Mass surveillance is the Deep State’s version of a “gift” that keeps on giving.
Geofencing dragnets. Fusion centres. Smart devices. Behavioural threat assessments. Terror watch lists. Facial recognition. Snitch tip lines. Biometric scanners. Pre-crime. DNA databases. Data mining. Precognitive technology. Contact tracing apps.
What these add up to is a world in which, on any given day, the average American is now monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways by both government and corporate eyes and ears.
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Every second of every day, the American people are being spied on by a vast network of digital Peeping Toms, electronic eavesdroppers, and robotic snoops.
This creepy new era of government/corporate spying – in which we’re being listened to, watched, tracked, followed, mapped, bought, sold and targeted – has been made possible by a global army of techno-tyrants, fusion centres and Peeping Toms.
Consider just a small sampling of the tools being used to track our movements, monitor our spending, and sniff out all the ways in which our thoughts, actions and social circles might land us on the government’s naughty list, whether or not you’ve done anything wrong.
Tracking you based on your phone and movements
Mobile or cell phones have become de facto snitches, offering up a steady stream of digital location data on users’ movements and travels. For instance, the FBI was able to use geofence data to identify more than 5,000 mobile devices, and their owners, in a 4-acre area around the Capitol on 6 January. This latest surveillance tactic could land you in jail for being in the “wrong place and time.” Police are also using cell-site simulators to carry out mass surveillance of protests without the need for a warrant. Moreover, federal agents can now employ several hacking methods to gain access to your computer activities and “see” whatever you’re seeing on your monitor. Malicious hacking software can also be used to remotely activate cameras and microphones, offering another means of glimpsing into the personal business of a target.
Tracking you based on your DNA
DNA technology in the hands of government officials completes our transition to a Surveillance State. If you have the misfortune to leave your DNA traces anywhere a crime has been committed, you’ve already got a file somewhere in some state or federal database – albeit it may be a file without a name. By accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. After all, a DNA print reveals everything about “who we are, where we come from, and who we will be.” It can also be used to predict the physical appearance of potential suspects. It’s only a matter of time before the police state’s pursuit of criminals expands into genetic profiling and a pre-emptive hunt for criminals of the future.
Tracking you based on your face
Facial recognition software aims to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. Coupled with surveillance cameras that blanket the country, facial recognition technology allows the government and its corporate partners to identify and track someone’s movements in real time. One particularly controversial software program created by Clearview AI has been used by police, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to collect photos on social media sites for inclusion in a massive facial recognition database. Similarly, biometric software, which relies on one’s unique identifiers – fingerprints, irises, voice prints – is becoming the standard for navigating security lines, as well as bypassing digital locks and gaining access to phones, computers, office buildings, etc. In fact, greater numbers of travellers are opting into programs that rely on their biometrics to avoid long waits at airport security. Scientists are also developing lasers that can identify and surveil individuals based on their heartbeats, scents and microbiome.
Tracking you based on your behaviour
Rapid advances in behavioural surveillance are not only making it possible for individuals to be monitored and tracked based on their patterns of movement or behaviour, including gait recognition (the way one walks) but have given rise to whole industries that revolve around predicting one’s behaviour based on data and surveillance patterns and are also shaping the behaviours of whole populations. One smart “anti-riot” surveillance system purports to predict mass riots and unauthorised public events by using artificial intelligence to analyse social media, news sources, surveillance video feeds and public transportation data.
Tracking you based on your spending and consumer activities
With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, and every frequent buyer card we use for purchases – whether at the grocer’s, the yoghurt shop, the airlines or the department store – and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time. Consumer surveillance, by which your activities and data in the physical and online realms are tracked and shared with advertisers, has become big business, a $300 billion industry that routinely harvests your data for profit. Corporations such as Target have not only been tracking and assessing the behaviour of their customers, particularly their purchasing patterns, for years, but the retailer has also funded major surveillance in cities across the country and developed behavioural surveillance algorithms that can determine whether someone’s mannerisms might fit the profile of a thief.
Tracking you based on your public activities
Private corporations in conjunction with police agencies throughout the country have created a web of surveillance that encompasses all major cities to monitor large groups of people seamlessly, as in the case of protests and rallies. They are also engaging in extensive online surveillance, looking for any hints of “large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals.” Defence contractors have been at the forefront of this lucrative market. Fusion centres, $330 million-a-year, information-sharing hubs for federal, state and law enforcement agencies, monitor and report such “suspicious” behaviour as people buying pallets of bottled water, photographing government buildings, and applying for a pilot’s license as “suspicious activity.”
Tracking you based on your social media activities
Every move you make, especially on social media, is monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line. As The Intercept reported, the FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies are increasingly investing in and relying on corporate surveillance technologies that can mine constitutionally protected speech on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to identify potential extremists and predict who might engage in future acts of anti-government behaviour. This obsession with social media as a form of surveillance will have some frightening consequences in the coming years. As Helen A.S. Popkin, writing for NBC News, observed, “We may very well face a future where algorithms bust people en masse for referencing illegal ‘Game of Thrones’ downloads … the new software has the potential to roll, Terminator-style, targeting every social media user with a shameful confession or questionable sense of humour.”
Tracking you based on your social network
Not content to merely spy on individuals through their online activity, government agencies are now using surveillance technology to track one’s social network, the people you might connect with by phone, text message, email or through social messages, to ferret out possible criminals. An FBI document obtained by Rolling Stone speaks to the ease with which agents are able to access address book data from Facebook’s WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage services from the accounts of targeted individuals and individuals not under investigation who might have a targeted individual within their network. What this creates is a “guilt by association” society in which we are all as guilty as the most culpable person in our address book.
Tracking you based on your car
License plate readers are mass surveillance tools that can photograph over 1,800 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number and the date, time, and location of the picture in a searchable database, then share the data with law enforcement, fusion centres and private companies to track the movements of persons in their cars. With tens of thousands of these license plate readers now in operation throughout the country, affixed to overpasses, cop cars and throughout business sectors and residential neighbourhoods, it allows police to track vehicles and run the plates through law enforcement databases for abducted children, stolen cars, missing people and wanted fugitives. Of course, the technology is not infallible: there have been numerous incidents in which police have mistakenly relied on license plate data to capture out suspects only to end up detaining innocent people at gunpoint.
Tracking you based on your mail
Just about every branch of the government – from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between – now has its own surveillance sector, authorised to spy on the American people. For instance, the US Postal Service, which has been photographing the exterior of every piece of paper mail for the past 20 years, is also spying on Americans’ texts, emails and social media posts. Headed up by the Postal Service’s law enforcement division, the Internet Covert Operations Program (“iCOP”) is reportedly using facial recognition technology, combined with fake online identities, to ferret out potential troublemakers with “inflammatory” posts. The agency claims the online surveillance, which falls outside its conventional job scope of processing and delivering paper mail, is necessary to help postal workers avoid “potentially volatile situations.”
Now the government wants us to believe that we have nothing to fear from these mass spying programs so long as we’ve done nothing wrong.
Do not believe it.
The government’s definition of a “bad” guy is extraordinarily broad, and it results in the warrantless surveillance of innocent, law-abiding Americans on a staggering scale.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, surveillance, digital stalking and the data mining of the American people – weapons of compliance and control in the government’s hands – haven’t made America any safer. And they certainly aren’t helping to preserve our freedoms.
Indeed, America will never be safe as long as the US government is allowed to shred the Constitution.
About the Author
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is the founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling ‘Battlefield America: The War on the American People’, the award-winning ‘A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State’, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, ‘The Erik Blair Diaries’.
Featured image: NSA PRISM, Don’t Be Shocked, Government Surveillance Isn’t Anything New, International Business Times, 1 July 2013
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