15 December, 2012

The all-seeing government

Elements of the US government assume everyone is a terrorist, and has authority to mine every data base associated with, or accessed by, the government as a whole to maintain surveillance on everyone's behavior, looking for (as yet unannounced) "suspicious patterns" and making predictions of future activity.

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web
united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)
After the somewhat-farcical (and some claim, contrived) case of the "underwear bomber"the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC--leave it to the government to misspell an acronym) requested to maintain a dragnet that made even the Department of Homeland Security uneasy.  After long insider arguments, the Wall Street Journal Reports, that access was granted in March of this year.

According to the DHS privacy officer this a "sea change" in which the first question to be asked by the feds of any citizen is now "are they a terrorist?"  The legislative counsel of the ACLU describes it like this:

What if a government spy agency had power to copy and data mine information about ordinary Americans from any government database? This could include records from law enforcement investigations, health information, employment history, travel and student records. Literally anything the government collects would be fair game, and the original agency in charge of protecting the privacy of those records would have little say over whether this happened, or what the spy agency did with the information afterward. What if that spy agency could add commercial information, anything it – or any other federal agency – could buy from the huge data aggregators that are monitoring our every move? 
What if it wasn’t just collection but also sharing? Anything that was reasonably believed to be necessary to “protect the safety or security of persons, property or organizations” or “protect against or prevent a crime or threat to national security” could be shared. Imagine the dissemination was essentially unlimited, not just to federal, state, local or foreign governments but also to individuals or entities that are not part of the government 
It has already happened.
And almost no one seems to care. Even working on the assumption that the motives of everyone involved in this are pure, it's setting up a weapon in the name of national security aimed not at "the terrorists," but at everyone.  In fact, if anyone would be safe from this it would be a skilled terrorist. It shines the light on the trivial at the expense of what might actually be useful, if the system were focused and operated in keeping with constitutional safeguards.  It promises predictability.  It delivers chaos.  And in the meantime, it places whatever data exists--whether true or not--combined and analyzed by whatever algorithm is applied--however imperfect or biased--into the hands of politicians and bureaucrats--no matter how stupid or evil--to do with as they will.

Who needs terrorists?  Who nees to look outside for threats?  They don't: they have us.  And we don't: we have them.

US Counterterrorism Agency Collects Data On Every US Citizen - Business Insider