Freedom Under Surveillance (1 Viewer)

Gypsybones

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Freedom Under Surveillance
Independent Examiner-Brian Trent

My fellow Examiner J.D. Tuccille wrote a fascinating piece on how government officials in Florida want the right to enter residents’ homes in order to enforce neatness. If you’re found to be messy, the punishment is a $250 per day fine.

(Alas, it doesn’t seem likely that the public will be allowed to return the favor in kind against our messy politicians!)

I point out this example because it shows, in microcosm, how willing political regimes are to launch campaigns of ideology at the expense of individual liberty. It would be understandable if a home was overrun with vermin and thus had become a threat to public safety. Instead, the Florida proposition is all about how orderly you stack your books and arrange your pillows. In other words, things that are not the government’s business.

How about where you buy your pillows, or what books you read?

One of the hottest topics in the privacy debate today is data mining. Courtesy of the Pentagon, the development of a data collection system originally known as Total Information Awareness (TIA) has been in the works from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The system's name was eventually changed to Terrorist Information Awareness, keeping both the acronym and purpose unchanged. All available information on a citizen is entered into a centralized database, allowing an agency to make queries on anything and, at the click of a mouse, be provided with a list of matching criteria.

Using TIA, a government agency could find all citizens who traveled to Saudi Arabia in the last two years and then cross-reference this list with all citizens enrolled at flight schools. It could also be used to construct a list of all those who attended peace rallies, bought BMWs, went to the library twice a week, and dated women of Japanese descent. The digital age's information highway, coupled with increased surveillance systems, makes all information-- or as DARPA puts it, total information--available for unlimited snooping.

The problem is that when everyone can be tracked, anything is possible. The policies and philosophies of a given administration, no matter how seemingly preposterous, can be imposed when the infrastructure for universal surveillance exists. What you eat, discuss, watch, or read, suddenly becomes digitized into an identity fingerprint. In our own century, thousands of peaceful protestors in New York have already been fingerprinted by the NYPD, resulting in a neat little record of people exercising their American rights.

When will police officers be permitted to demand DNA samples -- perhaps by cotton swabbing the mouths of “suspected deviants” as depicted in 1997’s film Gattaca?

Actually, that’s already happening.

Just a few days ago, United Kingdom courts told police to delete their DNA database, which contains fingerprints and “cellular samples” of 850,000 people. These were people with no criminal record whatsoever. 340,000 of that number were children under the age of 18.

What’s more, inquiries into the matter showed that police were mishandling the database. Rather than make the country safer, it was shown to be greasing the tracks for abuse. Police were discovered to be linking DNA records of tens of thousands of innocent people to “crime scene profiles.”

Said Home Secretary Chris Huhne:

“Because it has proved easier to target kids and the innocent than criminals, the enormous increase in DNA samples has not led to a corresponding increase in convictions.”



Also from the U.K. is Project Midas, currently in development and awaiting a minor technological hurdle to be overcome. Project Midas would allow police to carry mobile biometric scanners to identify everyone they see. The only problem is that the radio network being used can’t handle all the data, so the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) is working hard to acquire a network capable of tagging the entire population. Expect this little gem to be unveiled in late 2009.

In America, bills like the PATRIOT ACT have been used in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism. In 2004 it was used against a strip club in Las Vegas, compelling Senator Harry Reid to quip, “The law was Intended for activities related to terrorism and not to naked women.”

When you have universal surveillance, you have universal power. If history is any barometer of human nature, that power will be abused. It already has been, and the system isn’t yet running at maximum capacity.

Despots throughout history have sought overriding control of their flock and have often achieved these ends even with primitive technology at their disposal. From the ancient courts of China's first empire to twentieth century Nazi and communist regimes, the construction of a police state was made possible by rampant use of spies and informants. But even then, the independent spirit managed to secure occasional moments of privacy, whether in the security of their bedroom reading forbidden literature or in creating secret meeting places where revolutionaries (like Jefferson) plotted to win their freedom back.

Modern technology threatens to abolish privacy entirely, often in the name of "protection from enemies." After all, fear of Irish Republican Army-sponsored terrorism compelled Britain to adopt its widespread surveillance in London -- just as Washington, D.C., scrambled to install a multitude of cameras despite questions over the effectiveness of these measures and the implications to the freedom of law-abiding citizens.

Consider this:

In a not-too-distant year an ordinary American – whom we'll call Eric Blair – gets up each day to go to work. Cameras mounted on every traffic light monitor his route. Computers at his workplace door register his arrival and departure. Each time he visits a store, dines out, or attends a movie, cameras watch and record him and every purchase he makes.

Blair isn't even a blip in America's surveillance system so long as he sticks to his expected route -- sort of like Jim Carey's creepy predicament in the film The Truman Show. But one day Blair deviates from his schedule. He calls in sick to work but cameras show him tooling around the city in his car. Perhaps he goes to the library to check out a “politically questionable publication.” Perhaps he drives to a girlfriend's house for some “illicit premarital intimacy.” Maybe he just wants to find a private place where he can hike, a behavior that suggests “socially deviant tendencies.”

Blair's world may have had its roots in 2001 when a terrorist attack in the United States triggered off new homeland security policies. But the surveillance systems originally designed to “look for terrorist behavior” were expanded to “look for deviant behavior.” Data-mining makes this possible.

Now picture this wealth of personal information in the hands of a government with little to no accountability. Imagine marketers getting their hands on it. Political enemies would have a field day combing through it. Spammers and hackers alike would consider it the Holy Grail.

In the fourth century BCE Plato wrote, "Seeing that everything which has a beginning also has an end, even a constitution such as yours will not last forever, but will in time be dissolved." The chilling prophecy of these words seems especially relevant today as we confront not only legal infringements on constitutionally guaranteed rights but technologies that may do away with these rights altogether.
 
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Gypsybones

Gypsybones

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see none of that surprises me in the least.
ever since my first email I have never giving correct name, DOB, address or email for myspace/facebook.
I mean the government keeping tabs on you cause of the internet is kind of a big duh.
not to sound patronizing or anything I'm just saying, maybe its just me for always being paranoid but I've always seen the net as a spy tool, though I'm sure others haven't.

I used to be in the army and I had to go threw s.e.a.d.a briefing's and some of the shit I saw and heard scared the shit out of me, and I was only and infantry solder so I had no real clearance. so you can just imagine what info I never got to learn about.

its the classic line reality is stranger than fiction
 

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