Since the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties depends on high levels of public apathy, some of the most dangerous privacy breaches take place incrementally and under the radar; if it invites comparisons to Blade Runneror Orwell, then someone in the PR department didn’t do their job. Meanwhile, some of the biggest threats to privacy, like insecure online data or iPhone GPS tracking, are physically unobtrusive and therefore easily ignored. And it’ll be at least a year or two until the sky is overrun by spy drones.
So when a method of surveillance literally resembles a prop or plot point in a sci-fi movie, it helps to reveal just how widespread and sophisticated commercial and government monitoring has become. Here are five recent developments that seem almost unreal in their dystopian creepiness.
Since Congress passed legislation in February ordering the Federal Aviation Administration to fast-track the approval of unmanned aerial vehicles—more colloquially known as drones—for use by law enforcement agencies, police and sheriff departments across the country have been scrambling to purchase the smaller, unarmed cousins of the Predator and Reaper drones which carry out daily sorties over Afghanistan, Yemen, and other theaters of operation.
Alameda County in California has become one of the central battlegrounds over the introduction of drones to domestic police work. Earlier this year, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern raised the hackles of local civil libertarians (and there are quite a few of those in the county, which encompasses Berkeley and Oakland) by declaring his intention to purchase a drone to assist with “emergency response.” According to Ahern, Alameda Sheriff’s personnel first tested a UAV in fall 2011 and gave a public demonstration of the machine’s usefulness for emergency responses during the Urban Shield SWAT competition in late October.
Were Alameda County to purchase a drone, it would set a precedent in California, which has long been an innovator in law enforcement tactics: from SWAT teams (pioneered in Delano and Los Angeles) to anti-gang tactics such as civil injunctions. The first documented incident of a drone being used to make an arrest in the United States occurred in North Dakota in June 2011, when local police received assistance from an unarmed Predator B drone that belonged to US Customs and Border Protection. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration have also reportedly used drones for domestic investigations.
RT talks to William Binney, whistleblower and former NSA crypto-mathematician who served in the agency for decades. Virtual privacy in US, Petraeus affair and whistleblowers’ odds in fight against the authorities are among key topics of this exclusive interview.
The case echoes the story of U.S. Marine Brandon Raub. After honorably serving his country on tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Raub, 26, had grown disillusioned with the U.S. federal government, and like Mr. Michael took to posting vague, frustrated, incendiary commentaries to Facebook.
Those posts led to local authorities and federal agents in Chesterfield, Virginia detaining Mr. Raub and then exploiting the state’s involuntary commitment laws to label the protester as “mentally ill”, effectively imprisoning him indefinitely and without trial in a state-run veteran’s hospital.
Both Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney support throwing out due process (warrants) in cases where national security is viewed to be at risk — a policy first put in place by Republican President George W. Bush (with bipartisan support from America’s two ruling parties) in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
You don’t have to live alone in the woods, reading issues of Guns and Ammo and co-writing your manifesto with beard lice, to be terrified about the state of basic freedoms in America today. Given the counterterrorism provisions in the fairly recent National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), we currently live in a country where the government can pick up American citizens and detain them indefinitely without access to a lawyer or even a criminal trial. That means locked up forever without even the basic protections we afford to rapists and murderers.
As Kade Ellis ofPrivacy SOS and the ACLUreported, a security expert says that everyone who was at Occupy Wall Street had their cell phone surveyed by the NYPD. “[T]he identity of that cell phone has been logged, and everybody who was at that demonstration, whether they were arrested, not arrested, whether their photos were ID’d, whether an informant pointed them out, it’s known they were there anyway. This is routine,” private investigator Steven Rambam says in a video talk.
He continued, “[C]ell phones are now the little snitch in your pocket. Cell phones tell me where you are, what you do, who you talk to, everybody you associate with.”
The Senate concludes that when all the privileged details of the investigations were considered, there was no sign that the pricey data centers were successful at fighting any known terrorist plot.
So what did the data centers accomplish? According to the panel the legacy is mostly negative. They claim the Fusion centers — whose objective is ostensibly to share national intelligence with state/local law enforcement and analyze potential terrorist threats — in the end mostly ended up violating U.S. citizens’ civil liberties.
The blurb for VoiceGrid ID has a particularly dystopic echo, offering a “voice data management solution with unlimited database size” in addition to system architecture that scale all the way up to “national system deployments.”
Americans’ personal privacy is being crushed by the rise of a four-headed corporate-state surveillance system. The four “heads” are: federal government agencies; state and local law enforcement entities; telecoms, web sites & Internet “apps” companies; and private data aggregators (sometimes referred to as commercial data warehouses).
In cities hosting large gatherings such as the national political conventions or international summits, we’ve come to expect a massive militarized police presence, even as the ranks of protesters thin. But what happens to all of the new high-tech cop toys and newly passed ordinances once conventioneers leave town? They stay.
The determining factor in global corporate production is now poverty. The poorer the worker and the poorer the nation, the greater the competitive advantage. With access to vast pools of desperate, impoverished workers eager for scraps, unions and working conditions no longer impede the quest for larger and larger profits. And when the corporations do not need these workers they are cast aside. Those who are economically broken usually cease to be concerned with civic virtues. They will, history has demonstrated, serve any system, no matter how evil, and do anything for a pitiful salary, a chance for job security and the protection of their families. There will, as the situation worsens, also be those who attempt to rebel. I certainly intend to join them. But the state can rely on a huge number of people who, for work and meager benefits, will transform themselves into willing executioners.