Mint Press News
By Tom Engelhardt
James Cartmill holds an American flag while protesting in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.
Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.
And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.
Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”
Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.
1. 1% Elections
David Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, Inc., the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.
Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests. (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)
Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper. A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election. He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present. Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.” It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future. (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)
Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.
The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice. So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)
Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat. By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.
In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.
2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)
Although this Oct. 18, 2011 photo of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became famous for online memes aiming to demonstrate her no-BS leadership style, yet another potential scandal, this time in her State Department, might have her less-than-nonchalent about seeing messages in her inbox. Photo credit: AP.
In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc. Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.
However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought. But it didn’t happen in some third-world state. It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.
Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11. Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country. Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization. The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting. Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying. You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.
All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy. And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.
Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.
3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after speaking before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015.
On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall. In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%. (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.) The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%. All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.
It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself. Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.
What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing? Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing. They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well. House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this. They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.
The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy. It is, in fact, neither. It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.
In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state. The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security. As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state. A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like. While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”
4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, right, and CIA Director John Brennan, left, sit in the front row before President Barack Obama spoke about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington.
One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight. Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment. But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention. In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own. Its growth has been phenomenal. Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians. The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.
Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering. Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame. That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor. As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.
New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state. In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China). Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones. Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces. And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.
News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives. Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”
This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure. And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know. Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).
5. The Demobilization of the American People
Protestors confront police during an impromptu rally, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Police said Brown, who was unarmed, was fatally shot Saturday in a scuffle with an officer. Photo credit: AP.
In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them. In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?
After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes. Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.
The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military. It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era. In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs. Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.
Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.
The Birth of a New System
Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.
While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.
Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.
Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).
by LORENZO FRANCESCHI-BICCHIERAI
The facial recognition pilot program launched last week by US Customs and Border Protection, which civil liberties advocates say could lead to new potentially privacy-invading programs, is just the first of three biometric experiments that the feds are getting ready to launch.
The three experiments involve new controversial technologies like iris and face scanner kiosks, which CBP plans to deploy at the Mexican border, and facial recognition software, according to a leaked document obtained by Motherboard.
All three pilots are part of a broader Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program to modernize screenings at American entry and exit ports, including at the highly politicized Mexican border, with the aid of new biometric technologies. The program is known as Apex Air Entry and Exit Re-Engineering (AEER) Project, according to the leaked slides.
These pilot programs have the goal of “identifying and implementing” biometric technologies that can be used at American borders to improve the immigration system as well as US national security, according to the slides.
“The public should take notice. These programs may be coming to a theater near you.”
The facial recognition pilot is up and running at Washington Dulles International airport, as first reported as operational by Motherboard, while the other two programs appear to have not been deployed yet. Unlike the facial recognition one, the other two appear to only target foreigners.
The CBP did not respond to Motherboard’s questions regarding these programs. The slides were leaked to Motherboard by Arjun Sethi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel, who attended a presentation held on March 10 at the CBP headquarters.
The second pilot is called Biometric Exit (BE) Mobile Experiment and has the goal of helping CBP “confirm with certainty that a foreigner traveler has departed the United States.”
As part of this experiment, the slides say that the CBP officers at the Atlanta Hartsfield International airport will use a “handheld device” to record the exit of a foreign national from the US and create a match with the person’s entry records, in order to figure out whether a foreigner has stayed in the US more than he or she was allowed to.
It’s unclear what the device actually does, but according to another person who attended the presentation at the CBP, the device is probably a fingerprint reader.
The third pilot is called Pedestrian Biometric Experiment and it will be deployed at the Otay Mesa border between the United States and Mexico, according to the slides.
This experiment has the goal of testing “the viability of facial and iris image capture” in a land border such as the one in Otay Mesa, and create “an additional layer of security” at the US southern border to “combat national security and public safety threats.”
The CBP will install devices capable of scanning a traveler’s face and iris, replacing existing entry kiosks, the agency explains in the slides. Other gizmos to be deployed include RFID document readers, iris biometric scanners, and facial biometric cameras, according to a sketch of the border station included in the slides.
While both these two programs, as well as the facial recognition one, are just experiments at the moment, privacy advocates warn that there’s a risk of mission creep, and that technologies like those used for these experiments could soon be deployed more widely. Moreover, given the ever-increasing political pressure to secure the border with Mexico, the third program has good chances to be fully implemented.
“The public should take notice,” Sethi, of the ACLU, told Motherboard. “These programs may be coming to a theater near you.”
The Rutherford Institute
By John W. Whitehead
“The game is rigged, the network is bugged, the government talks double-speak, the courts are complicit and there’s nothing you can do about it.”—David Kravets, reporting for Wired
Nothing you write, say, text, tweet or share via phone or computer is private anymore. As constitutional law professor Garrett Epps points out, “Big Brother is watching…. Big Brother may be watching you right now, and you may never know. Since 9/11, our national life has changed forever. Surveillance is the new normal.”
This is the reality of the internet-dependent, plugged-in life of most Americans today.
A process which started shortly after 9/11 with programs such as Total Information Awareness (the predecessor to the government’s present surveillance programs) has grown into a full-fledged campaign of warrantless surveillance, electronic tracking and data mining, thanks to federal agents who have been given carte blanche access to the vast majority of electronic communications in America. Their methods completely undermine constitution safeguards, and yet no federal agency, president, court or legislature has stepped up to halt this assault on our rights.
For the most part, surveillance, data mining, etc., is a technological, jargon-laden swamp through which the average American would prefer not to wander. Consequently, most Americans remain relatively oblivious to the government’s ever-expanding surveillance powers, appear unconcerned about the fact that the government is spying on them, and seem untroubled that there is no way of opting out of this system. This state of delirium lasts only until those same individuals find themselves arrested or detained for something they did, said or bought that runs afoul of the government’s lowering threshold for what constitutes criminal activity.
All the while, Congress, the courts, and the president (starting with George W. Bush and expanding exponentially under Barack Obama) continue to erect an electronic concentration camp the likes of which have never been seen before.
A good case in point is the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), formerly known as CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). Sold to the public as necessary for protecting us against cyber attacks or internet threats such as hacking, this Orwellian exercise in tyranny-masquerading-as-security actually makes it easier for the government to spy on Americans, while officially turning Big Business into a government snitch.
Be warned: this cybersecurity bill is little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing or, as longtime critic Senator Ron Wyden labeled it, “a surveillance bill by another name.”
Lacking any significant privacy protections, CISA, which sacrifices privacy without improving security, will do for surveillance what the Patriot Act did for the government’s police powers: it will expand, authorize and normalize the government’s intrusions into the most intimate aspects of our lives to such an extent that there will be no turning back. In other words, it will ensure that the Fourth Amendment, which protects us against unfounded, warrantless government surveillance, does not apply to the Internet or digital/electronic communications of any kind.
In a nutshell, CISA would make it legal for the government to spy on the citizenry without their knowledge and without a warrant under the guise of fighting cyberterrorism. It would also protect private companies from being sued for sharing your information with the government, namely the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in order to prevent “terrorism” or an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.”
Law enforcement agencies would also be given broad authority to sift through one’s data for any possible crimes. What this means is that you don’t even have to be suspected of a crime to be under surveillance. The bar is set so low as to allow government officials to embark on a fishing expedition into your personal affairs—emails, phone calls, text messages, purchases, banking transactions, etc.—based only on their need to find and fight “crime.”
Take this anything-goes attitude towards government surveillance, combine it with Big Business’ complicity over the government’s blatantly illegal acts, the ongoing trend towards overcriminalization, in which minor acts are treated as major crimes, and the rise of private prisons, which have created a profit motive for jailing Americans, and you have all the makings of a fascist police state.
So who can we count on to protect us from the threat of government surveillance?
It won’t be the courts. Not in an age of secret courts, secret court rulings, and an overall deference by the courts to anything the government claims is necessary to its fight against terrorism. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging the government’s massive electronic wiretapping program. As Court reporter Lyle Denniston notes:
Daoud v. United States was the first case, in the nearly four-decade history of electronic spying by the U.S. government to gather foreign intelligence, in which a federal judge had ordered the government to turn over secret papers about how it had obtained evidence through wiretaps of telephones and Internet links. That order, however, was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, whose ruling was the one the Justices on Monday declined to review…. One of the unusual features of the government’s global electronic spying program is that the individuals whose conversations or e-mails have been monitored almost never hear about it, because the program is so shrouded in secrecy — except when the news media manages to find out some details. But, if the government plans to use evidence it gathered under that program against a defendant in a criminal trial, it must notify the defendant that he or she has been monitored.
It won’t be Congress, either (CISA is their handiwork, remember), which has failed to do anything to protect the citizenry from an overbearing police state, all the while enabling the government to continue its power grabs. It was Congress that started us down this whole Big Brother road with its passage and subsequent renewals of the USA Patriot Act, which drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights. The Patriot Act rendered First Amendment activists potential terrorists; justified broader domestic surveillance; authorized black bag “sneak-and-peak” searches of homes and offices by government agents; granted the FBI the right to come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allowed the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you’ve checked out in any public library and Internet sites you’ve visited.
The Patriot Act also gave the government the green light to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they told anyone that the government had subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation; monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause; and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial, among other things.
And it certainly won’t be the president. Indeed, President Obama recently issued an executive order calling on private companies (phone companies, banks, Internet providers, you name it) to share their customer data (your personal data) with each other and, most importantly, the government. Here’s the problem, however: while Obama calls for vague protections for privacy and civil liberties without providing any specific recommendations, he appoints the DHS to oversee the information sharing and develop guidelines with the attorney general for how the government will collect and share the data.
Talk about putting the wolf in charge of the hen house.
Mind you, this is the same agency, rightly dubbed a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast,” that is responsible for militarizing the police, weaponizing SWAT teams, spying on activists, stockpiling ammunition, distributing license plate readers to state police, carrying out military drills in American cities, establishing widespread surveillance networks through the use of fusion centers, funding city-wide surveillance systems, accelerating the domestic use of drones, and generally establishing itself as the nation’s standing army, i.e., a national police force.
This brings me back to the knotty problem of how to protect Americans from cyber attacks without further eroding our privacy rights.
Dependent as we are on computer technology for almost all aspects of our lives, it’s feasible that a cyberattack on American computer networks really could cripple both the nation’s infrastructure and its economy. So do we allow the government liberal powers to control and spy on all electronic communications flowing through the United States? Can we trust the government not to abuse its privileges and respect our privacy rights? Does it even matter, given that we have no real say in the matter?
As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, essentially, there are three camps of thought on the question of how much power the government should have, and which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time, for the time being, the one calling the shots being the Obama administration.
In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing—or, at least, they trust the Obama administration to look out for their best interests. To this group, CISA is simply a desperately needed blueprint for safeguarding us against a possible cyberattack, with a partnership between the government and Big Business serving as the most logical means of thwarting such an attack. Any suggestion that the government and its corporate cohorts might abuse this power is dismissed as conspiratorial hysterics. The problem, as technology reporter Adam Clark Estes points out, is that CISA is a “privacy nightmare” that “stomps all over civil liberties” without making “the country any safer against cyberattacks.”
In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them. Sadly, they’ve got good reason to distrust the government, especially when it comes to abusing its powers and violating our rights. For example, consider that government surveillance of innocent Americans has exploded over the past decade. In fact, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin has concluded that, as a result of its spying and data collection, the U.S. government has more data on American citizens than the Stasi secret police had on East Germans. To those in this second group, CISA is nothing less than the writing on the wall that surveillance is here to stay, meaning that the government will continue to monitor, regulate and control all means of communications.
Then there’s the third camp, which neither sees government as an angel or a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.” A distrust of all who hold governmental power was rife among those who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. James Madison, the nation’s fourth president and the author of the Bill of Rights, was particularly vocal in warning against government. He once observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”
To those in the third camp, the only way to ensure balance in government is by holding government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law. Unfortunately, with all branches of the government, including the courts, stridently working to maintain its acquired powers, and the private sector marching in lockstep, there seems to be little to protect the American people from the fast-growing electronic surveillance state.
In the meantime, surveillance has become the new normal, and the effects of this endless surveillance are taking a toll, resulting in a more anxious and submissive citizenry. As Fourth Amendment activist Alex Marthews points out,
Mass surveillance is becoming a punchline. Making it humorous makes mass surveillance seem easy and friendly and a normal part of life…we make uneasy jokes about how we should watch what we say, about the government looking over our shoulders, about cameras and informers and eyes in the sky. Even though we may not in practice think that these agencies pay us any mind, mass surveillance still creates a chilling effect: We limit what we search for online and inhibit expression of controversial viewpoints. This more submissive mentality isn’t a side effect. As far as anyone is able to measure, it’s the main effect of mass surveillance. The effect of such programs is not primarily to thwart attacks by foreign terrorists on U.S. soil; it’s to discourage challenges to the security services’ authority over our lives here at home.
Project reveals the Android apps that are the worst privacy violators
If you thought seemingly innocent apps like Angry Birds did not violate your privacy, you thought wrong. A new project reveals that many unexpected apps are guilty of breaching the privacy of many mobile users.
Mobile applications are fundamentally about making money for their creators, so if an app is free it still has to rake in the cash somehow. That fact leads to many apps relying on advertising to bring in that revenue.
The apps that collect revenue through advertising often share contact lists with third parties or even use the mobile user’s location to deliver targeted advertisements.
“These apps access information about a user that can be highly sensitive, such as location, contact lists and call logs, yet it often is difficult for the average user to understand how that information is being used or who it might be shared with,” Jason Hong, the leader of the new Privacy Grade project said in a press release. “Our privacy model measures the gap between people’s expectations of an app’s behavior and the app’s actual behavior.”
Since many mobile users are completely ignorant of this practice, the Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Human Interaction: Mobility Privacy Security (CHIMPS) Lab created Privacy Grade.
Privacy Grade gives Android applications grades from A+ to D based on how much information the app gathers from a user’s device and how that gathering aligns with the user’s expectations.
IEEE Spectrum states that the grading model is based on the preference ratings of 725 users on 837 free Android apps.
The project clearly and simply lays out the permissions requested by a wide range of applications and what these permissions are used for. This helps users identify when apps request permission for information that allows internal app functionality versus advertising purposes or market/customer analysis.
Google’s apps, on the other hand, received high marks from Privacy Grade, with most of their applications receiving an A grade. This is somewhat surprising given the privacy breaches Google has been guilty of in the past. Furthermore, a recent report found that Americans are more concerned about data collection by Google than the NSA.
So far, the database does not include paid apps since the researchers believe they are much less likely to be seeking additional revenue from selling user data to third parties.
Additionally, Privacy Grade currently only covers Android apps but the researchers are currently considering adding apps on the iOS, Windows Mobile and Blackberry platforms if funding is available.
Do you use any of the apps covered by Privacy Grade? Are you surprised by the marks your favorite apps have received? Let us know by leaving a comment below, tweeting us or leaving a comment on our Facebook page.
Creepy Tracking Tech Gone Too Far: “Police Surveillance Now Fully Automated and Integrated Into Wireless Networks”
by Mac Slavo
Welcome to 2015. We’re certainly not in Kansas anymore.
Not only is the police state here, but it is upgrading all the time.
While people are busy fighting an uphill battle with apparently rampant cases of abuse, excessive force and a misguided and failed War on Drugs, many are too far behind the times to keep up with these technologies – now being tested or used in police departments across the country.
While the use of technology in policing is nothing new, it might surprise you have far things have gone – with much of police surveillance now fully automated and integrated into wireless networks, and monitored by Homeland Security-funded fusion centers.
Reason.tv rounded up these examples of creepy, robot, privacy destroying police tactics (and it’s only just beginning):
• Smart street lights created a stir in the alternative media a few years ago, with news that Homeland Security grants were putting big brother funding on the streets quite literally. Now, they are being tested in Las Vegas. The intelligent street lights are equipped with two-way communication and monitoring devices, and may be used to record conversations on the streets, or to broadcast official messages from the authorities during an emergency, or in the midst of a crime. Apparently, they can also broadcast music. Maybe that will give them enough street cred to keep the creepy level off the radar. Paul Joseph Watson wrote:
The Intellistreets system comprises of a wireless digital infrastructure that allows street lights to be controlled remotely by means of a ubiquitous wi-fi link and a miniature computer housed inside each street light, allowing for “security, energy management, data harvesting and digital media,” according to the Illuminating Concepts website.
In terms of Homeland Security applications, each of the light poles contains a speaker system that can be used to broadcast emergency alerts, as well as a display that transmits “security levels” (presumably a similar system to the DHS’ much maligned color-coded terror alert designation), in addition to showing instructions by way of its LED video screen.
The lights also include proximity sensors that can record both pedestrian and road traffic. The video display and speaker system will also be used to transmit Minority Report-style advertising, as well as Amber Alerts and other “civic announcements”.
• Location tracking Wi-Fi is now being tested in Seattle and other locations as part of a wireless mesh network. Of course, most already know that their cell phones and computers share data with their providers, the NSA and a host of other data hungry watchers, but now the police are using boxes set up at numerous street intersections to ping and track cell phones in the area, logging location data for thousands of drivers, passengers and pedestrians that could be used to establish the whereabouts of a suspect, pursue criminals, as evidence in traffic disputes or perhaps for crowd control.
The Wi-Fi tracking devices appear as white boxes mounted on poles or street lights. The data interconnects through a wireless mesh network with existing traffic cameras, police squad vehicles, networks of cameras and other interfaces on the emerging fiber network, and a host of authorities in the region, including police, the Sheriff’s Department and the regional fusion center. Officially, the mesh network aides communication during emergency scenarios, but also functions as a roaming live-time surveillance network.
Reason.tv reports that Seattle residents been reporting wi-fi networks popping up on their cell service with the names of intersections (such as 3rd & Union) since 2013.
• Sting Ray cell phone interceptor / cell phone tower impersonator devices are now being secretly used by the FBI, local police departments and… probably other spy agencies, foreign and domestic, as well. The use of this technology remains less known than other techniques, in part because the Justice Department has pressured local law enforcement to keep hush hush about the use of this tool, even in the face of court testimony.
The best part, from a policing point of view, is the kid-in-a-candy store, fish-in-a-barrel opportunity for revealing data on everyone from suspects to innocent bystanders who may have data wanted by the authorities… now or later. No warrants need apply.
Melissa Melton writes:
According to the Associated Press, the Obama Administration has been actively advising police departments to refuse disclosure about certain cell phone surveillance technologies, including the widely used “StingRay” device, even in routine state records requests.
Evidently, the StingRay technology allows law enforcement to “trick” cell devices into sharing identifying personal and location data with them that would ordinary be sent to communications companies and require request procedures.
Instead, police are bypassing company assistance and collecting unique information on suspects, persons of interests, and – as the AP reports – they can even “sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods,” all without any court orders or oversight.
• See-through-radar, as used in such on the market technologies as the Range-R, allows police to see the location of all the people inside a building through the walls, again, without a warrant.
USA Today reports:
At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance.
Those agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, began deploying the radar systems more than two years ago with little notice to the courts and no public disclosure of when or how they would be used. The technology raises legal and privacy issues because the U.S. Supreme Court has said officers generally cannot use high-tech sensors to tell them about the inside of a person’s house without first obtaining a search warrant.
• PoliceBots – Right now, the Knightscope K5 looks like an inept R2D2 unit, but soon people will see it as the early deployment prototype of the dangerous Robocop type units that science fiction has long warned us about.
They are scheduled to begin actual patrols in the Silicon Valley area sometime this year, and will principally be used to detect criminal activity and alert human officers… for now, of course. Later, they are supposed to be capable of crime prediction as well as prevention, but we already know that Minority Report is no-knocking at the door.
According to the Daily Mail, these bot-officers carry a number of advanced and perhaps troubling capabilities, including rapid license plate scanning and something referred to as ‘odor detection’:
The five foot tall robots have a combination of laser scanning, wheel encoders, inertial measurements, and GPS that allows fully autonomous operation and charging.
It also has odour detectors, and can even monitor air pollution as it travels around.
Using cameras they can also read up to 300 car number plates a minute, allowing them to monitor traffic.
• Drones – The use of drones is, unsurprisingly, also expanding, but the devices are become so cheap at the same time that their use is becoming accepted. Hence, police departments and law enforcement are snatching them up and making purchases that often fly under the radar of public controversy. Infinitely cheaper than helicopters and other aerial devices, drones are poised to be anywhere and everywhere that law enforcement wants eyes.
• “Eye in the Sky” – Reason.tv also included an “Eye in the Sky” HD camera mounted inside a Cessna-style aircraft that flies over a city locale for up to six hours, recording everything that takes place in the community – with options to zoom in on areas of interest in live-time and play back to review what officers weren’t focusing on.
The Atlantic reported on how the device was used secretly in Compton, California, and only revealed to the public years afterwards – kept hush hush by law enforcement to quell privacy concerns:
In a secret test of mass surveillance technology, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent a civilian aircraft* over Compton, California, capturing high-resolution video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality.
Compton residents weren’t told about the spying, which happened in 2012. “We literally watched all of Compton during the times that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” Ross McNutt of Persistence Surveillance Systems told the Center for Investigative Reporting, which unearthed and did the first reporting on this important story. The technology he’s trying to sell to police departments all over America can stay aloft for up to six hours. Like Google Earth, it enables police to zoom in on certain areas. And like TiVo, it permits them to rewind, so that they can look back and see what happened anywhere they weren’t watching in real time.
The question is, where does it all end?
Are there any limits to how far police or government authorities will go or can go?
The Fourth Amendment seems clear enough in its intent to protect people from unwarranted searches and seizure, but it has been all but trashed and scrapped in the wake of the paranoid War on Terrorism and unparalleled mass surveillance technologies.
The problem is that there may simply be no turning back. Expectation of privacy are now as low as a fat, bald, unemployed dude hoping for a date with a supermodel. Basically, freedom is dormant and privacy is, for the time being, now all but nonexistent.
The Internet Of Things: A Dystopian Nightmare Where Everyone And Everything Will Be Monitored On The Internet
The Economic Collapse
by Michael Snyder
Can you imagine a world where your home, your vehicles, your appliances and every single electronic device that you own is constantly connected to the Internet? This is not some grand vision that is being planned for some day in the future. This is something that is being systematically implemented right now. In 2015, we already have “smart homes”, vehicles that talk to one another, refrigerators that are connected to the Internet, and televisions that spy on us. Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and that opens up some wonderful possibilities. But there is also a downside. What if we rapidly reach a point where one must be connected to the Internet in order to function in society? Will there come a day when we can’t even do basic things such as buy, sell, get a job or open a bank account without it? And what about the potential for government abuse? Could an “Internet of Things” create a dystopian nightmare where everyone and everything will be constantly monitored and tracked by the government? That is something to think about.
Today, the Internet has become such an integral part of our lives that it is hard to remember how we ever survived without it. And with each passing year, the number of devices connected to the Internet continues to grow at an exponential rate. If you have never heard of the “Internet of Things” before, here is a little bit about it from Wikipedia…
Things, in the IoT, can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, electric clams in coastal waters, automobiles with built-in sensors, or field operation devices that assist fire-fighters in search and rescue. These devices collect useful data with the help of various existing technologies and then autonomously flow the data between other devices. Current market examples include smart thermostat systems and washer/dryers that utilize wifi for remote monitoring.
But there is also a dark side to the Internet of Things. Security is a huge issue, and when that security is compromised the consequences can be absolutely horrifying. Just consider the following example…
It is a strange series of events that link two Armenian software engineers; a Shenzen, China-based webcam company; two sets of new parents in the U.S.; and an unknown creep who likes to hack baby monitors to yell obscenities at children. “Wake up, you little ****,” the hacker screamed at the top of his digital lungs last summer when a two-year-old in Houston wouldn’t stir; she happened to be deaf. A year later, a baby monitor hacker struck again yelling obscenities at a 10-month-old in Ohio.
Both families were using an Internet-connected baby monitor made by China-based Foscam. The hacker took advantage of a weakness in the camera’s software design that U.S.-based Armenian computer engineers revealed at a security conference in Amsterdam last April.
The Internet allows us to reach into the outside world from inside our homes, but it also allows the reverse to take place as well.
Do we really want to make ourselves that vulnerable?
Sadly, we live at a time when people don’t really stop to consider the downside to our exploding technological capabilities.
In fact, there are many people that are extremely eager to connect themselves to the Internet of Things.
In Sweden, there are dozens of people that have willingly had microchips implanted under the skin. They call themselves “bio-hackers”, and they embrace what they see as the coming merger between humanity and technology. The following is what one of the founders of a Sweden based bio-hacking community had to say during one recent interview…
“The technology is already happening,” says Hannes Sjoblad, one of the founders of BioNyfiken. “We are seeing a fast-growing community of people experimenting with chip implants, which allow users to quickly and easily perform a variety of everyday tasks, such as allowing access to buildings, unlocking personal devices without PIN codes and enabling read access to various types of stored data.
“I consider the take-off of this technology as another important interface-moment in the history of human-computer interaction, similar to the launches of the first windows desktop or the first touch screen. Identification by touch is innate for humans. PIN codes and passwords are not natural. And every additional device that we have to carry around to identify ourselves, be it a key fob or a swipe card, is just another item that clutters our lives.”
And of course this is happening in the United States as well…
In America, a dedicated amateur community — the “biohackers” or “grinders” — has been experimenting with implantable technology for several years. Amal Graafstra, a 38-year-old programmer and self-styled “adventure technologist”, has been inserting various types of radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips into the soft flesh between his thumbs and index fingers since 2005. The chips can be read by scanners that Graafstra has installed on the doors of his house, and also on his laptop, which gives him access with a swipe of his hand without the need for keys or passwords.
But you don’t have to have a microchip implant in order to be a part of the Internet of Things.
In fact, there are a whole host of “wearable technologies” that are currently being developed for our society.
For instance, have you heard about “OnStar for the Body” yet? It will enable medical personnel to constantly monitor your health wherever you are…
Smart, cheaper and point-of-care sensors, such as those being developed for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, will further enable the ‘Digital Checkup’ from anywhere. The world of ‘Quantified Self’ and ‘Quantified Health’ will lead to a new generation of wearable technologies partnered with Artificial Intelligence that will help decipher and make this information actionable.
And this ‘actionability’ is key. We hear the term Big Data used in various contexts; when applied to health information it will likely be the smart integration of massive data sets from the ‘Internet of things’ with the small data about your activity, mood, and other information. When properly filtered, this data set can give insights on a macro level – population health – and micro – ‘OnStar for the Body‘ with a personalized ‘check engine light’ to help identify individual problems before they further develop into expensive, difficult-to-treat or fatal conditions.
If that sounded creepy to you, this next item will probably blow you away.
According to one survey, approximately one-fourth of all professionals in the 18 to 50-year-old age bracket would like to directly connect their brains to the Internet…
According to a survey by tech giant Cisco Systems, about a fourth of professionals ages 18 to 50 would leap at the chance to get a surgical brain implant that allowed them to instantly link their thoughts to the Internet.
The study was conducted on 3,700 adults working in white-collar jobs in 15 countries.
“Assuming a company invented a brain implant that made the World Wide Web instantly accessible to their thoughts, roughly one-quarter would move forward with the operation,” the study found.
In the end, they are not going to have to force most of us to get connected to the Internet of Things.
Most of us will do it eagerly.
But most people will never even stop to consider the potential for abuse.
An Internet of Things could potentially give governments all over the world the ability to continually monitor and track the activities of everyone under their power all of the time.
If you do not think that this could ever happen, perhaps you should consider the words of former CIA director David Petraeus…
“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing”
Are you starting to get the picture?
They plan to use the Internet of Things to spy on all of us.
But we just can’t help ourselves. Our society has a love affair with new technology. And some of the things that are being developed right now are beyond what most of us ever dreamed was possible.
For example, Microsoft has just released a new promotional video featuring 3D holograms, smart surfaces, next-generation wearable technologies, and “fluid mobility”…
The elaborate, highly produced video shows jaw-dropping technologies like a SCUBA mask that annotates the sea with 3D holograms, a multipart bracelet that joins together to become a communications device, and interactive, flexible displays that automatically “rehydrate” with information specific to the people using them.
This video from Microsoft was posted on YouTube, and I have shared it below…
So what do you think about all of this?
Please feel free to add to the discussion by posting a comment below…
by Cassius Methyl
Between 2015 and 2017, the Pentagon will have the ability to decipher human voices in surveillance audio even if background noise makes the covertly recorded conversations inaudible.
This may bring to mind the surveillance audio secretly recorded through our smartphones when they are in our pockets. On or off, we know now that our conversations are being recorded by a wide array of electronic devices, and our conversations we used to consider private are actually being stored in data collection facilities like the one in Utah aptly titled the ‘Utah Data Center’.
With this multimillion dollar technology, our seemingly private conversations can be stored and analyzed by government officials even if the background noise is too much for a normal audio recording.
Newly released documents from DARPA show that they are in the third phase of their ‘RATS’ program (Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech). This information indicates that they are going to great lengths to make sure that secretly recorded conversations can be analyzed by the government.
According to the documents, “the research division of a government agency will be testing the speech activity detection algorithm to incorporate into their platform.”
The ‘platform’ is an insidious word for massive, incomprehensible surveillance grid with an unspecified endgame. This ‘platform’ opens doors up to the powers that be, infinite doors to be utilized with what we have every reason to believe is nothing but malicious intent.
According to a USA Today article “DARPA has spent $13 million on RATS. It now wants to spend another $2.4 million, contract records show, to make the final push to make the system operational by the Air Force as early as this year but by 2017. Other agencies, particularly those in the intelligence community, will also use the system once it’s operational.”
The program also seeks to recognize different languages, and filter surveillance audio by recognizing keywords. This may also imply that people in other countries will be targeted.
The US government was also caught hacking into billions of SIM cards recently.
An important question to ask would be, how will they actually put this to use?
Will the government try to start prosecuting people in legal cases with the data collected with the surveillance grid being covertly imposed around us? Perhaps it should be phrased, when will they start using this surveillance data to incarcerate people?
We are surely all aware of the fact that smartphones, certain TV’s, and a wide variety of other devices are actually functioning microphones in a surveillance grid being set up that is apparently a high enough priority to the powers that be to be worth millions of dollars in funding.
So we all know this is happening, but why? Where is this going, how far will they go in analyzing this data and how will they utilize is to prosecute and target people who oppose the interests of the US government and their allies?
The actual plethora of potential malicious uses of this data is essential to speculate on. As activists and people concerned about the state of our society and the unchecked power of the US government and other organizations, we must think long and hard about these things. I highly recommend you do research on DARPA, and try your best to fully comprehend how this technology could be utilized against political opponents, dissidents, activists and innocent Americans.
Please share this with everyone. This info is relevant to every single person around you.
Big Barbie is Watching You – Meet the WiFi Connected Barbie Doll that Talks to Your Children and Records Them
by Michael Krieger
Earlier this month, I highlighted the fact that the latest Samsung Smart TV can and will listen to your conversations, and will share the details with a third party in the post: A Very Slippery Slope – Yes, Your Samsung Smart TV Can Listen to Your Private Conversations.
Well a couple of weeks later, and we learn that Mattel’s latest high-tech Barbie doll will bring the “internet of things” right into your child’s playpen. From the The Register:
Toymaker Mattel has unveiled a high-tech Barbie that will listen to your child, record its words, send them over the internet for processing, and talk back to your kid. It will email you, as a parent, highlights of your youngster’s conversations with the toy.
If Samsung’s spying smart TVs creeped you out, this doll may be setting off alarm bells too – so we drilled into what’s going on.
The Hello Barbie doll is developed by San Francisco startup ToyTalk, which says it has more than $31m in funding from Greylock Partners, Charles River Ventures, Khosla Ventures, True Ventures and First Round Capital, and others.
Its Wi-Fi-connected Barbie toy has a microphone, a speaker, a small embedded computer with a battery that lasts about an hour, and Wi-Fi hardware. When you press a button on her belt buckle, Barbie wakes up, asks a question, and turns on its microphone while the switch is held down.
The doll is loaded up with scripts to read, and one of these is selected depending on what the kid said. If the tyke shows an interest in a particular past-time or thing, the doll’s backend software will know to talk about that – giving the kid the impression that chatty Barbie’s a good, listening friend.
When users interact with ToyTalk, we may capture photographs or audio or video recordings (the “Recordings”) of such interactions, depending upon the particular application being used.
We may use, transcribe and store such Recordings to provide and maintain the Service, to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, and for other research and development or internal purposes.
We may make such Recordings available to the parent account holder and permit the parent account holder to share such Recordings with third parties.
By using Hello Barbie, parents agree to these terms. It’s not clear how long the recordings stay on ToyTalk’s systems.
You’ve been warned: Big Barbie is Watching You.
New Eastern Outlook
by Vladimir Platov
On February 16 researchers at Moscow-based security group Kaspersky Lab announced the discovery of an ultimate virus that has virtually affected all spheres of military and civilian computing in more than 40 countries around the world. They’ve managed to discover a piece of malware that must have been installed on vhard disks while they were still being manufactured, and due to its complexity and a certain number of features that it shares with Stuxnet, it’s safe to assume that it was created by US secret services.
On February 18 The Guardian confirmed that for the last 7 years Government Communications Headquarters had been sharing personal intelligence data en masse with America’s national security agencies, regardless of the fact that it had intercepted millions of foreign citizens conversations. The ruling of a UK court clearly suggests that these actions were illegal on top of being carried out in violation of the the European convention on human rights.
On 19 February it was announced that National Security Agency (NSA) along with its British partner in crime – the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has manged to steal encryption keys from Gemalto – the world’s largest manufacturer of SIM-cards. This allowed the above named intelligence agencies to tap any phone and intercept data from any mobile device that was using a SIM-card produced by Gemalto. This conspiracy was unveiled by The Intercept, that added that Gemalto was created nine years ago when a French company Axalto merged with Gemplus International that was operating in Luxembourg. Today Gemalto has more that 85 offices across the globe along with a total of 40 factories, that are working in close cooperation with the leading telecommunication corporations, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, along with many others. Representatives of the three above listed companies refused to comment on this scandal.
By the way, one can easily trace the German Deutsche Telekom among the customers of Gemalto group of companies. Hence it is highly unlikely that anyone would have any doubt on the involvement of US intelligence in the tapping of Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, that was uncovered back in the mid 2014. What is particularly peculiar in this situation is the decision of The Federal Attorney General of Germany to stop investigating the Chancellor tapping case as it was reported by Focus Online on the pretext of “zero possible outcome of the investigation.” Well, the claims of the same Focus Online that “Merkel now has a new cell phone that cannot be tapped.” looks ridiculous enough, since this brand “new phone” uses the same-old Gemalto SIM-card. So the NSA can spy on Madam Chancellor as long as they see fit, while the general attorney sees nothing wrong about it. Well, perhaps, Germany has finally agreed to stand in line with the citizens of other countries and their political and business elites, eager to play the role of laboratory rats in the US intelligence surveillance game.
One would be surprised to learn that Gemalto is producing up to 2 billion SIM-cards per year, along with chips for bank cards and identity cards. According to many information security experts, US intelligence agencies, due to the encryption keys they’ve stolen are able to retrieve any information from mobile devices, bank cards, e-passports.
The Wall Street Journal reported the “successes” of US intelligence agencies in retrieving information from millions of US citizens’ cell phones back in 2014. Most of the US citizens are under constant control of the security forces, due to the surveillance systems that were mounted on light aircraft and drones, that was developed by Boeing, which allows to collect private data from dozens of thousands of mobile phones. In addition to the ability to establish whereabouts of a person, that can be tracked with the accuracy to within three meters, his phone can be remotely block, while all of information stored on it can be easily stolen.
On February 20, the spokesperson for the United States Department of State Jen Psaki in her typical manner complained about how difficult it is for the US to confronts thousands of hostile attacks in cyberspace. However, she has never mentioned the above listed facts and Washington’s paranoiac desire to dominate cyberspace.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”
NSA Spying Worse than Stasi or Nazi Germany, J. Edgar Hoover … Or Orwell’s 1984
We noted in 2012 that Americans are the most spied upon people in world history.
Spying by the NSA is also worse than in Nazi German:
The tyrants in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Stasi Eastern Europe would have liked to easedrop on every communication and every transaction of every citizen. But in the world before the internet, smart phones, electronic medical records and digital credit card transactions, much of what happened behind closed doors remained private.
Indeed, a former lieutenant colonel for the East German Stasi said the NSA’s spy capabilities would have been “a dream come true” for the Stasi.
NSA contractor Edward Snowden said in 2013 that NSA spying was worse than in Orwell’s book 1984. (See update below).
We noted at the time that the NSA is spying on us through our computers, phones, cars, buses, streetlights, at airports and on the street, via mobile scanners and drones, through our smart meters, and in many other ways.
A security expert said the same year:
We have to assume that the NSA has EVERYONE who uses electronic communications under CONSTANT surveillance.
Update: Bill Binney is the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information. A 32-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, Binney was the senior technical director within the agency and managed thousands of NSA employees.
Binney tells Washington’s Blog:
While the spying programs that we have heard about so far deal with the “who and what” and on occasion the “why” of what people on the planet are doing, Treasuremap is the NSA/GCHQ/etc. program to acquire and follow the movements of people (objective is to follow 4 billion folks) simultaneously in near real time. So, Treasuremap gives them the “when and where” aspects of individual lives.
All in all, this gives the participating governments (primarily the Five Eyes countries) unrestricted knowledge of individual lives.
Current surveillance is far beyond an Orwellian state.
Although on a much smaller scale, we need to remember that these type of activities were some of the primary “articles of impeachment” of president Nixon.
Media Blackout on the U.S. “Smart Grid Deployment”: Designs and Monied Interests Behind “Smart Meters” Installed across America
By Prof. James F. Tracy
Over the past several years a conspiracy of silence has surrounded the implementation of the Smart Grid across the United States, perhaps with good reason. If the public were aware of what lay behind this agenda there would likely be considerable outcry and resistance.
“Smart meters”–the principal nodes of the Smart Grid network–are being installed on homes and businesses by power utilities across the United States under the legal and fiscal direction of the United States government. In December 2007 both houses of the US Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).
This 310-page piece of legislation employs the dubious science of anthropogenic CO2-based climate change science to mandate an array of policies, such as fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and “green” energy initiatives. Tucked away in the final pages of this law is the description and de facto mandate for national implementation of the Smart Grid that the Bush administration promised would result in “some of the largest CO2 emission cuts in our nation’s history.”
The bill unambiguously lays out the design and intent behind the Smart Grid, including surveillance, tiered energy pricing, and energy rationing for all US households and businesses through round-the-clock monitoring of RFID-chipped “Energy Star” appliances. Congress and “other stakeholders” (presumably for-profit utilities and an array of Smart Grid technology patent holders whose lobbyists co-wrote the legislation) describe the Smart Grid’s characteristics and goals via ten provisions.
(1) Increased use of digital information and controls technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric grid.
(2) Dynamic optimization of grid operations and resources with full cyber-security.
(3) Deployment and integration of distributed resources and generation, including renewable resources.
(4) Development and incorporation of demand response, demand-side resources, and energy efficiency resources.
(5) Deployment of “smart” technologies (real-time, automated, interactive technologies that optimize the physical operation of appliances and consumer devices) for metering, communications concerning grid operations and status, and distribution automation.
(6) Integration of “smart” appliances and consumer devices.
(7) Deployment and integration of advanced electricity storage and peak-shaving technologies, including plug-in electric and hybrid electric vehicles, and thermal-storage air conditioning.
(8) Provision to consumers of timely information and control operations.
(9) Development of standards for communication and interoperability of appliances and equipment connected to the electric grid, including the infrastructure serving the grid.
(10) Identification and lowering of unreasonable or unnecessary barriers to adoption of smart grid technologies, practices, and services [emphases added].
Less than two years after EISA’s enactment President Barack Obama directed $3.4 billion of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to Smart Grid development. Matching funds from the energy industry brought the total initial Smart Grid investment to $8 billion. The overall completion of the Smart Grid will cost another $330 billion. Today a majority of energy delivery throughout the US is routed to homes equipped with smart meters that monitor power consumption on a minute-to-minute basis.
As noted, the American public remains largely unaware of the numerous designs and monied interests behind the Smart Grid–not to mention how smart meters themselves pose substantial dangers to human health and privacy. This is because the plan for tiered energy pricing via wireless monitoring of household appliances has been almost entirely excluded from news media coverage since the EISA became law on December 19, 2007.
A LexisNexis search of US print news outlets for “Energy Independence and Security Act” and “Smart Grid” between the dates December 1, 2007 to January 31, 2008 yields virtually no results.
An identical LexisNexis search of such media for the dates December 1, 2007 to February 18, 2015 retrieves a total 11 print news items appearing in US dailies (seven in McClatchey Tribune papers; one article appearing in each of the following: New York Times 8/14/08, Santa Fe New Mexican, 5/12/09, Providence Journal, 2/24/11, Tampa Bay Times, 12/13/12).
Even this scant reportage scarcely begins to examine the implications of the EISA’s Smart Grid plan. The New York Times chose to confine its coverage to a 364-word article, “The 8th Annual Year in Ideas; Smart Grids.” “It’s a response to what economists would call a tragedy of the commons,” the Times explains.
[P]eople use as much energy as they are willing to pay for, without giving any thought to how their use affects the overall amount of energy available … Enter Xcel’s $100 million initiative, called SmartGridCity, a set of technologies that give both energy providers and their customers more control over power consumption … Consumers, through a Web-enabled control panel in their homes, are able to regulate their energy consumption more closely — for example, setting their A.C. system to automatically reduce power use during peak hours.
News in far more modest papers likewise resembles the promotional materials distributed by the utilities themselves. “There will soon be a time when homeowners can save electricity by having appliances automatically adjust power for peak-demand times and other periods of inactivity by a signal sent through the electrical outlet,” an article in Sunbury Pennsylvania’s Daily Item reads. “‘Right now, it’s at the infant stage,’” a power company executive observes. “‘We didn’t worry about this until two years ago. Nobody cared when electricity was five cents per kilowatt hour. People just bit the bullet and paid the bill.’”
Along these lines, the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability Patricia Hoffman, is charged under the EISA with federal oversight of nationwide Smart Grid implementation. In other words, Hoffman is America’s “Smart Grid Czar.” Yet despite heading up such a dubious program since 2010, she has almost entirely escaped journalistic scrutiny, having been referenced or quoted in only four US daily papers (Washington Post, 2/8/12, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/26/12, Palm Beach Post, 5/12/13, Pittsburgh Tribune Review 11/13/13) since her tenure began.
In an era where news media wax rhapsodic over new technologies and fall over each other to report consumer-oriented “news you can use,” the Smart Grid’s pending debut should be a major story. It’s not. Indeed, almost the entire US population remains in the dark about this major technological development that will profoundly impact their lives.
When one more closely examines the implications and realities of the federally-approved Smart Grid scheme—from the adverse health effects of electromagnetic radiation to surveillance and energy rationing—there should be little wonder why this degree of silence surrounds its implementation. Such a technocratic system would never be freely accepted if subject to an open exchange and referendum.
 “Fact Sheet: Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” whitehouse.gov, December 19, 2007.
 “ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency. The ENERGY STAR program was established by EPA in 1992, under the authority of the Clean Air Act Section 103(g).” http://www.energystar.gov/about
 Jeff St. John, “Who’s Got the Most Smart Grid Patents?” greentechmedia.com, August 5, 2014.
 The word “deployment,” commonly used in government and technical plans for the Smart Grid’s launch, is a military term. From the Latin displicāre, “to scatter,” the modern definition is “[t]o distribute (persons or forces) systematically or strategically.”
 Public Law 110-140, Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Title XIII, Section 1301, Washington DC: United States Congress, December 19,2007.
 “President Obama Announces $3.4 Billion Investment to Spur Transition to Smart Energy Grid,” energy.gov, October 27, 2009.
 Jon Chavez, “Expert Sees $2 Trillion Benefit For Country in Smart Grid,” Toledo Blade, January 16 2013.
 In contrast, seven times as many articles (78) appeared in law journals over the same seven year period.
 Clay Risen, “”The 8th Annual Year in Ideas; Smart Grids,” New York Times, December 14, 2008.
 Jaime North, “Devices Will Soon Monitor Themselves,” Daily Item, October 4, 2008.
The New American
by C. Mitchell Shaw
In the “Internet of Things” in which people now live, there are a variety of devices that use the Internet connectivity to improve functionality. Refrigerators can remind their owners via text or e-mail when to buy milk or eggs. Homeowners can adjust their thermostats and arm their home security systems with mobile apps. People can access Internet programing and change channels and volume levels on Smart TV’s using voice and gestures. But how secure is the “Internet of Things” for those who are concerned about privacy?
A recent development in Smart TV’s has caused a stir among privacy advocates. Samsung’s newest models have been called into question over the last few months for security issues related to the combination of WiFi connectivity, a built-in camera, and a built-in microphone. Cybersecurity experts are concerned about the “always on” feature of these components and the risks inherent in consumers having a device in their homes that is watching, listening, and reporting to a third party via the Internet.
For instance, they make it very clear that the voice recognition feature, if activated, is always listening and transmitting to a “third party” that handles the voice to text translation, “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” So, don’t say anything in front of your Smart TV that you wouldn’t want strangers to hear, because they will hear it.
The Smart TV also monitors the content consumers view so as to make “recommendations” of other relevant content that they may find interesting. This is a buzz-phrase for advertisement-based programming. As it is explained in the policy, “In addition, if you enable the collection of information about video streams viewed on your SmartTV, we may collect that information and additional information about the network, channels, and programs that you view through the SmartTV. We will use such information to improve the recommendations that we deliver to you on the SmartTV.”
If a consumer chooses to use the “fitness features” of their SmartTV, they must provide “certain basic information about [themselves], including [their] height, weight and date of birth.” Along with the login credentials and facial photos many consumers will store on their Smart TV’s, this information is an identity thief’s mother lode.
The chain of privacy/security is only as strong as its weakest link, and there are a lot of links in the Smart TV chain. If a hacker, or overreaching government agency, or irresponsible employee of one of those “third parties” gained access through any point in that chain, the consumer would have essentially provided the best device for spying that could probably be imagined. Hackers, government agencies, and irresponsible corporations have shown themselves to be more than willing to spy on individuals for any of a number of reasons, none of which matter to the individuals who are being spied on. Is it really smart for people to put Smart TV’s in their homes and make it that much easier?
Samsung’s policy spells out ways to eliminate many of the risks associated with Smart TV’s. As to the microphone, “You may disable Voice Recognition data collection at any time by visiting the “settings” menu. However, this may prevent you from using all of the Voice Recognition features, but “Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.” So, it’s not listening, but it’s still listening.
The solution for the camera is really no better. According to the privacy statement, “The camera can be covered and disabled at any time, but be aware that these advanced services will not be available if the camera is disabled.” It sounds like Samsung is saying the only way to be sure the camera is disabled is to cover it. So, consumers have a choice between duct tape or these specially designed stickers to cover a camera that should just have a hardware switch that is not dependent on software that can be hacked.
It seems the only real option is to disable the Internet connection and keep the information that the Smart TV collects from ever leaving the Smart TV. Even then, it would still be storing that information and if ever stolen, could provide the thieves the ability to do much greater harm. Having your identity stolen is enough to make you miss the good old days when you just had your TV stolen.
So, consumers who are concerned about privacy can buy a Smart TV and disable the voice recognition, camera, recommendations, and WiFi connection and have a Smart TV that is only slightly more risky than a regular old TV, but wouldn’t that sort of defeat the point of buying it in the first place?
(SmartTV is a trademark of Samsung. This article uses the term Smart TV to refer to all TV’s that connect to the Internet and only uses SmartTV when refering specifically to the product made by Samsung.)
Prosperity Requires Privacy
Privacy is a prerequisite for a prosperous economy. Even the White House admits:
People must have confidence that data will travel to its destination without disruption. Assuring the free flow of information, the security and privacy of data, and the integrity of the interconnected networks themselves are all essential to American and global economic prosperity, security, and the promotion of universal rights.
Below, we discuss five ways that mass surveillance hurts our economy.
1. Foreigners Stop Buying American
Foreigners are starting to shy away from U.S. Internet companies, due to the risk that American spooks will spy on them.
American tech companies – including Verizon, Cisco, IBM and others – are getting hammered for cooperating with the NSA and failing to protect privacy. The costs to the U.S. economy have been estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And see this and this.
That doesn’t even take into account the just-revealed NSA program of infecting virtually all popular Western hard drives with spyware. This will cause huge markets like China to insist that locally-produced hard drives be used, to make it harder for the NSA to hack into them.
2. Trust and the Rule of Law – Two Main determinants of Prosperity – Are Undermined By Surveillance
The destruction of privacy by the NSA directly harms internet companies, Silicon Valley, California … and the entire U.S. economy (Facebook lost 11 millions users as of April mainly due to privacy concerns … and that was before the Snowden revelations). If people don’t trust the companies to keep their data private, they’ll use foreign companies.
And destruction of trust in government and other institutions is destroying our economy.
A top cyber security consultant points out:
If privacy is not protected while performing mass surveillance for national security purposes, then the people’s level of trust in the government decreases.
We noted in 2012:
Personal freedom and liberty – and freedom from the arbitrary exercise of government power – are strongly correlated with a healthy economy, but America is descending into tyranny.
Authoritarian actions by the government interfere with the free market, and thus harm prosperity.
U.S. News and World Report notes:
The Fraser Institute’s latest Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report is out, and the news is not good for the United States. Ranked among the five freest countries in the world from 1975 through 2002, the United States has since dropped to 18th place.
The Cato institute notes:
The United States has plummeted to 18th place in the ranked list, trailing such countries as Estonia, Taiwan, and Qatar.
Actually, the decline began under President George W. Bush. For 20 years the U.S. had consistently ranked as one of the world’s three freest economies, along with Hong Kong and Singapore. By the end of the Bush presidency, we were barely in the top ten.
And, as with so many disastrous legacies of the Bush era, Barack Obama took a bad thing and made it worse.
But the American government has shredded the constitution, by … spying on all Americans, and otherwise attacking our freedoms.
Indeed, rights won in 1215 – in the Magna Carta – are being repealed.
Economic historian Niall Ferguson notes, draconian national security laws are one of the main things undermining the rule of law:
We must pose the familiar question about how far our civil liberties have been eroded by the national security state – a process that in fact dates back almost a hundred years to the outbreak of the First World War and the passage of the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act. Recent debates about the protracted detention of terrorist suspects are in no way new. Somehow it’s always a choice between habeas corpus and hundreds of corpses.
So lawlessness infringement of our liberty is destroying our prosperity.
Put another way, lack of privacy kills the ability to creatively criticize bad government policy … and to demand enforcement of the rule of law. Indeed, 5,000 years of history shows that mass surveillance is always carried out to crush dissent. In other words, mass surveillance is the opposite of the principle of the rule of law (in distinction to the rule of men) upon which America was founded.
Free speech and checks and balances on the power of government officials are two of the main elements of justice in any society. And a strong rule of law is – in turn – the main determinant of GDP growth.
3. The Free Flow of Information Requires Privacy
Moreover, surveillance hampers the free flow of information as many people begin to watch what they say. The free flow of information is a core requisite for a fast-moving economy … especially an information economy, as opposed to economies focused on resource-extraction or manufacturing.
As quoted above, the White House states:
Assuring the free flow of information [is] essential to American and global economic prosperity, security, and the promotion of universal rights.
Mass surveillance makes people more reluctant to share information … and thus hurts the economy.
4. Mass Surveillance Hurts Productivity
Top computer and internet experts say that NSA spying breaks the functionality of our computers and of the Internet. It reduces functionality and reduces security by – for example – creating backdoors that malicious hackers can get through.
Remember, American and British spy agencies have intentionally weakened security for many decades. And it’s getting worse and worse. For example, they plan to use automated programs to infect millions of computers.
How much time and productivity have we lost in battling viruses let in because of the spies tinkering? How much have we lost because “their” computer programs conflict with “our” programs?
Microsoft’s general counsel labels government snooping an “advanced persistent threat,” a term generally used to describe teams of hackers that coordinate cyberattacks for foreign governments. It is well-known among IT and security professionals that hacking decreases employee productivity. While they’re usually referring to hacking by private parties, the same is likely true for hacking by government agencies, as well.
And the spy agencies are already collecting millions of webcam images from our computers. THAT’S got to tie up our system resources … so we can’t get our work done as fast.
Moreover, the Snowden documents show that the American and British spy agencies launched attacks to disrupt the computer networks of “hacktivists” and others they don’t like, and tracked supporters of groups such as Wikileaks.
Given that the spy agencies are spying on everyone, capturing millions of screenshots, intercepting laptop shipments, creating fake versions of popular websites to inject malware on people’s computers, launching offensive cyber-warfare operations against folks they don’t like, and that they may view journalism, government criticism or even thinking for one’s self as terrorism – and tend to re-label “dissidents” as “terrorists” – it’s not unreasonable to assume that all of us are being adversely effected to one degree or another by spy agency operations.
Bill Binney – the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, a 32-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, the senior technical director within the agency, who managed thousands of NSA employees – tells Washington’s Blog:
The other costs involve weakening systems (operating systems/firewalls/encryption). When they do that, this weakens the systems for all to find. Hackers around the world as well as governments too.
These costs are hard to count. For example, we hear of hackers getting customer data over and over again. Is that because of what our government has done?
Or, how about all the attacks on systems in government? Are these because of weakened systems?
5. Creativity – A Prime Driver of Prosperity – Requires Privacy
The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada – Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D. – noted recently:
Privacy is Essential to … Prosperity and Well-Being
• Innovation, creativity and the resultant prosperity of a society requires freedom;
• Privacy is the essence of freedom: Without privacy, individual human rights, property rights and civil liberties – the conceptual engines of innovation and creativity, could not exist in a meaningful manner;
• Surveillance is the antithesis of privacy: A negative consequence of surveillance is the usurpation of a person’s limited cognitive bandwidth, away from innovation and creativity.
The Financial Post reported last year: “Big Brother culture will have adverse effect on creativity, productivity“.
Christopher Lingle – visiting professor of economics at ESEADE, Universidad Francisco Marroquín – agrees that creativity is a key to economic prosperity.
Edward Snowden points out:
The success of economies in developed nations relies increasingly on their creative output, and if that success is to continue we must remember that creativity is the product of curiosity, which in turn is the product of privacy.
Silicon Valley is currently one of the largest drivers of the U.S. economy. Do you think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could have tinkered so creatively in their garages if the government had been watching everything they do?
Everyone who has every done anything creative knows that you need a little privacy to try different things before you’re ready to go public with it. If your bench model, rough sketch or initial melody is being dissected in real time by an intrusive audience … you’re not going to be very creative. And see this.
By John Whitehead, constitutional and human rights attorney, and founder of the Rutherford Institute.
“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”—George Orwell, 1984
None of us are perfect. All of us bend the rules occasionally. Even before the age of overcriminalization, when the most upstanding citizen could be counted on to break at least three laws a day without knowing it, most of us have knowingly flouted the law from time to time.
Indeed, there was a time when most Americans thought nothing of driving a few miles over the speed limit, pausing (rather than coming to a full stop) at a red light when making a right-hand turn if no one was around, jaywalking across the street, and letting their kid play hookie from school once in a while. Of course, that was before the era of speed cameras that ticket you for going even a mile over the posted limit, red light cameras that fine you for making safe “rolling stop” right-hand turns on red, surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software mounted on street corners, and school truancy laws that fine parents for “unexcused” absences.
My, how times have changed.
Today, there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence—especially not when the government can listen in on your phone calls, monitor your driving habits, track your movements, scrutinize your purchases and peer through the walls of your home. That’s because technology—specifically the technology employed by the government against the American citizenry—has upped the stakes dramatically so that there’s little we do that is not known by the government.
In such an environment, you’re either a paragon of virtue, or you’re a criminal.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re all criminals. This is the creepy, calculating yet diabolical genius of the American police state: the very technology we hailed as revolutionary and liberating has become our prison, jailer, probation officer, Big Brother and Father Knows Best all rolled into one.
Consider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. As I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.
For example, police have been using Stingray devices mounted on their cruisers to intercept cell phone calls and text messages without court-issued search warrants. Thwarting efforts to learn how and when these devices are being used against an unsuspecting populace, the FBI is insisting that any inquiries about the use of the technology be routed to the agency “in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene to protect the equipment/technology and information from disclosure and potential compromise.”
Doppler radar devices, which can detect human breathing and movement within in a home, are already being employed by the police to deliver arrest warrants and are being challenged in court. One case in particular, United States v Denson, examines how the Fourth Amendment interacts with the government’s use of radar technology to peer inside a suspect’s home. As Judge Neil Gorsuch recognizes in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling in the case, “New technologies bring with them not only new opportunities for law enforcement to catch criminals but also new risks for abuse and new ways to invade constitutional rights.”
License plate readers, yet another law enforcement spying device made possible through funding by the Department of Homeland Security, can record up to 1800 license plates per minute. However, it seems these surveillance cameras can also photograph those inside a moving car. Recent reports indicate that the Drug Enforcement Administration has been using the cameras in conjunction with facial recognition software to build a “vehicle surveillance database” of the nation’s cars, drivers and passengers.
Sidewalk and “public space” cameras, sold to gullible communities as a sure-fire means of fighting crime, is yet another DHS program that is blanketing small and large towns alike with government-funded and monitored surveillance cameras. It’s all part of a public-private partnership that gives government officials access to all manner of surveillance cameras, on sidewalks, on buildings, on buses, even those installed on private property.
Couple these surveillance cameras with facial recognition and behavior-sensing technology and you have the makings of “pre-crime” cameras, which scan your mannerisms, compare you to pre-set parameters for “normal” behavior, and alert the police if you trigger any computerized alarms as being “suspicious.”
Capitalizing on a series of notorious abductions of college-aged students, several states are pushing to expand their biometric and DNA databases by requiring that anyone accused of a misdemeanor have their DNA collected and catalogued. However, technology is already available that allows the government to collect biometrics such as fingerprints from a distance, without a person’s cooperation or knowledge. One system can actually scan and identify a fingerprint from nearly 20 feet away.
Radar guns have long been the speed cop’s best friend, allowing him to hide out by the side of the road, identify speeding cars, and then radio ahead to a police car, which does the dirty work of pulling the driver over and issuing a ticket. Never mind that what this cop is really doing is using an electronic device to search your car without a search warrant, violating the Fourth Amendment and probable cause. Yet because it’s a cash cow for police and the governments they report to, it’s a practice that is not only allowed but encouraged. Indeed, developers are hard at work on a radar gun that can actually show if you or someone in your car is texting. No word yet on whether the technology will also be able to detect the contents of that text message.
It’s a sure bet that anything the government welcomes (and funds) too enthusiastically is bound to be a Trojan horse full of nasty surprises. Case in point: police body cameras. Hailed as the easy fix solution to police abuses, these body cameras—made possible by funding from the Department of Justice—will turn police officers into roving surveillance cameras. Of course, if you try to request access to that footage, you’ll find yourself being led a merry and costly chase through miles of red tape, bureaucratic footmen and unhelpful courts.
The “internet of things” refers to the growing number of “smart” appliances and electronic devices now connected to the internet and capable of interacting with each other and being controlled remotely. These range from thermostats and coffee makers to cars and TVs. Of course, there’s a price to pay for such easy control and access. That price amounts to relinquishing ultimate control of and access to your home to the government and its corporate partners. For example, while Samsung’s Smart TVs are capable of “listening” to what you say, thereby allow users to control the TV using voice commands, it also records everything you say and relays it to a third party.
Then again, the government doesn’t really need to spy on you using your smart TV when the FBI can remotely activate the microphone on your cellphone and record your conversations. The FBI can also do the same thing to laptop computers without the owner knowing any better.
Government surveillance of social media such as Twitter and Facebook is on the rise. Americans have become so accustomed to the government overstepping its limits that most don’t even seem all that bothered anymore about the fact that the government is spying on our emails and listening in on our phone calls.
Drones, which will begin to take to the skies en masse this year, will be the converging point for all of the weapons and technology already available to law enforcement agencies. This means drones that can listen in on your phone calls, see through the walls of your home, scan your biometrics, photograph you and track your movements, and even corral you with sophisticated weaponry.
And then there’s the Internet and cell phone kill switch, which enables the government to shut down Internet and cell phone communications without Americans being given any warning. It’s a practice that has been used before in the U.S., albeit in a limited fashion. In 2005, cell service was disabled in four major New York tunnels (reportedly to avert potential bomb detonations via cell phone). In 2009, those attending President Obama’s inauguration had their cell signals blocked (again, same rationale). And in 2011, San Francisco commuters had their cell phone signals shut down (this time, to thwart any possible protests over a police shooting of a homeless man).
It’s a given that the government’s tactics are always more advanced than we know, so there’s no knowing what new technologies are already being deployed against without our knowledge. Certainly, by the time we learn about a particular method of surveillance or new technological gadget, it’s a sure bet that the government has been using it covertly for years already. And if other governments are using a particular technology, you can bet that our government used it first. For instance, back in 2011, it was reported that the government of Tunisia was not only monitoring the emails of its citizens but was actually altering the contents of those emails in order to thwart dissidents. How much do you want to bet that government agents have already employed such tactics in the U.S.?
Apart from the obvious dangers posed by a government that feels justified and empowered to spy on its people and use its ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and technology to monitor and control them, we’re approaching a time in which we will be forced to choose between obeying the dictates of the government—i.e., the law, or whatever a government officials deems the law to be—and maintaining our individuality, integrity and independence.
When people talk about privacy, they mistakenly assume it protects only that which is hidden behind a wall or under one’s clothing. The courts have fostered this misunderstanding with their constantly shifting delineation of what constitutes an “expectation of privacy.” And technology has furthered muddied the waters.
However, privacy is so much more than what you do or say behind locked doors. It is a way of living one’s life firm in the belief that you are the master of your life, and barring any immediate danger to another person (which is far different from the carefully crafted threats to national security the government uses to justify its actions), it’s no one’s business what you read, what you say, where you go, whom you spend your time with, and how you spend your money.
Unfortunately, privacy as we once knew it is dead.
We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.
Thus, to be an individual today, to not conform, to have even a shred of privacy, and to live beyond the reach of the government’s roaming eyes and technological spies, one must not only be a rebel but rebel.
Even when you rebel and take your stand, there is rarely a happy ending awaiting you. You are rendered an outlaw. This is the message in almost every dystopian work of fiction, from classic writers such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury to more contemporary voices such as Margaret Atwood, Lois Lowry and Suzanne Collins.
How do you survive in the American police state?
We’re running out of options. As Philip K. Dick, the visionary who gave us Minority Report and Blade Runner, advised:
“If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.”
The New American
by Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
Every book you read on your Kindle (or Kindle app) and every word you highlight in those ebooks is recorded by Amazon and may be shared by the bookselling behemoth with the federal government.
The Guardian (U.K.) explains how the agents of the surveillance state are surreptitiously storing all the annotations readers make in electronic copies of books:
It’s not just about Jeff Bezos, of course. Whether you’re exploring fascism on your iPad or your Android phone, Big Brother is watching. These kind of concerns tend to raise little more than a shrug around these parts, but you might want to think twice before downloading your electronic copy of Mao’s Little Red Book of Guerilla Warfare.
While the Guardian is right to warn readers that the NSA and other watchers employed in the federal government’s Panopticon that their reading lists and highlights are being monitored, it is likely that the wardens in Washington are less concerned with people who read Mein Kampf on the sly or mull over Mao between classes. No, the government is much warier of those who would download and digest the words of those whose writings would elicit doubts about the magnanimity of the central planners and their purported concern for the safety of Americans.
The feds would be much more interested in investigating the reading and writing habits of those who studied books that exposed the corruption and conspiracy that created the Federal Reserve and how that organization has manipulated the U.S. monetary system for over a hundred years.
It is just as certain that the surveillance apparatus would be more motivated to monitor the marks made by those reading books about nullification and secession on their Kindle than those reading the milquetoast neocon attacks on ISIS or other perceived foreign threats to American liberty.
The Guardian article focuses on the potential passing of reading habits and highlights to the federal government by the purveyors of electronic books. As it rightly points out, quoting author Chris Faraone:
People might not have wanted to buy Mein Kampf at Borders or have it delivered to their home or displayed on their living room bookshelf, let alone get spotted reading it on a subway, but judging by hundreds of customer comments online, readers like that digital copies can be quietly perused then dropped into a folder or deleted.
That isn’t to say that the agents of the surveillance state are solely interested in the electronic library of Americans, however.
Brick and mortar libraries and the identify of book borrowers are under the eye of the NSA, as well. An article published by CrimeLibrary.com in 2014 reports the resistance of librarians to the seizure of library records by the government:
Kirsten Clark, a regional depository librarian at the University of Minnesota and Intellectual Committee Chair of the Minnesota Library Association, warns that mass-data collection (of library records or cell phone data, for example) obscures the violation of privacy, and is thus all the more dangerous: Individuals don’t know what information has been collected or how it’s being used.
Library information can be more personal than the metadata-collection that’s making news. What exactly the NSA may have asked of any librarian is a matter of conjecture: Any such requests are sealed. But typical library records such as what a user does on library computers, or what books a patron borrows, are presumably of interest to the NSA in cases when those individual records or larger patterns surrounding them may suggest potential terrorist activity.
What’s of interest to the NSA, of course, is anything and everything that could potentially be used to keep citizens in line and fearful of the repercussions from opposing federal tyranny.
If we are a republic of laws, though, then the supreme constitutional law of the land must be adhered to. The standard is the Constitution — for every issue, on every occasion, with no exceptions. Anything less than that is a step toward tyranny.
Taken together, the roster of snooping programs in use by the federal government places every American under the threat of constant surveillance. The courts, Congress, and the president have formed an unholy alliance bent on obliterating the Constitution and establishing a country where every citizen is a suspect and is perpetually under the never-blinking eye of the government.
The establishment will likely continue construction of the surveillance until the entire country is being watched around the clock and every monitored activity is recorded and made retrievable by agents who will have a dossier on every American.
The fight can yet be won, though. Americans can attack the sprawling surveillance state on several fronts. First, we must elect men and women to federal office who will honor their oaths of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Then, once in office, each of them must be held immediately accountable for each and every violation of that oath.
Next, we must fill our state legislatures with men and women who will refuse to enforce any act of the federal government that exceeds the boundaries of its constitutionally granted powers. These lawmakers must use the stick of nullification to force the federal beast back inside its constitutional cage and never accept even a degree of deviation from the blueprint drawn in Philadelphia in 1787.
Joe A. Wolverton, II, J.D. is a correspondent for The New American. Follow him on Twitter @TNAJoeWolverton.
by Mac Slavo
The so-called “dark web” is where the visible Internet – easily accessible by public search engines and web crawlers – ends, and, everything else begins.
The dark web is an unseen iceberg composing more than 95% of the real activity of the web, where databases, password-protected websites, official records from federal, state and local governments, various intranets, messageboards, website archives, forums and vast catalogues of data all reside.
White and black hat hackers, law enforcement agencies and criminal networks all operate there in the shadows.
And now, DARPA, the Pentagon’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has developed a surveillance tool known as “Memex” that can be used to reveal what is hidden on the dark web, and pursue criminal groups of interest – and perhaps control or even kill the dark web for good.
CBS 60 Minutes reported on DARPA’s Memex, interviewing the project’s director and some of the principles involved. Ostensibly, the effort is focused on tracking and stopping sex trafficking… but obviously so much more is part of this secret military surveillance project. Watch the video report here.
Dan Kaufman, the director of information innovation office at DARPA said:
“The easiest way to think about Memex is: How can I make the unseen seen?.”
“Most people on the internet are doing benign and good things,” he continued, “But there are parasites that live on there, and we take away their ability to use the internet against us — and make the world a better place.”
Curtailing the Wild West of the Internet – whether or not it illegal activity is involved – is clearly within the scope of its possible applications.
Leslie Stahl: Why is DARPA looking at sex trafficking?
Chris White (Inventor of Memex): “We see that with human trafficking, the kinds of groups that do human trafficking are often using the proceeds of that to fund other things are counter to our national security interests. And we also find that people willing to traffic in women are also willing to move drugs and guns, and other sort of contraband.
Chris White: “The internet is much, much bigger than people think. By some estimates Google, Microsoft Bing, and Yahoo only give us access to around 5% of the content on the Web.”
Author Cassius Methyl raised questions about this secret project’s ominous potential for the future of Internet freedom, noting that it can “probably do a lot more than they say it’s capable of”:
As the Scientific American noted, DARPA has said very little about Memex. What does it tell about a person, a group of people, or a program, when they are secretive and operate in the shadows? Why would a body of people doing benevolent work have to do that? I think keeping up with the projects underway by DARPA is of critical importance. This is where the most outrageous and powerful weapons of war are being developed.
She notes a Scientific American article about Memex:
“DARPA has said very little about Memex and its use by law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate suspected criminals.” and ““Memex”—a combination of the words “memory” and “index” first coined in a 1945 article for The Atlantic—currently includes eight open-source, browser-based search, analysis and data-visualization programs as well as back-end server software that perform complex computations and data analysis.”
By Zach McAuliffe
The FBI has reportedly told various police departments throughout the U.S. to keep their use of “stingray” cellphone trackers quiet and to not inform the public of their use.
A “stingray” is a cellphone signal interception device which, according to the Daily Caller, may appear to citizens as regular cellphone towers. These trackers trick cellphones and similar devices into connecting with the tracker and once connected, whoever controls the “stingray” can access the device’s call records, texts, location, and other metadata.
Originally, the trackers were developed by the Harris Corporation for use in anti-terrorism operations throughout the U.S. in conjunction with the FBI. However, these trackers have been reportedly used in routine police work in recent years, often without a warrant. The Harris Corporation and FBI have remained silent about the full extent of the technology’s capabilities.
In order to keep the technology’s capabilities quiet, the U.S. marshals have been sent to seize physical documentation from a Florida police station which reportedly detailed the use of the trackers by the police department.
The FBI also sent a letter in 2012 to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension which tells the agents in the department how to handle any Freedom of Information Act requests with concern to the technology.
The letter says, if a FOIA is filed, the bureau should “immediately notify the FBI of any such request telephonically and in writing in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels.”
ARS Technica attempted to contact the FBI about the letter and their desire to keep the tracker’s technology a secret, but the FBI would not respond. Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, did say, “It’s remarkable to see collusion by state and federal agencies to undermine public records requests, which are clearly aimed at keeping the public in the dark about the use of Stingray technology.”
“The notion that the federal government would work to actively block disclosure of records,” says Fakhoury, “seems clearly to have a chilling effect on obtaining information about this controversial surveillance tool.”
Nathan Wessler, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, also said in order for a police department to begin to use “stingray” trackers, they have to go through the FBI, but when the press or public “seek basic information about how people in local communities are being surveilled, the FBI invokes these very serious national security concerns to try to keep that information private.”
Local government officials have the ability to track individual drivers in the U.S. in real time and take pictures of the occupants of their vehicles, with new “truly Orwellian” technology purchased from companies like Vigilant Solutions, according to new documents uncovered by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
One of the documents is a ten page U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) memo stating that the technology behind the National License Plate Reading Initiative that was launched in December 2008 allows it to capture “vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” Another May 2011 memo notes that this system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.”
These details complement findings by the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Department of Justice has built a secret national database to track vehicle license plates around the country that now holds “hundreds of millions of records about motorists.”
While the program was originally designed to catch drug traffickers, it has now become a routine way for government agencies to find anyone that they suspect is associated with a crime. “Many state and local law-enforcement agencies are accessing the database for a variety of investigations, putting a wealth of information in the hands of local officials who can track vehicles in real time on major roadways,” writes Devlin Barrett in the Journal.
A December 2013 memo from the Milwaukee police explains how such technology works and the “standard operating procedures” for the use of the data gathered.
“(M)anufacturers and law enforcement agencies have argued that images of license plates cannot be used to identify individuals, and thus do not infringe on our individual privacy,” writes Sonia Roubini of the ACLU in an article that explain the significance of the newly released memos. “This argument is thin already, but it certainly doesn’t fly with regards to photographs of the driver or passengers inside of a vehicle — especially in the era of face recognition analytics.”
The ACLU says that the biggest vendor of automatic license plate recognition technology is Vigilant Solutions, based in Livermore, California. The company has been quite open about the fact that it operates the Law Enforcement Archival and Reporting Network-National Vehicle Location Service that now holds some two billion records, and adds some 100 million records every month.
Indeed a October 2014 Vigilant Solution press release offers details on new facial recognition technology that they are hoping to sell police departments.
“The new Vigilant Mobile Companion app improves the return on investment that agencies are seeing from their investments in license plate recognition and facial recognition technologies by expanding the benefits out to everyone in the agency – patrol, investigative, detention, and other areas,” the company writes. “In addition to the license plate recognition capture and analytic tools, the app also features Vigilant’s powerful FaceSearch facial recognition which analyzes over 350 different vectors of the human face. The FaceSearch element of Mobile Companion allows officers in the field to snap a photo of a willing subject and have their face matched against a gallery of over 13 million pre-populated mugshot and registered sex offender images as well as any other images that the agency uploads into its own gallery.”
But the ACLU points out that if such as system is used to track occupants of all vehicles rather than just willing subjects, it would violate laws on privacy.
“In a democratic society, we should know almost everything about what the government’s doing, and it should know very little to nothing about us, unless it has a good reason to believe we’re up to no good and shows that evidence to a judge. If you aren’t the subject of a criminal investigation, the government shouldn’t be keeping tabs on when you go to the grocery store, your friend’s house, the abortion clinic, the antiwar protest, or the mosque,” adds Kade Crockford, also at the ACLU. “Unfortunately, that basic framework for an open, democracy society has been turned on its head. Now the government routinely collects vast troves of data about hundreds of millions of innocent people, casting everyone as a potential suspect until proven innocent. That’s unacceptable.”
Other companies that operate in this field include MorphoTrust USA, owned by Safran from France which sell facial recognition techology to local governments. Another company namedPalantir, based in Palo Alto, California, sells database analysis technology.