people to have a more honest and clear-eyed view at a man who has had twelve terms in Congress and whose record has been consistently on the side of the Constitution. It just might be that we need more people who will respect the rule of the Constitution rather than eroding basic human rights and freedoms granted by our Constitution. This is Congressman Ron Paul. Here are a few links to him and what his philosophy is:
On a personal note, I am all for freedom. As an artist, freedom of speech and liberty is incredibly important to the most basic of activities. I am not wanting to see my country reduced to a police state, which is actively happening right now. As people are distracted and waving away any suggestion that there is anything untoward happening, I know that threats to our liberty can happen right here, at home. The war on Terror has turned out to be a war on our rights and liberties as well as a reason to go into other countries to steal oil wealth (I presume) or line the pockets of the military industrial complex. There is no one else in the field who is standing up against this wholesale sell off of our rights except Ron Paul, so yes, I support him, and yes, I think you should take a look at him aside from all the press that has sought to demonize and make him seem like a kook (lets admit it; its worked) and yet when I look at the facts on the ground, I do not find freedom kooky at all. Gold standard? That requires doing some research into monetary policy and how currencies tend to be destroyed through overspending (look at the you tube video Money Masters which explains the history of money as a form of exchange and why having a Central Bank may not be a good way to have the show run). Sometimes we have to go looking for the facts absent others’ conflations or spin. While I offer up a man in a brazen and obvious way, I am not telling you what to think. Ultimately you must come to your own conclusions. We are all in this together!
6/27/2013 UPDATE: included is some additional information to help readers have more information and make a more informed decision about how they participate in the datagathering efforts now underway by companies and governments. Alex Jones is a real trip and I don’t buy into all of the fear that comes up on his site but he does have an important interview with the founders of Startpage, one of the few, perhaps only truly private search engine on the internet. Getting past the fear mongering that Jones gets into, though, you can gain a clearer picture of what efforts there are out there in helping people maintain their privacy online. Once you watch the interview I think you will come away with a better understanding of how your information can be used without your consent or knowledge for a host of purposes, some of which may be in “customizing” your internet experience (which the founders of Startpage have found may not be the case entirely, but also an effort at molding your own sense of what your choices really are….). Watch the video and decide for yourself:
This is the link on youtube. The link beneath it will open a new window for you to view the interview. The meat of the interview begins about 4 minutes into the program for those who would like to skip the introductory material.
(2)http://www.community-matters.org/news/press-releases/ (see the article “Ten Years after Columbine” available as a pdf)