The recent dramatic expansion of intelligence collection at the federal, state and local level raises profound civil liberties concerns regarding individual privacy and other freedoms and protections we used to take for granted.
No one who has a bank account and makes a financial transaction, or uses a phone or a computer to send emails or browse websites, or who visits a library, books a rental car or purchases an airline ticket is outside the net of surveillance. The profiles that have been compiled on you by commercial data brokers might well have found their way into government databases, errors and all. If you are a student, your educational records might have been given to the government. If you don’t “look American” and are traveling on a bus or train in the large areas of the country that have become a Constitution-Free Zone, you may be forced to show proof of citizenship or risk being detained as a threat to the homeland.
You may feel that you have nothing to hide since you haven’t done anything wrong. It is unlikely that eight-year-old Mikey Hicks has done anything to earn government suspicion, but he has endured extra screening at airports for the last six years. The government’s terrorism watchlist contains well over a million names. We don’t know much about the process used to add 1,600 people to the watchlist on a daily basis. We do know that the use of data mining to assemble a chain of associations and digital linkages could have serious consequences for anyone flagged by an algorithm primed to detect suspicious behavior.
You may also be in favor of Operation Tips–like programs that train people to look out for and report anything suspicious. After all, Times Square street vendors – and not the surveillance cameras that ringed the area – alerted police to the smoking van involved in a recent failed terrorist attack. But how would you react if you were the subject of an anonymous tip that led to a police investigation? Stories abound of completely innocent people being caught in the net of suspicion because of something that was seen, heard, imagined, or misconstrued, or maybe reported on the tip line out of simple malice or because it matched the criteria of a Suspicious Activity Report.
Along with human eyes, you are increasingly likely to be watched by the kind of high tech surveillance camera network that is being erected with tens of billions of dollars in DHS grants. Even Liberty, Kansas (population 95) now has a DHS-funded surveillance camera. Modern cameras are not just extremely powerful. They have the potential to be fitted with facial recognition software, eye scans, X-ray vision, radio frequency identification tags and 3-D tracking devices. The digital information they record can be immediately fed to fusion centers and law enforcement databases to enhance your personal profile. Images of your naked body can be stored in data banks compiled by full-body scanning machines, as was done in a Florida courthouse.
Are you really ready for the new surveillance society?