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Surveillance  · Unanswered

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EDITORIAL:  a surveillance society emerges


" Subtler and far more reaching means of invading privacy have become available to government... [and] the progress of science in furnishing the government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping.  Ways may someday be developed by which the government without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurences of the home... Can it be that the Constitution affords no protection against such invasions of individual security ? [to quote] Boyd v United Sates 111 U.S. 616, 'It is not the breaking of his doors, and the rummaging of his drawers that constitutes the essence of the offense; but it is the invasion of his indefensible right of personal security, personal liberty, and private property.' "  

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis,  277 U.S. 438, p. 474-5


Life in the United States has drastically changed since Judge Brandeis rendered this opinion in the late 1920's.  All citizens and non-citizens alike have become  the targets of greater and more sophisticated methods of surveillance and data gathering tools that  shred  any prior vestige of privacy to pieces.  Information is being collected by the government on every individual who shops at supermarket and mall alike, it gathers information on every doctor visit, every prescription purchased and drug consumed, every credit card purchase, every book bought or obtained from the local public library, and more, much much more. 

According to a recently published report, ‘The Surveillance-Industrial Complex’, prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union, the United States government is constructing a massive surveillance network and in the process-- a police state, reminiscent of the cold war D.D.R. (the German Democratic Republic) East Germany.  The Patriot Act is cited as the source of broad powers that intimidate most corporations and individuals into complying with solicitations by law enforcement to provide information, previously unobtainable except by court order.  According to the ACLU report the government is utilizing a process referred to as ‘data mining’. It is a process by which every conceivable database of information that exists is being tapped by the government in order to construct a file on every individual in the nation.

The file being constructed will cite the name, social security number, home address, telephone number and date of birth of every individual in America.  Using these classifications, the government then obtains the following from other sources; travel history, credit card usage history, library borrowing history and book purchase history, music preferences, internet usage profile, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political activities, financial transaction history, educational profile, criminal records, driving records, health records, breakdown of family members, neighbors and acquaintances.  According to the ACLU; “data aggregators are operating in a world where their work is becoming increasingly frightening and politically charged(data aggregators are private companies that amass information about people). The report further reports that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency are using data mining for special operations identified only as “Novel Intelligence from Massive Data” (NIMA), and “Quantum Leap”, which on the surface appear to be using artificial intelligence protocols for mass data analysis and qualification.  In other words, individual behavior is being codified and classified.

America in 2004 is becoming a place alien to its own history.  In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court declared in its decision of Katz v. U.S., 389 US 347, that telephone conversations were private and protected by law.  Further, the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”   But, in present day America, no communication is private, be it email, fax, or telephone call, thanks to the NSA and FBI which utilize the power of computers and programs dubbed CARNIVORE and ECHELON, to eavesdrop on such communications.  America in 2004, has become a place that no longer respects privacy, and instead is becoming a police state. 

We collectively begin to see and accept as ‘normal’, police dressed in military regalia with automatic weapons; accept as ‘normal’ random searches at bus stations, and subways; accept as ‘normal’, buildings surrounded by concrete barriers; and slowly we permit the barriers to be erected to bar our previous collective freedoms.  I am reminded, more and more, of John F. Kennedy’s speech in Berlin at the beginning of the 1960’s decade, berating the soviets to tear down the wall that separated east from west Berlin.

Today, America no longer helps to tear down such walls, instead it helps to erect them.  America supports Israel in its quest to erect a wall that separates Palestinians from their own land.  In America,  it surrounds buildings with concrete barriers, it creates a fortress mentality-- a siege mentality of fear that erodes and destroys everything that once made this nation a beacon of hope, an example of freedom and justice. Today, we are all Berliners, but on which side of the wall ?   





Posted  September 5, 2004

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