By John W. Whitehead
“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”—George Orwell, 1984
Supposedly the National Security Administration is going to stop collecting certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target.
Privacy advocates are hailing it as a major victory for Americans whose communications have been caught in the NSA’s dragnet.
If this is a victory, it’s a hollow victory.
Since its creation in 1952, the NSA has been covertly spying on Americans, listening in on their phone calls, reading their mail, and monitoring their communications.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans’ phone calls and emails.
Nothing changed under Barack Obama. In fact, the violations worsened.
The NSA cannot be reformed.
This is an agency whose very existence—unaccountable and lacking any degree of transparency—flies in the face of the Constitution.
Even if the NSA could be reformed, however, the problem of government surveillance goes far beyond the criminal activities of this one agency.
In fact, just about every branch of the government now has its own surveillance sector authorized to spy on the American people.
Fusion and counterterrorism centers gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power. And then there is the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine.
Consider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior.
Corporate trackers monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.
Major cities are being transformed into “Smart Cities” filled with sensors in everything from pavement to lamp posts, and all of that data is being linked together to monitor the day-to-day lives of everyone in them. In some cities, even the sewage is being monitored and could potentially be used to determine what drugs a household may have used.
All of your medical data in the near future will be constantly monitored through the use of wearable health-monitoring devices, and while it’s supposed to only be shared with your doctor, in practice it will be accessible by any number of government and private actors.
The “Internet of Things (IoT)” refers to the growing number of “smart” appliances and electronic devices now connected to the internet and capable of interacting with each other, being controlled remotely, “listening” to what you say, and relaying that information to a third party. These range from thermostats, light switches and coffee makers to cars, TVs and smart home speakers such as the Amazon Echo.
Of course, there’s a price to pay for such easy control and access. That price amounts to relinquishing ultimate control of and access to your home to the government and its corporate partners.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on all of the government’s many methods of spying on its citizens.
For example, police have been using Stingray devices mounted on their cruisers to intercept cell phone calls and text messages without court-issued search warrants. Doppler radar devices, which can detect human breathing and movement within in a home, are already being employed by the police to peer inside a suspect’s home.
License plate readers can record up to 1800 license plates per minute. These surveillance devices can also photograph those inside a moving car.
Sidewalk and “public space” cameras are part of a public-private partnership that gives government officials access to all manner of surveillance cameras, on sidewalks, on buildings, on buses, even those installed on private property. Couple these surveillance cameras with facial recognition and behavior-sensing technology and you have the makings of “pre-crime” cameras, which scan your mannerisms, compare you to pre-set parameters for “normal” behavior, and alert the police if you trigger any computerized alarms as being “suspicious.”
Several states are pushing to expand their biometric and DNA databases by requiring that anyone accused of a misdemeanor have their DNA collected and catalogued. Technology is already available that allows the government to collect biometrics such as fingerprints from a distance, without a person’s cooperation or knowledge.
It’s a sure bet that anything the government welcomes (and funds) too enthusiastically is bound to be a Trojan horse full of nasty surprises. Case in point: police body cameras. Hailed as the easy fix solution to police abuses, these body cameras—made possible by funding from the DOJ—are turning police officers into roving surveillance cameras.
And the FBI can remotely activate the microphone on your cellphone and record your conversations. The FBI can also do the same thing to laptop computers without the owner knowing any better.
Drones, which are taking to the skies en masse, will be the converging point for all of the weapons and technology already available to law enforcement agencies.
It’s a given that the government’s tactics are always more advanced than we know, so there’s no knowing what new technologies are already being deployed against us without our knowledge. Certainly, by the time we learn about a particular method of surveillance or new technological gadget, it’s a sure bet that the government has been using it covertly for years already.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’ve all become suspects, a.k.a. potential criminals.
As I make clear in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers.
This is the creepy, calculating yet diabolical genius of the American police state: the very technology we hailed as revolutionary and liberating has become our prison, jailer, and probation officer.
So don’t get too excited about the NSA’s latest concession.
It won’t stop Big Brother from watching you.