Privacy SOS

Get out of the pot before it’s too late

License plate readers. Biometric iris scans and face recognition. CCTV cameras that can track you as you move through the city. Video analytics that automatically flag "suspicious activities" and allow police or private spooks to zoom in on your location.

Drones that can see for miles, or into your backyard, or what you are reading. Databases full of our trivial life data accessed by state and local police, the FBI, DHS, the military, and even foreign governments. Records of your travel, your purchase history, every place you've ever lived, your medical and therapy information.

Location tracking via your phone, or a GPS device. Administrative subpoenas to get information from your telecommunications company, or from Twitter — secretly or without recourse to challenge them when they are revealed to you.

Super creepy listening devices that enable the user to listen to your whispered conversation from half a mile away. Data mining software that "connects the dots" about your life, giving police access to your friends, family and coworkers. Super computers that collect and sort through all of the digital data online, enabling the tracking of keywords, people, or movements. The NSA's quest to suck up all the data in the world. 

Technology sure is cool, but we are not doing enough as a society to ensure that these state surveillance tools aren't abused. And when agencies like DHS and the NSA aim for "total operational awareness" or "total information awareness," while hiding behind a thick wall of Official Secrecy, we can no longer deny that we are in big trouble.

Most of the above listed tools of investigation and surveillance are widely in use in the United States. The majority of them do not require probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or a warrant. The government has the capability to know every last thing about us, while we remain ignorant of what goes on behind its closed doors. That's disastrous, and it must be reversed.

But the real danger?

The real danger is the combination of all of these technologies, systems and processes. And unfortunately for us little people, the seamless combination of these systems is exactly what the government has been seeking for the past ten years, at an extremely high cost not only to our liberties but also to our pocketbooks.

Face recognition isn't such a big deal if it's just used it identify people who have been arrested. But we don't have rules or statutes to police the police's use of the technology, so inevitably it will end up being deployed to do Stasi work, like for example identifying people at public demonstrations from secretly-snapped photographs or omnipresent CCTV surveillance. Or from tape this guy filmed in the street while you were protesting:

And that's not all.

When that face recognition technology is networked with a database that contains every possible bit of seemingly mundane but incredibly detailed information about you and your loved ones…or linked to your location information…or to an alert system that triggers a warning at some spy center desk in a nondescript federal building…

You see where this goes.

But importantly, the face recognition problem is only one example of a larger trend. And it's not one of these systems or broad executive and police powers, but their combination, that spells danger.

Former CIA agent Ray McGovern said that we are like frogs cooking in a pot, and that once we realize what's happening to us, it might be too late to stop it. We can't have that.

So how can we reverse the tide?

The first step is getting beyond the "security vs. liberty" argument, which is a false dichotomy, and calling out the lie that Muslims are dangerous threats to the rest of us. The second step is telling everyone you know what you know about the information presented here and elsewhere. The third is joining the ACLU and giving support to other organizations doing work to halt the rapidly advancing surveillance state, like EFF and EPIC. 

But the most important thing you can do? Flex your rights to speech and protesting the government. If there's one thing the surveillance state fears, it's dissidents. 

The streets are waiting.

Do you live in Massachusetts? Another thing you can do is get in touch with us. We want to help you make your town more friendly to democratic ideals, and less friendly to the surveillance matrix. Get in touch if you want to put in work.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.