- Politics and Social Issues
Whistleblowing isn’t Treason; Warrantless Surveillance is
Washington, DC has been in a panic since the recent revelation and publication of the U.S. government’s NSA data mining activities by Glenn Greenwald of the UK Guardian, using information obtained by former NSA computer specialist Eric Snowden. Everyone from Fox, MSNBC, the New York Time’s editorial page, NPR and others have been asking whether whistleblower Snowden is a hero or a traitor. This query obscures what we should all be concerned about: the ineptitude of our government and the cost of mining all our data when it is nearly impossible to find terrorist activities with such a wide net.
The only conclusion we can make is that the U.S. government is too ignorant and lazy to differentiate between normal, daily electronic activity and terrorism, protests and plots. Our government is apparently unable to make cost-effective, science-based decisions regarding our national security. Moreover, they are less and less tolerant of peaceful protests that could disrupt the status quo.
Why should we trust governmental surveillance of our phone and Internet activity? They want to prevent unrest before it happens because they believe their own paranoid propaganda regarding “sleeper cells” and an enemy plot in every dissenting word. They tell us that the government creates “free speech zones” and has surveillance everywhere, in the streets, on our phones, and on the Internet, and that they do so to protect us. The people are to be controlled as much as possible. According to our government and too many people in America, freedom must must be subservient to security.
Under the Patriot Act and rules passed in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), citizens suspected of terrorism are not guaranteed access to a speedy, civilian trial. The Patriot Act eliminates the former warrant requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for searches and arrests. These laws allow the policing arm of the government to interrogate you and hold you as if you were an enemy combatant, and they all too often equate protest with unrest and terrorism.
The new and improved NDAA makes a pesky jury trial unnecessary. ““The biggest thing about the  NDAA was that you weren’t getting a trial … Nothing in here says that you’ll make it to an Article III court so it literally does nothing,” Dan Johnson, founder of People Against the NDAA, told Business Insider on Thursday. “It’s a bunch of words, basically.”” And under the new NDAA, signed by President Obama, citizens can be detained under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The law expands the extra-legal rules used to arrest suspects. And the phone calls we are making and sites we are visiting can make us all suspects. Unless you follow the status quo and party line on all things and opinions, you too are suspect.
One group they have targeted using these laws is the Occupy movement. “Internal Federal Bureau of Investigation documents released last Saturday by a civil liberties organization show that FBI anti-terror units across the US targeted and spied on the Occupy Wall Street protests even before they got underway in September 2011.” Free speech apparently means nothing to the policing arm of the government when you challenge the moneyed elite, even peaceably. These and other laws criminalize protest like it is a terrorist threat. More and more the war on terror targets judicial rights such as habeas corpus and not actual terrorists. So, why should we trust their record keeping of our electronic activities?
Not only is the justice department using extra-legal means to arrest, detain and harass Occupy members, they have also targeted Food not Bombs for being a suspected terrorist group. I guess giving out food is a terrorist activity to the functionaries running the FBI and NSA. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and animal rights groups such as PETA have also been on terrorist watch lists at one time. So if you are occupying a park, hugging a tree or giving out free food (or other “dangerous” activities), you too could be a terrorism suspect.
And let’s not forget that our government has been detaining people indefinitely overseas (and torturing them) since at least 2001. If a government has no qualms about harming citizens of other nations, how can be trust this abuse will not happen, or hasn’t happened, within our borders. And shouldn’t we be concerned about citizens of other nations around the world that we are detaining without due process of the law?
If watching our telecommunication activities wasn’t enough, the U.S. government has stripped citizens of much of their right to protest. Americans can be arrested for protesting anywhere near public or private buildings where events of “national significance” are taking place under the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. So if any government business is happening in a government building or contractors offices, right where you might want to protest, they can arrest you.
The historical ancestor of these anti-constitutional laws is the COINTELPRO program that lasted from 1956 to 1971. “The FBI's counterintelligence programs (COINTELPRO) of the 1950's, '60s, and '70s formed one of the most infamous domestic initiatives in US history, targeting organizations and individuals whom the FBI saw as threatening the racist, capitalist status quo. Through surveillance, misinformation, frame-ups, and assassinations of radical leaders, the FBI sowed mistrust, ruined reputations, turned husbands against wives, and cost many their jobs or lives.”
Surveillance under the NSA’s PRISM and other programs are reminiscent of the COINTELPRO program of the Hoover years. The White House wants us to trust them, but they clearly don’t trust us.
The PRISM program uses a complicated algorithm to cull through billions of daily calls and emails in an attempt to pinpoint suspect activity. It is a type of pre-crime intervention that is costly and ineffective. The program targets ALL Americans without warrants at a cost of anywhere between $10-20 billion a year. They collect data about who, when and where communications are being sent and for how long. Since there is a 0.00001% chance some individual out there is a terrorist, why suspend the rights of everyone?
The NSA also has has a massive $2 billion complex in Utah where they collect and search through 5 zetta bytes (5 billion terabytes or 5 trillion gigabytes) of data to find any possible information that might lead to the prevention of terrorist activity. Not only is this plan ludicrous on the face of it, it is highly ineffective at preventing terrorism and there are no guarantees that the data won’t be used in the future to eliminate political dissent of average citizens who disagree with the government’s policies.
As with COINTELPRO, the PRISM program can collect, map and analyze racial and ethnic demographics. Why wouldn't Republicans, who are already attacking the voting rights of minorities all over America, use this data to arrest “suspected” immigrants with names like Rodriguez and Chen? Moreover, can we trust the Obama White House that has ordered more detentions and deportations of immigrants than any other administration in history, with this data?
What’s to prevent the NSA from racially profiling those with foreign sounding names like Abdallah and those that email foreign nations in the Middle East? I would usually balk at such seemingly paranoid talk, but racial profiling and harassing of social movement groups such as the NAACP and ACLU is exactly what the government did with data collected during COINTELPRO.
Even the conservative, security-obsessed Washington Post is concerned, “It's one thing if the NSA looks for patterns in the data that suggest a nascent overseas terrorist group or an imminent attack. It's another thing altogether if the agency observes, say, patterns that suggest the birth of the next Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street movement. [Washington Post]”
As Senators Udall and Wyden, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have pointed out on Udall’s government webpage, “‘As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does,’ Udall and Wyden said.”
However, more conventional means of data collection would mean less profit for the surveillance industry and wouldn’t keep us as afraid and malleable. An informed, active citizenry free from modern surveillance is the last thing the ruling elites want.