Tag: Surveillance

Government Surveillance Is Terribly Threatening

By Teagan Fair | United States

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This is a notorious quote by Benjamin Franklin, useful in many arguments advocating for liberty. Commonly, gun advocates use it to oppose gun control However, there are many other situations where this quote is appropriate. For example, it is also pertinent while advocating against government surveillance. Supposedly, surveillance is “purchasing” a little bit of temporary safety: a very small amount, in trade for our liberty.

An Insignificant Statistic

A common argument in favor of government surveillance is that it supposedly protects us from terrorists. But according to Business Insider, since 9/11, only six Americans have died per year from Islamic terrorists, both foreign and domestic. The article also provides a handy chart comparing the probability of this to other causes of death.

BI Graphics_Odds of Dying

As you can see, there are many obscure causes of death that are far more probable. So no, this should not be a concern of the general public in the first place. In any other situation, such an insignificant number would be laughable.

UN: U.S. Government Surveillance Is Symbolic

While talking about the practicality of surveillance, even the UN has stated that it is essentially a show of gesture-politics, rather than result-oriented. Or in other words, the UN states that government surveillance is based more on symbolism and symbolic gestures rather than a good outcome. And as for the ‘results’ surveillance does come with:

“[The FBI general counsel] defined as useful those [leads] that made a substantive contribution to identifying a terrorist, or identifying a potential confidential informant. Just 1.2 percent of them fit that category.”

Thus, surveillance does not protect us from terrorists nearly as much as supporters would like you to believe. Yet, there are still some clear detriments that surveillance allows for.

Authoritarian Regimes

For example, many oppressive regimes use mass surveillance on their citizens, much like in the U.S. In many cases, they claim to care for security and the good of the people. But some countries that practice this include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba. Clearly, the good of the people can be a lie.

In the modern day, in fact, mass surveillance systems are quite popular among authoritarian regimes. Regardless of whether you would classify the U.S. as authoritarian, its government has certainly increased intervention in the lives of citizens. Surely, this in itself is a concerning realization.

Going beyond simple ineffectiveness and harmful effects, it is also worth examining the morals of government surveillance. Although we hear surveillance is for our own good, many Americans would disagree. In fact, 57% say it is wrong for the government to monitor its own citizens.

A common argument for surveillance is ‘if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.’

Funny. This quote sounds awfully familiar. It’s almost like it was propaganda for another authoritarian regime. Yes, that’s right: Nazi Minister Joseph Goebbels used the line to pacify Germans in 1933.

Similar Situations

Edward Snowden, a man notorious for exposing NSA records, also has an intriguing quote against government surveillance. He states the following: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

He is spot on with this quote; the ‘nothing to hide’ argument is deeply flawed.

Protecting your information from the government has a number of parallels. Would you want your private texts, emails and phone calls to be available to co-workers you don’t know? No, of course not. The majority of people would agree that this is an invasion of privacy.

Government action is hardly different. One of the only things dissimilar, in fact, is that the government can act upon what you do and say, potentially harming you for nonviolent action. This is far more dangerous. Obviously, many of us get weirded out when somebody leans over our shoulder to view our texts. This is what is happening in our government, but at mass levels.

The Right to Privacy

You also do not need a reason to exercise a right in order for it to exist. For example, the 1st Amendment protects the right to assemble, even if you do not feel you need it. Perhaps you will never feel the need to assemble publicly. However, this does not give the state the right to take that ability away from you. The same goes for privacy. Whether or not you ‘need’ privacy is irrelevant: it is always wrong to take it away.

Our government is stripping our liberties, especially privacy. For what? Essentially nothing. If anything, government surveillance allows the state to take further control over our lives. Perhaps it’s time to get more serious about our right to privacy and take a stand.


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The Surveillance State’s Iron Grip is Tightening

By Willie Johnson | United States

Americans today face a world of rapidly accelerating technological innovations, but this progress is a double-edged sword. While it has increased the comfort and convenience of those living on the first world, it has also increased the powers of the state and allowed the private sector to intrude upon the lives of common people. There are few ways that these two extremely powerful facets of society independently work towards a common goal. However, both are getting better at gathering and utilizing the information of the people. With this, it’s not hard to see the irony in the U.S. government putting the founder of Facebook on trial.

The evidence of this expanding system of monitoring is all around us, and it’s not just the worryingly extensive network of security cameras in urban areas across the globe; from the use of targeted ads (clearly the result of your search history being fed into an algorithm) to the realization that most online communications can be viewed in vivid detail by the NSA (in the name of security, of course), complete privacy seems like a nearly impossible goal. Small steps such as using a flip phone and placing tape over webcams can certainly lower one’s profile, but any connection to the conveniences of the modern word comes with a catch―giving up your personal information to organizations that don’t always have your best interests in mind.

A key difference between most public and private monitoring systems are motive and consent, both of which are vital in determining the extent to which a person’s private information can be breached. While search engines and social media companies often use the content they gather to make a profit (usually by selling it to advertisers), in many cases, they do so with the unwitting consent of the individual through impossibly long and complicated terms of service agreements. In signing these, most people are either too ignorant to realize what they are giving up or willing to sacrifice security for convenience; there are few alternatives for those in the latter category anyways.

On the other hand, government surveillance on all levels presents a much greater threat. It’s no revelation that there’s an inherent danger in a powerful federal organization infringing upon the privacy of its citizens as ours is so famous for doing. What most people need to be reminded of, however, is the monitoring that takes place on the state, local, and municipal scale. The highly publicized data leaks by the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are easy to latch onto, but it’s important to consider the implications of the smaller, seemingly harmless cameras used to monitor traffic and common areas present in all towns great and small.

With that in mind, it’s also alarming to know that in several cities such as Charleston, West Virginia, governments have cooperated with local businesses to install security cameras in areas with high pedestrian traffic. Although this seems like a small, mostly inconsequential change, it represents a fusion of the two greatest threats to privacy in the world today. A combination of the innate ability of private companies to coerce customers into signing over their rights and the extreme data-gathering capabilities of U.S. government could usher in a ‘surveillance state’ more powerful than ever.

It is man, not machine, however, that is ultimately responsible for these problems. New and better technology has certainly made it easier for the parties in question to access online data, but the human tendency of sacrificing freedom for security and morality for personal gain can be blamed for the existence of the current structures of surveillance in place around the world today. Those who blame innovation for society’s issues are railing against the inevitable, and against a facet of our nature that has proven to be more beneficial than harmful to humanity as a whole.

The bottom line is, we should be mindful of any invasion of privacy in order to safeguard what little true solitude Americans have left. Every law-abiding citizen should have the rights to their own personal information and how it is utilized, but it’s likely that things will have to get whole lot worse before they get better. It is the American people who must decide when they’ve had enough. Only time will tell when that breaking point is reached, but in the meantime, the expanding powers of the state push us ever closer each day.

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Raleigh Police Demand Google Release GPS Data Of Users Near Crime Scenes

According to WRAL, North Carolina police have successfully convinced a Wake County judge to order Google to hand over the data records of citizens found to be within a digital corridor on the night or day of a specified crime scene. The state claims they have the right to access Google’s database in an effort to identify suspects in the area of a crime.

The two cases in question revolve around the murders of a taxi cab driver and another man killed in his driveway last year. Drawing on a satellite map, Raleigh police presented the Wake County judge with a highlighted area encompassing the crime scene. Any citizen that passed within this territory during an estimated time of criminal activity would be included in the digital roundup.

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WRAL

While privacy activists across the country criticized the news, county officials suggested that this is simply the natural evolution of forensic techniques. Raleigh police presented the tech giant with warrants to provide the digital information of any active cell phones found within the area of the two separate murders.

For one of the warrants, the judge ordered Google to hand over the data of any user within a 17 block radius of the crime scene. This area includes residential houses and businesses, meaning that the data dump could potentially include thousands of free and lawful citizen’s private information. Some have suggested this is a breach of our constitutional rights to search without due cause.

According to research, 92% of all Americans own a cellular device. While users have the option to turn off GPS location services, citizens can still be tracked by connected cellular networks that constantly monitor users. Google has remained quiet on the proceedings and offered a brief statement regarding how they decide to release information to authorities:

We have a long-established process that determines how law enforcement may request data about our users. We carefully review each request and always push back when they are overly broad. – Google

The statement suggests that Google protects the rights of its users up to a point. Without any specifics, however, it is tough to assume what their policy really is and how dedicated the tech giant is to its user’s private information. Furthermore, the data was not limited to Android users. Any user connected to a google app was targeted in the sweep. In the case of the two murders in Raleigh, perhaps the search optimization site was shown convincing evidence that compelled them to release the records of thousands of area citizens. Or perhaps this isn’t a battle the Silicon Valley enterprise wants to fight.

According to the presiding judge, this ruling does not allow for a limitless search of a user’s phone. Text messages, emails, and phone calls were precluded from the warrant although the judge suggested these could be obtained with through a different process. This ruling holds precedent in Orange County California where a digital search warrant to comb through the records of cellular users has been used in past cases.

Americans are not stupid. They know they are being watched and recognize that the monolithic tech giants of our age often have no recourse (or interest) in protecting the rights of their consumers. This decision stands and Google’s weak stance on privacy helps illuminate the reality that your right to digital privacy in The United States continues to be eroded with certainty and precision by a new grouping of technological authorities that seem not to possess an understanding or care for constitutional rights.

The fourth amendment to the constitution states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Constitutional advocates will recognize the issue with judges ordering private data of citizens that happen to pass through a geographical territory while a crime is committed. While the information could be used to prosecute a killer, it also serves to disenfranchise the property rights of the other 99.9% of citizens who have a right to be secure in their persons against unreasonable search. Ordering the release of is an unreasonable search.

What’s worse is that this sort of legislation will undoubtedly target minorities as it already did in the taxi driver case. Crime is highest in places of poverty, and if authorities are allowed the opportunity to search private citizen’s property based on territorial generalizations, it is a certainty that the weakest among us will only get weaker. Furthermore, this new technique could possess technological challenges. For instance, this modern form of analytics could lead to false accusations based simply on being within a 17 block area of a committed crime.

As we move into the era of complete technological adoption, clarification regarding privacy and the rights of individuals in the digital age are becoming contested issues. While officials suggest these new measures are in line with a mentality required to investigate crimes of the 21st-century, where does the breach of privacy end? Every inch we give up as Americans is another inch gained by the corporate monoliths of government and business. These latest cases are simply another example of how commonplace it has become for the state to monitor its citizens without their consent.

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The Military-Industrial Complex Stands as a Threat to Liberty

By John Keller | USA

Arthur Henderson, a politician from Britain in the former half of the 20th century, wrote that “In some states, militant nationalism has gone to the lengths of dictatorship, the cult of the absolute or totalitarian state and the glorification of war.”

We are on the verge of the collapse of democracy. Back in 1961, we got one of the greatest messages, with one of the darkest warnings from the 34th President of the United States and former field marshal Dwight Eisenhower, when he said in his farewell address:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Eisenhower, the former field marshal that won World War II in Europe for the West, warned us of the growing influence of the military in the economy and politics and advised we keep our guard up against these invasions. What have we learned from this grave warning? Nothing. Eisenhower warned us of the expansive power of the military-industrial complex and how it will one day be used as a weapon, and we have not heeded his advice and allowed the military to dominate almost every major political decision in the United States. It is also important to look back on, arguably, the most important farewell address that was given by George Washington.

“Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel… Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.”

George Washington argues against a large standing army and a military-industrial complex by writing that America should focus on neutrality and harmony with all nations. We did not take the original advice from George Washington, and when the threat grew to our liberties Eisenhower again warned America, and where are we now?

In 1960, 35% of the budget was military spending. This was during a very tense part of the Cold War with the Vietnam War heating up and the Cuban Missile Crisis right around the corner. In 2015 military spending was 54% of the budget, spending $589.5 billion (a roughly $200 billion increase from 1960) out of a total $1.11 trillion discretionary spending authorized in the budget.

Who is the enemy we are gearing up against? In 1968, during peak involvement of U.S forces in Vietnam and throughout the world in the Cold War, the United States had 1,082,777 soldiers stationed abroad. Now, there are at least 1,046,457 on U.S. soil, with only 387,920 soldiers abroad. When America propagandized that the communists were the enemy the number of soldiers deployed matched what the nation’s propaganda argued. The new age propaganda is against the “terrorists”, but who is the government really targeting?

The “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”, also known simply as the PATRIOT Act, is a clear example of who the enemy truly is. A Washington Post article from 29 October 2014 reports:

“The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism.”

The PATRIOT Act is just one example of the government using fear mongering propaganda to get support for legislation that is actually used as a weapon against the people and not the threat they claimed it would be used against. Not only is it used against the people but it is a clear violation of the IV. Amendment, which in essence is the people’s right to be presented a search warrant, as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (Amendments I – X).

With the government using the military-industrial complex to strengthen its position at home, not abroad, liberties are bound to be trampled. With the passage of the PATRIOT Act, we had unlocked the door to the government trampling our constitutional rights and liberties. With the door unlocked, it won’t be long until the government opens the door completely. Whether it is the alt-left or alt-right nationalism is irrelevant, as suggested in ‘Doomed Republic’, because, in the end, it is our liberties that will be lost.

The USA Liberty Act is Changing the Surveillance State. Here’s How.

By James Sweet | USA

On the sixth of October, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) proposed the USA Liberty Act. The bill’s purpose is to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Section 702 allows the NSA and other intelligence agencies to collect electronic communications of non-U.S. citizens. However, amendments would be put into place to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These amendments would do the following: give protection to American citizens whose data is accidentally collected, provide government oversight and transparency, reform Section 702 data collection, and much more.

Section 702 would be authorized until September 30th, 2023, unless reauthorized again. The Act will increase penalties for “unauthorized removal and retention of classified information”. Instead of the current maximum of one year in prison, the maximum would be increased to five years. However, whistleblower protections are also enhanced, giving protection to private contractors that work for intelligence agencies. Men and women like Edward Snowden would finally be protected under federal law.

The USA Liberty Act would also put more restrictions on the federal government, like reasons to grab the content of specific communications. If the FBI or another organization is investigating a crime and wishes to use data grabbed, they must obtain a court order. The court order would not be needed, however, if lives are at stake, or if previous court orders or warrants are issued.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence must report to Congress twice each year on the number of U.S. persons whose communications are incidentally collected; the number of unmasking requests that involve U.S. persons; and the number of requests by the intelligence community that resulted in dissemination of unmasked U.S. person identities.

These are the main highlights of the Act, which lawmakers hope can finally reform the process of collecting electronic communications. Some argue that this bill should be shot down, as it still tramples upon the privacy of those outside of the U.S., and that lawmakers are being inconsiderate of those that aren’t American citizens. Others argue that this bill is beneficial as it restricts the government’s ability to trample upon U.S. citizens and their privacy and that the constitution and government are made to protect only American citizens. At the end of the day, this Act is going to cause quite a debate.

To read the House Judiciary Committee report on the Act, click here.

To read the actual Act, click here.