By Victor Thorn
As technological innovation advances in ways very few could have predicted, and the cost to produce these new gadgets rapidly declines, it was only a matter of time before these twin forces would spread to the surveillance sector. Whether you think it’s a good thing that technology is simplifying your life, or you fear the far-reaching surveillance society, one thing’s for certain: The snooping’s here to stay and it’s touching everyone’s life.
Arguably, the clearest and most ominous example of how technology has crept into our lives is the drone. Known formally as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), drones have been employed in war zones in pursuit of enemy forces, and are now being utilized by local police forces across the United States purportedly to fight crime. The use of these devices will spread in the coming years, with their sizes shrinking to dimensions only imaginable in science fiction movies.
Besides the all-seeing UAVs, police patrol cars are being outfitted with surveillance technology known as “extraction devices,” which are capable of downloading data and images from cell phones, including photos and videos. These snooping tools override hidden information, can secure passwords and scoop up information on the cell phone user’s whereabouts. Local law enforcement agencies have allied themselves with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and are forcing wireless providers to surrender private text messages.
In New York City, a separate social media eavesdropping unit has been established to follow the users on Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social media websites which allow users to stay in touch via messages and photos. While the nation’s capital has incorporated automated license plate readers that snap pictures of vehicles traveling inside Washington, D.C., other large cities are looking to facial recognition technology to scan crowds for wanted individuals.
Perhaps the most controversial of the known surveillance devices is the so-called Z Backscatter® Van, or “ZBV.” Created by Massachusetts-based American Science & Engineering, “Its easy-to-read image quickly and clearly reveals threats like explosives, drugs, currency, and trade-fraud items such as alcohol and cigarettes—even in high-throughput environments like border crossings and security checkpoints.”
Technology is playing a vital role in this breach of our civil liberties, as well. As AMERICAN FREE PRESS has chronicled, “smartmeters” track a homeowner’s energy consumption, while Hollywood-like science-fiction “pre-crime” gadgetry predicts behavior patterns and targets those deemed to be “potential” rapists, thieves and murderers. Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report wasn’t too far off from the future when it was released to audiences in 2002. The film is set in the year 2054, where the police apprehend criminals based on foreknowledge provided by psychics. Right out of that movie, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is experimenting with facial expression machines that can determine from afar what a person is feeling.
Behind these space-age advancements lurk corporations like Google and Apple that track data from smartphones or data mine personal information, such as credit information or tax records. If consumers log on to any type of product that is embedded with certain computer surveillance technology, it is likely that somebody somewhere is amassing and storing information derived from it. If Internet service providers decide that subscribers are downloading too many movies on their computers, they can limit access to the Internet through a process known as “shaping bandwidth.” And don’t be too surprised if banks soon place microchips on credit cards that can transmit purchases directly to marketing agencies.
AFP has reported in depth on a San Antonio school district’s placement of radio frequency identification (RFID) implants on student IDs. Broken by AFP’s Mark Anderson, that story worked its way to other news media across the country. Unfortunately, though, the trend is expanding.
In the fall of 2012, high schools from Maryland to Massachusetts did away with daily roll calls, instead issuing ID cards to students so they could check in by swiping their cards through terminal readers. Educators near Philadelphia went above and beyond this, sending kids home with laptop computers that recorded their actions via hidden computer cameras, called webcams.
Governments from the local level all the way up to D.C. have been encouraging the good, old-fashioned snitch culture under the “See Something, Say Something” program, whereby neighbors turn in neighbors, for things like questioning the official version of 9-11 or for owning guns or stockpiling food. In 2004, DHS came under fire for enrolling truck drivers into a highway watch program, where they could report allegedly suspicious behavior. Following that program, the agency released a list of “characteristics” that qualify Americans as “domestic terrorists.”
As author Jim Redden stated in his book Snitch Culture: How Citizens are Turned into the Eyes and Ears of the State, “Citizens are being turned into the eyes and ears of the state.”
All Your Data Now on File
By Victor Thorn
Now that it’s been established how the surveillance state spies on its citizens, the next step is to decide who falls under its critical stare. The following December 5 quote from the independent news and commentary website “Washington’s Blog” can be used as a gauge in determining whether you’re a target: “The American government is collecting and storing virtually every phone call, purchase, email, text message, Internet search and social media communication, as well as health information, employment history [and] travel and student records.”
Unless you live under a rock, it’s nearly certain that your name is on this list. However, it’s obvious that after datamining billions of pieces of information, the National Security Agency (NSA) and DHS don’t possess the manpower to analyze all of these entries. So why do they want access to a seemingly infinite amount of personal transactions?
NSA whistleblower William Binney, a former codebreaker and esteemed mathematician, provided the answer during a December 4 interview with news agency RT.
“I don’t think [the government] is filtering it,” Binney said in reference to all this amassed information. “They’re just storing it. So if they want to target you, they would go into that database and pull out your data.” In other words, if someone is placed on a government enemy list, private information that has been amassed over the past decade can be used as raw material. “No one is excluded,” Binney insisted. “This can happen to anyone.”
To ensure that nobody goes unobserved, the Obama administration has endorsed the construction of a $2 billion NSA puzzle palace in Bluffdale, Utah. In AFP’s April 16 edition, Ralph Forbes reported on this vast, new super spy center that, when completed, will be five times the size of the U.S. Capitol.
As Shadow Factory author James Bamford wrote for Wired magazine on March 15, “[Bluffdale] is the realization of the ‘total information awareness’ program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.”
Americans Are Not Alone . . .
By Victor Thorn
Though America’s spy culture has reached ominous levels, it could be worse. By all standards, China usually tops the list for Big Brother powers, followed by North Korea at a close second. Not surprisingly, England and the U.S. also rank highly as the West catches up with the East.
In addition to innumerable surveillance cameras, China’s capital city of Beijing boasts 1.4 million “public order volunteers” who proudly rat out fellow citizens who they feel are defying government mandates. The Chinese people are so crippled by fear of their police state that in September a toddler was run over twice by automobiles and lay bleeding in the street, still alive, yet not a single passerby intervened. The infant later died as a result of this apathy.
In a September 11 article, Wade Shepard wrote of China’s iron-fisted rule: “In a country where the rule of law doesn’t exist, human-rights activists mysteriously disappear, and the power of the corrupt ruling Communist Party is limitless.”
North Korea’s hermit empire isn’t any better. Residents in this information vacuum are so insulated that the state-run media recently floated a delusional propaganda story about discovering a lair of unicorns in order to bolster their nation’s supposed cultural superiority.
On July 19, the Committee on Human Rights (CHR) detailed North Korea’s dictatorship. “The North Korean people suffer under a level of oppressive control few societies in the past century have had to endure,” noted CHR in its profile on the communist country.
In the UK, nearly 2 million closed-circuit TV cameras saturate public squares, hotels, lampposts, taverns, malls, movie theaters, intersections and classrooms. Reporters estimate that one camera now exists for every 32 English citizens.
UK attorney Michael Mansfield, in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer, wrote about a recent proposal to store all emails and phone calls in a massive database: “That these surreal proposals should even be contemplated shows how far beyond Orwell’s worst fears we have traveled.”
Can We Get Obama to Start Keeping Privacy Promises?
By Victor Thorn
During an October 3 public radio interview, Wall Street Journal columnist Julia Angwin, discussing her September 29, 2012 article, “New Tracking Frontier: Your License Plates,” said that Americans today are the most spied upon culture in world history.
“The U.S. surveillance regime,” said Ms. Angwin, “has more data on the average American than the Stasi ever did on East Germans.”
During a December 6 AFP interview, Ernest Hancock, publisher of the pro-liberty magazine Freedom’s Phoenix, echoed this viewpoint.
“The Stasi secret police wished they had the surveillance capacity our government now has,” said Hancock. “The question isn’t whether they’d make use of it. Of course they would. The feds are able to monitor everything we say, and since they can, they’re doing it.”
When asked how the current administration has enhanced the surveillance policies enacted by Bush-Cheney, Hancock replied: “Obama promised his supporters that there were going to be less civil rights violations and more transparency, but these promises have been violated. When seeing TSA agents inside airports, I ask, how the heck did they [the government] get us to accept this? They did it through indoctrination and incremental conditioning. The king has now gotten inside people’s minds.”
Hancock continued: “We can all agree that what’s happening is wrong. We need a real revolution between the ears. If you read the Declaration of Independence, it lets you recognize when the government is doing the wrong thing.”
As a staunch Ron Paul supporter, Hancock sees hope coming from the next generation. “The government’s efforts and attitudes toward the individual will be their greatest downfall,” he said. “A change will come from ‘Generation Next’ exerting their freedom. Once they realize the irrelevancy of the federal government, a paradigm shift will sweep across our planet.”
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 50 books.