"I've got nothing to hide, so I've got nothing to fear......" Think again.
Thursday, court filings were made public which revealed that the DEA has halted a secret, nearly 15-year program that collected virtually all data on international calls between the United States and certain countries.
This was completely separate from the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection efforts, which were exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Thanks to Reuters and The New York Times shining the light, the sweeping bulk DEA database program was stopped in September of 2013.
“The American people deserve to know that the DEA engaged in the bulk collection of their international phone records in routine criminal investigations without judicial review,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who had urged the DEA to end the program. "We must continue to make progress in restoring the privacy rights of all Americans while keeping our country safe.”
Essential to the militarized police state is the insatiable drive to monitor more of our personal lives. The modern surveillance state has total-information-awareness technology and no lack of willingness to use it.
A simple example is the use of automatic license plate readers and traffic cameras with facial recognition, which allows police departments to monitor entire communities in real-time. Then there are federal programs like PRISM, used by the National Security Agency to intercept the emails and telephone calls of all Americans.
This is a small sampling of the many data sources available to the surveillance state. The data does not exist in isolated chambers, but is shared in Fusion Centers spread throughout the U.S. where local, state, and federal players collude to invade the lives of everyone. Citron and Gray explain in the Harvard Law Review.
“Fusion centers cast a wide and indiscriminate net. Data-mining tools analyze a broad array of personal data culled from public- and private-sector databases, the Internet, and public and private video cameras. Fusion centers access specially designed data-broker databases containing dossiers on hundreds of millions of individuals, including their Social Security numbers, property records, car rentals, credit reports, postal and shipping records, utility bills, gaming, insurance claims, social network activity, and drug- and food-store records. Some gather biometric data and utilize facial-recognition software. On-the-ground surveillance is collected, analyzed, and shared as well.”
You don’t have to be engaged in criminal activity to get harassed. Taking a photograph of a building is fair game under the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, a nefarious program that encourages people to report their fellow citizens to the authorities, much like Stasi Germany.
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In at least one case, law enforcement was instructed by a Fusion Center to collect information on third party supporters, including cars with Ron Paul bumper stickers.
Surveillance technology and the state’s willingness to use it have far outpaced the creation of oversight and regulation, according to Stephen Rushin, an information privacy expert at the University of Illinois.
“This radical shift in policing is the beginning of what I call the ‘digitally efficient investigative state,’ where technological replacements for traditional investigations are used to dramatically improve the efficiency of surveillance,” said Rushin.
In a ten year period from 1997 to 2007, the percentage of police departments using technological surveillance rose from 20% to 70%. While bulk data collection on people’s lives is underway, policies on retention and data integrity are insufficient or completely absent.
“Data retention policies vary dramatically from one place to the other, and many local departments don’t have any policies whatsoever.
The rate at which they’re adopting and utilizing these technologies isn’t matching the rate at which they’re adopting retention policies to regulate those new technological devices,” Rushin said.
Privacy law experts around the country are ringing the alarm bell about the rise of the surveillance state. Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, outlines the dangers of surveillance in the Harvard Law Review.
“Surveillance is harmful because it can chill the exercise of our civil liberties, especially our intellectual privacy. It also gives the watcher power over the watched, creating the risk of a variety of other harms, such as discrimination, coercion, and the threat of selective enforcement, where critics of the government can be prosecuted or blackmailed for wrongdoing unrelated to the purpose of the surveillance.”
It should come as no surprise that U.S. courts hold the view that surveillance creates “no tangible harms.” This repugnant position was demonstrated in 2013 when the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to a secret government surveillance program (Clapper vs. Amnesty International).
Legislators and Presidents are equally uncaring about our right to know and our right to privacy. The Patriot Act was supposed to expire but instead was preserved and led to other, more offensive decrees like the Orwellian “Protect America Act” and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 and the draconian “Belligerent Act” clause.
When government acquires power such as they have with regard to war, surveillance and civil liberties—at federal, state, and local levels—they typically do not relinquish that power. We are in the midst of a rapid evolution, with all-encompassing surveillance systems being deployed at incredible rates and governments that are not hesitant to use them.
Experts like Rushin and Richards are giving voice to the masses of citizens who do not accept that government should monitor everyone all the time. They provide the intellectual basis for a rational argument against the surveillance state. We must continue to resist further assaults on our rights with logic, reason, and passion.