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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Abolish The TSA

By Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury

“Something has to be done. Everybody’s fed up. The people are fed up, the pilots are fed up and I’m fed up. What we are accepting at the airport is symbolic of us not standing up and saying enough is enough!”Ron Paul

In the months that followed 9/11, the American people were scared, confused and angry. The ruling class was not. They had been waiting for that very moment when the people would be dependent and weak. For the anti-imperialist majority, it was hard enough to wrap their heads around why people from thousands of miles of way held such a crowning vendetta against The United States. Who the hell was so mad at us and what had we done to make it so? After all, it wasn’t the mechanic or farmer or dentist or professor who had instructed the century-long conquest of democratic interventionism behind the towering force of a nuclear arsenal. With the people’s psyche at their most fragile, The United States government took control of the narrative and labeled what would be the new enemy of the 21st century: anti-western terrorists who were willing to do anything to watch America burn into smoldering ash.

Nevermind the century of global policing carried out by the American Empire that saw us play another man’s terrorist in stolen lands and throughout sovereign nations. Nevermind the belligerent, hawkish interventionism that had sewn seeds of hatred and rebellion in peoples far and wide and of no relation to the engineer or arborist that both call Pennsylvania home. Nevermind the pervasive wars in the countries of Kuwait and Iraq and Iran and Syria and Libya and Afghanistan. Nevermind any of it. Americans let themselves be hypnotized into believing that brown Muslims wanted to kill us because of our freedoms and George Bush was the bald eagle messiah to lead the whole, spiteful, deviled world into a bright new dawn of democracy and peace.

Yeah, right.

To save us from these threats of a World War, the Bush administration pushed aside the fundamental tenets of our constitution as The Patriot Act, the NSA, and the TSA were all hastily rushed through Congress in what is now clearly the single greatest seizure of federal power since the end of WWII. In one broad swoop, the branches that had anchored our patently slow-moving enterprise were unceremoniously cut and the new drivers of the military war machine set ablaze. Under the guise of warding off some great, undefinable terror that suddenly existed today where it had not the week before, the American empire began its swift attack on the natural and unalienable rights of Americans. Over 60,000 federal TSA jobs were created, the largest federal mobilization since 1946, and a whole new opportunity for invasive, authoritarian access to the lives of peaceful American citizens was afoot. In the years since 9/11, we have come to accept this government’s preening with an eye roll and a shrug. What power does any of us have in the fight against it? And don’t we all have somewhere to be anyways? Better to let the agent get on with their prodding and questioning so we can make the puddle jumper to Cheyenne to see the parents over the weekend.

Which brings us to the big news that has been kept relatively quiet in mainstream media. Earlier this week, The Boston Globe blew the top off “Quiet Skies,” a secretive TSA program that has tracked over 5,000 US citizens on domestic flights throughout the past year. “Dozens of air marshals,” told The Globe that they were instructed to report in minute detail on the behaviors of passengers exhibiting peculiar patterns. These patterns included routine sleep, bathroom, and eating habits that would make potentially any passenger in The United States a target of surveillance. Many of the marshals have suggested that “Quiet Skies” netted zero serious targets and was a complete waste of time and resources.

The late Gore Vidal was one of the sharpest critics of the Bush-era policies that gave expansive power to the surveillance systems of centralized intelligence. His reign was only the beginning of a vast reduction of Americans civil liberties and constitutional rights that have been sustained through Obama and now Trump’s presidencies.. Railing against what he saw as an opportunistic and parasitic state, Vidal often cried afoul of a national security apparatus that ran wild on the psycho fanatical nightmares of a ginned up public. When Congress passed the meticulously crafted 350+ page Patriot Act in the early months after 9/11, Vidal was one of the loudest voices to suggest that this new, abrasive surveillance state had been waiting in the wings for an event of this scale.

We were entering a bit of a depression around 9/11, so if it was Osama’s timing, it was very clever. They hit us when we were really quite off balance. These Presidents, as they get worse and worse – proving that Darwin was wrong – the wars get more surreal. We blow up Afghanistan when all of our enemies who struck at us in the airplanes that day were Saudi Arabians. They weren’t Afghans. And the Afghans were rather hurt that we were blowing up all their cities when we should’ve been taking out the Saudi Royal Family. We hit the wrong people.

The sinister side is the speed with which Clinton, after Oklahoma City, was ready with an anti-terrorist act. The speed of light and it had the most venemous dialogue. They decided, immediately, that many of our freedoms would be diminished starting with the 4th amendment. Now we have the Patriot Act, which was passed after the infamous September 11th. Congress passed it and as is their wont, didn’t read it. That was a terrific piece of legislation remeniscent of one of my favorite emperors: Tiberius.

Tiberius, when he became emperor, the Senate sent him some legislation saying that they would accept, in advance, sight unseen, any legislation that he wanted to send up to the Senate. He sent back a message and said “you’ve lost your senses. Suppose the Emperor has gone mad. Suppose the Emperor is a raging enemy of Rome and you didn’t know it. You can’t do that in advance.”

And they sent it back to him again “anything Glorius Ceaser, that you send us, we will endorse.” And he said, and I feel myself wanting to repeat Tiberius’ words: “how eager they are to be slaves.”

In the era of aviation before the towers fell, never would Americans have suspected that armed, plain-clothed officers were following them or fellow passengers onto flights because a person was deemed to have “taken a long nap” while awaiting their departure. Now, American citizens are forced to bitterly swallow intrusive searches of their person and property for the right to board a routine flight from St. Louis to Trenton. What’s worse, they are being systematically reduced to a state of intellectual paralysis where they can no longer remember a time where they were without the prying eyes of big government nosing through their suitcases and listening in on their bedrooms. “What can you do?” we think.

The very name ‘Transportation Security Administration’ strikes an anxious chord with most Americans. If there is an institution that expressly ‘secures’ transport, then there must be also an inherent suggestion that there is some great unknowable risk to our personal security at any given airport in any given city from Rochester to Sacramento. Is this true? Is flying that dangerous of an affair? Over two million passengers fly across the United States on any given day. Are the TSA really protecting us or are humans naturally peaceful and without an intent to harm? Is there a proven need for government agents to follow thousands of unsuspecting passengers as they travel freely around the country? Do we now hold such little trust in the decency of each other that we are happy to let federal officials encroach on our civil liberties for the perseverance of such an undefinable ‘security’? We can see clearly from research and media coverage that the TSA’s success rate in the past decade is a hotly contested issue with many suggesting overreaches without due cause or process.

In 2015 alone the TSA “missed 95 percent of weapons and explosives in security tests.” Even more ironic is a report after 9/11 that suggested 500 more people were killed a year as a result of automobile accidents after plane passengers opted to drive instead of the long waits and intrusive searches at the gates. This all signals what we already know to be true – the TSA does little in terms of protecting passengers from a terrorist attack. In fact, the more prodding you do of the TSA the more it appears that it’s nothing more than a carte blanch, federal cattle call that acts as an eye in the sky operation to survey and collect data on American citizens who have done nothing to warrant suspicion or investigation.

In our hearts and minds, we know as American citizens that these warrantless actions by the TSA are completely unjustifiable. We can still remember a time before the ever-present threat of a lurking, unspeakable terror threat. Programs like the TSA are simply another notch on the belt of the all-powerful state authority apparatus that cannot and will not be challenged. In the houses of Congress, where days should be filled with the thundering voices of vexed patriots, instead, career politicians smile and nod in happy cooperation. When it comes to the big stuff, they’re all on the same team, each being bought long before the first day they arrived. Their vote merely another casino chip.

As with many federal programs, before long the whole charade just becomes so mundanely every day that an entire generation of younger Americans grow up in the malaise and accept it as normal. The whole lot are indoctrinated through sheer, dramatic, routine, coaxing habit. Today, it’s commonplace to accept the ridiculous assertion that a bottle of shampoo could be a credible national security threat. It’s considered normal to allow another human the right to touch your body and investigate your property in the name of some worthwhile freedom on the other side. To live in America, the great land of liberty and happiness. No one dares step out of line. There’s family to be seen in Dallas.

Institutions should be judged on a basis of their merits. Does the TSA keep us safer? Is the TSA necessary? Or does it cut at the heart of our fundamental rights of travel and speech as Americans? Nobody trusts the TSA. And why should they? Every time you go through their surveillance systems you are made a target within your own homeland and that’s just the way it is.

Or is it? At what point does the American public justifiably ask for clarity on the subject at hand. How long will we remain criminals in our own country for crimes we have not committed? How long will we accept culpability for the violence of a rogue group of militant terrorists 17 years ago? How many of our civil rights must be trashed so that the state can keep us secure? How long before we send a clear and cutting message to Congress that they do not own the identity and soul of the American populace?


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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.