Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Slippery Slope - Surveillance

The subject matter of this post is intensely provocative, so I have packed it with as many links as possible from recent mainstream sources to help illustrate that the statements made are based on fact, and are happening now. Click on the orange highlighted parts to learn more.

Ever since 9/11/2001, we have been sliding down the slippery slope on the issue of domestic surveillance, towards an ever more pervasive, and invasive, surveillance state. The current scandal over the General Petraeus affair would never have gained the attention it has if the FBI hadn't made use of the vastly expanded powers it has been quietly acquiring over the last eleven years. Before 9-11, we would not have seen a complaint from a well-connected socialite about supposedly harassing e-mails trigger a full-scale cyber-investigation allowing the FBI to hack into private e-mail accounts, read thousands of e-mails and expose personal activity that was neither criminal nor a security risk. But now in today's post-9/11 total surveillance environment, it is problematic to even suggest that the FBI (or the NSA, or the CIA, or your local police department for that matter) ought not to be exercising such power over American citizens.

Under the all-purpose justification of "fighting terrorism," surveillance technologies have been developed and rolled out, like a steamroller, at a rapid pace. Typically, the technology is first introduced for military applications on the battlefield, i.e. not anywhere around here. For example, drones. First, we are shown how successful they are in a war zone at giving the good guys greater ability to detect the bad guys. In the case of drones, they can not only detect but also kill the bad guys, efficiently and safely (for the good guys). The mainstream news media helpfully airs lots of programming/promotion to help us get used to the new technology.

Then, with little fanfare, drones are introduced domestically, for use by government agencies. Of course the purpose of the new technology is at first entirely anti-terrorism, but soon that is expanded to drug dealers, illegal immigrants, search and rescue, and of course, catching cattle rustlers.

From there it trickles down to local law enforcement, and next thing you know, big cities are getting a supply of drones, developed and marketed by military contractors, and often acquired with financial aid from the Department of Homeland Security. Everyone can appreciate how great the drones are at enhancing surveillance of criminals while allowing the officers to remain safe. We are assured that the drones used by local police will not be weaponized, except that it quickly becomes obvious that they will be. They won't be used for spying on citizens, except that they will be.

Again, mainstream news is there, basically passing along press releases from the companies that make the drones, reassuring us that this is all cool stuff that we will love, and don't worry, your privacy concerns are being addressed.

The slippery slope has already become an avalanche. The issue of encroachment on the civil liberties of ordinary citizens is further compounded by the increasingly overt militarization of many police forces, again encouraged and supported by Dept. of Homeland Security, leading directly an increasing frequency of highly aggressive actions by police in response to non-terrorist, even non-criminal situations. Add to that the NSA's vast expansion of its domestic surveillance capacity and the government's insistence that it has the right to operate such programs in secret. This has led to a situation right out of Kafka, in which the Justice Department denies any challenge to the legality of being subjected to surveillance unless the subject can prove the government was spying on him, but that can't be proven because the government classifies that information as secret.

And we haven't even gotten into RFID tracking and fingerprinting of children, cell phone tracking, vehicle tracking, the amassing of biometric databases, and of course the security cameras which seem to be in use everywhere in spite of their dubious value; and the list goes on.

Where are we going with all this? We are now seeing official, taxpayer-funded surveillance and data mining of ordinary citizens expanding to stunning, unprecedented levels. There is not even a pretense anymore of using the terrorism threat to justify such radical departures from what our society used to be.

Who benefits? Who decides? We can only say for certain it is not you or me.

Here comes the typical comment: Why should I care? It doesn't affect me. I have nothing to hide anyway.

Answer: #1: Ask General Petraeus.

Answer #2: Think about someone besides yourself, who feels their privacy is important, and with good reason, say a victim of domestic violence, or a political activist.

Answer #3: Information is power, and power corrupts. We're only part way down this slippery slope. The U.S. is descending into a vast surveillance state in which privacy and civil liberties are disappearing. Do you really want to see us go all the way?


Further reading:
Bob Koehler "The Buzzing Wasps"


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1 comment:

  1. In the digital world today privacy is almost non existent. George Orwell would be astonished over what is going on in this country and the world today. Technology that is created for the good of man kind can also be used for evil. Just more big brotherism from the nanny government. I can't wait until the government mandates implanted tracking chips for everyone. What was once science fiction has now become reality today.