“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” Fourth Amendment to the Constitution
The US Supreme Court found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion. The right to privacy is a human right and an element of various legal traditions which may restrain both government and private party action that threatens the privacy of individuals. Conceptually, government regulations cannot reach into the privacy of one’s own home. Justice Brandeis famously called privacy “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by a free people.”
But privacy advocates have big problems with what has been going on lately: You see the politicians are tasked with guarding the hen house. And they are the foxes.
Privacy advocates say that is just one of the big problems with efforts to protect personal information in the United States: With one political party’s sophisticated use of Big Data, the other is disadvantaged and desperate to catch up. Both parties increasingly build their campaigns on the insight that commercial data brokers provide. It’s an on-going battle to control the real estate of your mind. Controlling the products marketed to you, the information you can access, the ideology you are exposed to, or worse, the information buried away from you without you even realizing it. All in a never ending effort to influence what you buy, what you know, how you vote, and what you think. So now, how free are we really?
“Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds” Justice Marshall wrote in one court decision.
But it’s happening anyway. Millions of people are becoming aware and they are concerned.
So the song “Spy Drone Bounty” starts with a reference to the small town of Deer Trail, Colorado. One of its citizens thought it might be fun to highlight his displeasure with government surveillance and so he created a proposal for a town ordinance to sell “Drone Hunting Licenses.”
The humorous proposal was over 2500 words and lays out the impetus for the ordinance early on throughout various passages in the document:
“…Whereas state and federal governmental entities, non-governmental organizations and powerful corporate interests have previously encroached on the freedoms and liberties of the Town of Deer Trail and its citizens…”
“…Whereas powerful corporate, state and federal government interests receive vast benefits from surveillance of individual citizens, small businesses, and that such data that is gathered through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles can be used by both domestic and international interests,…”
Later the ordinance is found to be complete with rules, restrictions, and provisions for training, fines for non-compliance, fees and a $100 bounty:
“..to any shooter who presents a valid hunting license and the following identifiable parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle whose markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government. i. Whole, intact unmanned aerial vehicle 1. Either the nose or tail section may be missing or damaged, but not both. 2. Markings and configuration of the unmanned aerial vehicle must be consistent with those used by the United States federal government. c. All unmanned aerial vehicles (hereinafter referred to as trophies and parts presented to and accepted by the Town of Deer Trail for purposes of receiving the listed bounties, shall become the property of the Town of Deer Trail. Trophies may be displayed or used for marketing purposes…”
The proposed ordinance showed potential to generate revenue for the small town. But the small town became divided on the issue. National news organizations and comedic talk show hosts ridiculed the small town’s licensing vehicle, and the Federal Aviation Administration warned that people who fire at drones could be prosecuted or fined, claiming that shooting down a drone could endanger the public and property. (as if a civilian could actually shoot down a government drone). Of course, a government spy drone could crash for any number of reasons while spying on us, yet it seems disingenuous that the FAA doesn’t see the unwarranted use of spy drones flying over our heads as “endangering the public and property.”
Notably, the Deer Trail Drone Hunting licenses generated public interest from all over the country. Before the residents had a chance to vote on the ordinance, Deer Trail had such a wide interest in their unofficial drone hunting licenses that they stopped counting how many checks they had to turn away.
In the end, the town remained divided, they couldn’t pass the defiant ordinance and a different set of town officials was elected. So the little town of Deer Trail is just a micro-example of the controversy surrounding our deteriorating privacy rights and the apathy that many Americans exhibit toward losing their liberties and their lack of understanding of the importance of the unique freedoms they temporarily enjoy.
But Deer Trail was also “late to the party”. Almost a year earlier, Charlottesville, Va., became the first city in the United States to formally pass an anti-drone resolution on February 4, 2013. Congratulations to Charlottesville. At least some civic leaders understand right to privacy issues and are making an effort to preserve our freedoms from government intrusion.
The resolution “calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court,” and “pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.”
The resolution was brought to the city council by activist David Swanson and the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group based in the city. The measure also endorses a proposed two-year moratorium on drones in Virginia.
Voting for the bill, Council member Dede Smith, said that drones are “pretty clearly a threat to our constitutional right to privacy.” Adding, “If we don’t get out ahead of it to establish some guidelines for how drones are used, they will be used in a very invasive way and we’ll be left to try and pick up the pieces,”
The privacy invasion issues are more enormous than many realize. We all learned that the intelligence analyst and former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden revealed to the UK Guardian that the NSA was collecting personal information on hundreds of millions of Americans. Some have called him a traitor, and some a whistleblower, and some a hero.
Revelations of mass surveillance on an international scale unleashed an avalanche of government misinformation aimed at defending, or even denying, the NSA’s overreaching surveillance.
The NSA has an internal government computer system which helps the NSA collect email, chat and VOIP communications and is gathering metadata for millions of phone calls which can reveal the location and content of the calls. Phone and tech companies Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Skype, Facebook, Apple, AOL and others have been required to provide back-door access to the NSA. The NSA has been tracing the locations of calls from every Verizon and Sprint Customer. And well…allegedly, just about everybody else.
The government claims their surveillance is legal, authorized by the FISA ACT and the Patriots Act Section 215. Others claim the program violates both the Constitution of the United States and federal laws concerning breach of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and due process rights. Lawsuits have been filed by the ACLU and one by Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court documents show that US spy agencies have already collected massive amounts of US citizens’ data and lied about it in court
If NSA analysts are unable to attain a FISA warrant, NSA agents simply turn to other methods to acquire desired data. In their internal communications, NSA analysts referred favorably to the “lower threshold for foreignness standard of proof” associated with the PRISM and similar programs (which require only “reasonable belief” on the part of the agent) in comparison to that of standard FISA warrants.
A 2009 order by the FISA Court, said that, since the 2006 inception of the NSA phone-call spying program, the agency has carried out thousands of inquiries on phone numbers without any of the court-ordered screening designed to protect Americans from illegal government surveillance.
However, when speaking to a U.S.-European Union ministerial meeting in Dublin, Ireland, Attorney General Eric Holder stated:
“The government cannot target anyone under the court approved procedures for this program unless there is an appropriate and documented foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition, such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities or nuclear proliferation,..”
Eric must have missed the FISA memo.
All the while, in a 2011 FISA Court opinion, the court said the NSA misrepresented the reach of its “upstream” internet surveillance, where it has tapped into the internet to vacuum up electronic communications as they travel through the internet’s backbone.
“Indeed, the record before this court establishes that NSA’s acquisition of internet transactions likely results in NSA acquiring annually tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications, and tens of thousands of non-target communications of persons who have little or no relationship to the target but who are protected under the Fourth Amendment,” according to the 2011 opinion.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said at a June 6 press conference that the NSA’s actions were lawful.
“The administration is obeying the law, but the fact is we want more oversight.”
And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), said August 23, “… NSA takes significant care to prevent any abuses and that there is a substantial oversight system in place,..”
The statement was clearly contradicted by James Clapper, director of national intelligence when he said that the reason why the NSA illegally accessed phone call metadata on thousands of targets was because the NSA was unable to conduct any oversight of its self.
So we guess Nancy and Dianne both told some whoppers or the director of national intelligence and the FISA court were both confused. You decide who is deceiving who.
Perhaps one of the bigger lies, which was retracted later, came months before the Snowden leaks.
Consider the awkward exchange between Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Clapper during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing:
Wyden: “So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper: “No Sir.”
Wyden: “It does not?”
Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
As usual, it was deception orchestrated to misinform the public, it was televised to millions and then the misinformation was retracted to a smaller audience. Clapper wrote in the letter dated June 21, 2013….“My response was clearly erroneous — for which I apologize,…”
National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney is known as one of the best code breakers in NSA history. He worked for the Defense Department’s foreign signals intelligence agency for 32 years before resigning in 2001 because he believed the NSA began violating the Constitution.
William Binney explained how the agency took one of the programs he built and started using it to spy on US citizens without warrants. That program was code named “Stellar Wind”. This was revealed by Binney in a video called “The Program”.
Binney explained how the secret spying database, can track electronic activities such as emails, phone calls, travel and purchase records, banking, social media and pretty much anything on the internet, and chart them together to collect everything relating to any individual in every type of activity and build a profile based on that data. They are “connecting the dots” in a very sophisticated manner, on a huge scale.
So now they can pull your entire life together from every related internet domain and map it out and show your entire life. Isn’t automation wonderful? The purpose of the program is to be able to monitor what people are doing and who they are doing it with. And the new Utah facility has the capacity to store 100 years worth of the world’s communications. That’s longer than your lifespan as a functioning, communicating adult.
Thin Thread Un ravels
Binney and his team developed “Thin Thread” and believed that they had identified and solved the N.S.A.’s biggest problem, data overload. They Pilot tests of “Thin Thread” were successful. Some said it was nearly perfect.
Thin Thread was intended to intercept foreign communications, so Binney installed privacy controls and added a feature to add anonymity, so that all American communications would be encrypted until a warrant was issued. The system would indicate when a pattern justified a warrant. Thin Thread was cost-effective, easy to understand, and protected the identity of Americans. But they didn’t want a system that was accountable. They wanted to pick American targets by name. They wanted selection, not just collection.
So in the fall of 2000, General Michael V. Hayden decided not to use Thin Thread, and instead, he funded private defense contractors to build a rival approach, called Trailblazer.
By September 2002, several people had filed complaints with the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office regarding problems with Trailblazer: they included Diane Roark a top staff member on the House Intelligence Committee from 1985 to 2002, ex-NSA senior analysts Kirk Wiebe, Bill Binney, and Senior Computer Systems Analyst Ed Loomis. Loomis had quit the agency over his concerns of their mismanagement and alleged illegal domestic spying. Binney was quoted as saying, “I couldn’t be an accessory to subverting the Constitution.” Others also quit partly over concerns about the legality of NSA behavior such as Drake’s boss, Maureen Baginski, a high ranking officer at NSA.
NSA senior officer Thomas Andrews Drake had been complaining to his superiors for some time about problems at NSA, and about the shortcomings of Trailblazer, issues like protecting privacy. In attempting to voice her concerns, Roark went to her boss Porter Gross who had been a CIA Director and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and she attempted to contact William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court Chief Justice at the time.
In 2005, the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) produced a report on the result of its investigation of the complaint of Roark and the others in 2002. This report helped expedite the closure of Trailblazer, which had been in trouble for being over budget.
In late 2005, Drake contacted a reporter ofThe Baltimore Sun. Siobhan Gorman. The reporter wrote a series of articles about problems at the NSA and the Trailblazer program. The articles got Gorman an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Also in 2005 The New York Times disclosed that some NSA intercepts included communications which were “purely domestic” in nature, revealing the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy and triggering an order from President George W. Bush to the FBI to find whoever had disclosed the information.
Although they had nothing to do with the New York Times report, the investigation led to the people who had filed the 2002 DoD Inspector General request. So, in the early morning of July 26, 2007, armed Federal agents simultaneously raided the houses of Roark, Binney, and Wiebe. In “Soviet lite” style, their homes were raided, guns pointed at their heads and their beloved family members, and yet they were never charged with any crime. The home of Thomas Drake was raided a few months later, in November 2007, and his computers and documents were confiscated.
In 2010, as part of President Barack Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers and “leakers”, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Drake on charges of obstructing justice, providing false information, and violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
Drake was facing some of the most severe charges that can be brought against an American citizen. He had been a senior executive at the National Security Agency, and now he was accused of being the enemy. Drake was facing prison for doing the right thing – pointing out government abuse and corruption. He feared political reprisal with severe prejudice. And he knew the government would never allow their dirty secrets to see the light of day in court.
The government tried to coerce Roark to testify to a conspiracy, and made similar overtures to Drake, baiting him with a plea bargain. They both courageously refused to comply. Drake rejected their multiple attempts because he refused to “plea bargain with the truth”. The government wanted him to help prosecute the other “whistleblowers”. He remained steadfast and refused to comply. He explained his actions to the Ridenhour Prizes organization.
“I did what I did because I am rooted in the faith that my duty was to the American people” . . . “I knew that you did not spy on Americans and that we were accountable for spending American taxpayer monies wisely.”
Ultimately, the ten original charges against Drake were eventually dropped and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count for exceeding authorized use of a computer in June 2011. The government needed something to justify their heavy handed zeal, even if it was only an absurdly token infraction.
In 2011 Drake was awarded the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Tellingand was co-recipient of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII). Accepting the award he referenced an 1857 speech of Frederick Douglass and said:
“Power and those in control concede nothing … without a demand. They never have and they never will. …each and every one of us must keep demanding, must keep fighting, must keep thundering, must keep plowing, must keep on keeping things struggling, must speak out and must speak up until justice is served because where there is no justice there can be no peace.”
So the telecoms that cooperated with the government got immunity, the whistle blowers who tried to do the right thing got arrested and the abuse of warrantless domestic spying continues on….with a bigger budget.
Organized “henchmen” like the KGB, Gestapo, or the Stasi, or those of any of any totalitarian state, would have loved to have had these all-inclusive analytical capabilities. China’s notorious Ministry of Public Security is undoubtedly envious, although they are similarly equipped. The ministry is in charge of China’s police force and is responsible for its massive national surveillance apparatus, which monitors dissidents and suppresses political dissent. In China, if you disagree with them, you will be sent to forced labor camps for “re-education” (or worse, some of the louder complainers just disappear)
And now, your government has a growing electronic dossier containing everything about you, your family and friends. Combine that with the government’s incestuous relationship with Google (who has developed algorithms to predict your future actions), the history of big government, and the recent government’s willingness to use various departments like the IRS to target its political opponents as if they were enemies of the state, and it would be foolish to not be concerned about the course we’re on.
Knowledge is power. Too often it’s political power. Our tax dollars are paying for the creation of a pervasive domestic spying apparatus and totalitarian information system. It can be used to control the entire political world, and anyone in a position to cause them problems, and thereby render the entire country under its sway and control. In Russia, that’s why Putin is in the Kremlin again. Their Secret Police have all the power.
The increase in “leaker” prosecutions is symptomatic of a larger dilemma.
History Repeats Itself
At one time there were special procedures to expunge communications of U.S citizens if they were accidently intercepted. The procedures had been devised to in response to the abuses of the Nixon administration.
Remember Nixon’s use of government agencies to spy on his political enemies? The President used his resources to do some spying on the opposing political party. Agents working for the Nixon administration also broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist looking for information to discredit him. They literally broke into one filing cabinet. It is now the most famous single filing cabinet in the world. At least Nixon resigned.
On December 22, 1974, theNew York Times published an article headlined: “HUGE C.I.A. OPERATION REPORTED IN U.S. AGAINST ANTIWAR FORCES, Other Dissidents in Nixon Years”. The Times article described how “..the CIA directly violating its charter, conducted a massive illegal domestic intelligence operation..” The Church Committee in Congress eventually uncovered abuse inside the CIA, FBI and IRS, among others, that had continued for years. Many of the abuses came at the request of the Nixon White House.
Abuses of the Internal Revenue Service during the Nixon Presidency included passing tax information to the FBI to aid its targeting of domestic “dissidents”. The IRS even had a Special Services Staff whose job it was to target such individuals and groups for investigation. The list included the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the American Library Association, and the Ford Foundation.
Does any of this sound familiar? The NSA domestic spying scandal, the Veterans Health Administration scandal, the IRS targeting scandal all seemed to have the same starting point – government corruption, lies, and deception followed by congressional hearings and attempted cover-ups. Remember when IRS head Lois Lerner was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at a congressional hearing for IRS targeting? Remember when their multiple computer hard drives were mysteriously crashed and email evidence conveniently lost? And remember the slow speed at which the federal agency reluctantly released self incriminating evidence. Whistleblowers get arrested, intimidated, and their lives and careers ruined only to be later vindicated. James Clapper lied about spying on Americans and other politicians scrambled to help supply cover.
We are witnessing the recurrence of past abuses, some under a similar pretense of justification – National Security. During the Nixon administration, throughout the White House and other supporting agencies, it was widely believed that the president and those operating on his behalf could carry out illegal acts with impunity if they were convinced that the nation’s security demanded it. National security trumped all. The implications are overwhelming.
The NSA scandal is a much larger scale, heavily funded, covert surveillance of the communications of hundreds of millions of people. And there is no greater threat to democratic government than covert domestic spying. Our Constitution protects us from unwarranted government intrusion into our private lives. Privacy rights in America are based on the principal that our government must have reasonable suspicion that someone is breaking the law or actively preparing to do so before monitoring our daily lives. A judge must agree with the justification and authorize the surveillance before it begins. It is not legal or ethical for our government to just decide to eavesdrop on us.
Targeted Killing – as long as it’s not me, my family or friends it’s ok, right? (if you disagree you may be next)
No national security policy raises a more serious threat to human rights than targeted killing, because the government claims the unrestricted authority to impose an extrajudicial death sentence on people, including US citizens.
The targeted killing program was begun by the Bush administration and hugely expanded by the Obama administration. The government compiles secret “kill lists” of its targets. Such targets do not always pose”imminent” threats. Not surprisingly, the government has refused to to disclose the legal criteria it uses to make its program decisions. The American public cannot know whether the program is lawful or whether the specific people the government kills in the name of our security truly represent an imminent threat. We do know that historically the government has used evidence that was exagerated, wrong or nonexistent. If the government continues with unchecked power to impose death on people who are not in any theatre of war and who have never been convicted of a crime, it is inevitable that innocent people will be executed.
America has been invoking the right to use lethal force, now often thru the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, “UAV” – drones. An operator located thousands of miles away, viewing a computer monitor, can pull a trigger on a joystick and kill the target he’s been given, in the name of National Security. It’s like playing a video game, as long as it is thousands of miles away, and not your neighbor.
Collectively, these elements constitute a profound threat to democratic government. Genuine oversight is vital because the government is demonstrating a track record of systematic deception. American jounalism has become ineffective and compromised politically. Industry partners have compromised politicians financially. And Americans are being distracted by the conveniences, entertainment and gadgetry their electronic cage provides. When the institutions that are responsible for providing checks and balances fail to so so, and Americans don’t wake up and take action, the result will be a national surveilance regime in which Americans right to privacy is under siege, and other freedoms domino.
For all the privacy we have lost in the name of “national security”, and for all the tax payers sweat spent on domestic spying, we are actually not safer. Politicians promote surveillance and data mining programs by posing the false choice between your safety or your privacy. It’s called fear mongering and the new special interest groups who help draft the talking points are part of the new beefed up domestic spying industry. With each re-examination of the provisions of the “Patriot Act”, government proponents warn us that without secret surveillance and data collection, our national security will be in peril. Yet their own internal investigations make clear that their warnings are baseless.
For example, when inspectors general at key security agencies reviewed the secret wiretapping programs they were unable to find any evidence that the program made anyone safer, despite its extraordinary reach into everyone’s lives.
In another example, the FBI made close to 150,000 National Security Letters “NSL” requests in the time period reviewed from 2003 to 2005. But the FBI Inspector General found no instance in which an NSL request helped to prevent an actual terrorist plot.
There is thus little or no evidence of arrests made, nefarious plots foiled, or lives saved as a result of data mining and mass surveillance programs. The reality is that governmental surveilance has become a profitable industry with powerful industry partners.
Since 9/11, the government has targeted people for expressing opinions or protesting government policies. (Oh Oh, who’s listening now?) The ACLU has documented cases of political spying, monitoring, and harassment of Americans based on their First Amendment-protected activities by federal, state and local officials in at least 33 states. The government has spied on racial and religious minority groups and community organizations, college groups, journalists, political activists, and many others. Their arrogance is insulting.
The New “Anti Terrorism Industry”
National security is important and everyone agrees that terrorism must be stopped. However, the population is becoming normalized to the legitimization of a national surveillance regime. We have the emergence of an immense security bureaucracy with more than two and a half million government workers and contractors who hold confidential or secret security clearances. The government is investing billions of taxpayer dollars on an electronic monitoring center to perpetuate spying on its citizens in a monumental archive five times the size of our capital building. They are reinterpreting the law in order to sanction their self serving, problematic domestic spying activities. The government has outsourced corporate partnerships to create a “counterterrorism industry” and a financially powerful lobbying force. But they don’t seem to be stopping terrorism. They are creating an Orwellian state that will be very profitable to those who control it. It may already be next to impossible to elect a politician who will not support it.
Modern data mining is automated. Previous wiretap surveillance techniques required trained human technicians to interface with the equipment. But now the entire country can be watched. U.S. officials can monitor journalists, political parties or whatever group, organization or individual they want to target.
One techno giant has been developing a cozy position in the new intelligence industry. Google purchased Boston Dynamics, a robotics pioneer that produces robots for the U.S. Defense Department, just one of several robotics companies that Google has bought. Robots and self-driving vehicles will be the future of ground warfare according to U.S. plans, just like drones are the future of air warfare.
Google’s personnel hiring is another indicator of its aspirations to position itself as an indispensable U.S. military contractor. In 2012, the head of DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Regina Dugan, was offered and accepted a senior executive position with Google. Ms. Dugan’s extensive DOD experience can help Google exploit the U.S. military’s future technology needs. Google has a known history of working for, and with, the NSA and the other intelligence services.
In October 2004, Google announced the purchase of Keyhole Corp., a Mountain View, Calif.-based digital mapping company, which had the satellite mapping software now known as Google Earth, which was funded by the CIA’s investment fund In-Q Tel. The software had many options, including the ability to zoom in from space-level to street-level, tilt and rotate the view or search for other information. This was the beginning of Google Maps & Google Earth which is now usedby over a billion people.
In 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that U.S. spy agencies use “Google equipment as the backbone of Intellipedia, a network aimed at helping agents share intelligence.” Spy agencies are using Google equipment as the backbone of Intellipedia, a network aimed at helping agents share intelligence. The spy network is maintained by the director of national intelligence and is accessible only to the CIA, FBI, NSA and other intelligence agencies and offices. Google supplied the computer servers that support the network, as well as the search software that allows users to sift through data.
In addition, Google has too many matchless capabilities and big data sets that are of strategic value to the NSA to not work closely with the NSA. Remember, Google cookies track the internet behavior of over 2 billion people. Google is the only company with the mission to organize the world’s public and private information, and Google has developed more ways to monitor more people, more intimately than any entity ever in the history of the world.
Thus Google has the unparalleled resources to investigate for the NSA the online behavior of a targeted group of people by country, language, interests, keywords, names, communications, physical location, movements, time and more.
Google’s computers already do what the NSA wants to do most and Google can instantaneously translate 80 different languages across applications.
It is no coincidence that Russia and China have been averse to allowing Google’s Internet dominance to extend into their countries.
So Google has provided computer servers and software for U.S. intelligence sharing networks. And Google has made huge financial investments which strongly align with future U.S. military and intelligence needs, has hired key DOD personnel, purchased assets strategically funded by the CIA, has purchased several companies that make drones, robots and more, has several patents on surveillance methods like facial recognition and more. This is not at all a coincidence. Now this country has privacy problems. And it’s unlikely that any congressional oversight committee will slow down the NSA or Google anytime soon. After all, their congressional members are spied on too.
Google searches more than half a billion web addresses. Google is not only the biggest search engine in the world, but along with Youtube (the second biggest search engine in the world) it also has the largest video platform, with Chrome the biggest browser, with Gmail the most widely used e-mail provider, and with Android the biggest operating system for mobile devices. So Google knows more about every digitally active citizen than George Orwell dared to imagine in his wildest dreams in 1984. Google is sitting on nearly the entire current data trove of humanity, (there are others) but the NSA has the keys to all of it.
In a program codenamed “MUSCULAR,” operated jointly with Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and NSA, the agencies collect and monitor all communications links connecting Yahoo and Google data servers worldwide. In the case of the bulk seizure of Google and Yahoo data, the NSA has exploited the fact that the computer centers in question are located outside of the United States, with regulations falling not under FISA, but under an executive order. The data in question, however, is the same as that located in the companies’ US centers.
Against this background it is of great concern that Google – which acquired drone manufacturer “Titan Aerospace” – has been seen for some time as being behind a number of planned enormous ships and floating working environments that can cruise and operate in the open ocean. You don’t have to be a “conspiracy realist” to find this unsettling, especially if you listen to the words of Google founder and major shareholder Larry Page.
He dreams of a place without data-protection laws and without accountability. “There’s many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can’t do because they’re illegal”, Page said back in 2013, continuing “…we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what’s the effect on people, without having to deploy kind of into the normal world.”
Does this mean that Google is planning to operate in a legal vacuum, without troublesome antitrust authorities and data protection? Is Google really aspiring to be a kind of super spy knowledge center that can navigate its pirate spy data centers undisturbed by any and all nation-states and their laws? And while aligning NSA as their big client and most enthusiastic supporter? Some believe they already are.
In August 2008, Google was issued a US patent for a floating data center designed to be self sustained and operate in the offshore oceans. Such seafaring data centers, being literally off-shore, will differ from traditional “offshore” data centers in that they can exist outside of any nation’s jurisdictions. This freedom may remove them from the practical bounds of any laws regulating privacy.
Google’s patent application for a “water-based data center” details a floating data center, complete with an energy supply fed by a wave-powered generator system and a wind-powered cooling system using seawater. The patent describes a modular setup that calls for “crane-removable modules” that store racks of computers. The patent application also details tapping water motion to generate power and the ability to configure the system in many different ways, including on-ship and on-shore data centers, various cooling mechanisms, backup systems, and even temporary housing and helicopter pads to support IT maintenance staffers.
During October of 2013, two such large ocean going barges were docked in San Francisco Bay and the other docked in the harbor in Portland. In Portland, the barge was docked at Rickers Wharf, where Cianbro Corp. was installing undisclosed technological equipment inside the structure. Google refused to return emails and phone calls from reporters who inquired about the project at the time.
On February 16, 2006 the New York Times reported that Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco Systems came under fire at a House human rights hearing for what a subcommittee chairman called a “sickening collaboration” with the Chinese government that was “decapitating the voice of the dissidents” there.
Among the chief issues was the alteration of some of the companies’ online offerings in the Chinese market — from search engines to blogging tools — to conform to the requirements of the government there. Also of concern was the sale of Internet hardware that the Chinese government has used in surveillance of its online population, as well as the role of American companies in providing information leading to the imprisonment of Chinese citizens for online activity that in the West would be considered free speech.
In April 26, 2006, the New York Times reported that in January, a few months after Kai-Fu Lee Lee the new head of operations for Google in China opened the Beijing office, the company announced it would be introducing a new version of its search engine for the Chinese market. To obey China’s censorship laws, Google’s representatives explained, the company had agreed to purge its search results of any web sites disapproved of by the Chinese government, including web sites promoting Falun Gong, a government-banned spiritual movement; sites promoting free speech in China; or any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. If you search for “Tibet” or “Falun Gong” most anywhere in the world on google.com, you’ll find thousands of blog entries, news items and chat rooms on Chinese repression. Do the same search inside China on google.cn, and these links will be gone. Google will have erased them completely.
Google’s decision did not go over well in the United States. In February, company executives were called into Congressional hearings and compared to Nazi collaborators. The company’s stock fell, and protesters waved placards outside the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google wasn’t the only American high-tech company to run aground in China, nor was it the worst offender. But Google’s executives were supposed to be different. When the company went public years ago, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, wrote in their SEC filing that Google is “a company that is trustworthy and interested in the public good.” So how could Google say that’s true while helping a repressive Chinese regime and the Communist Party behind it? It’s impossible to ignore Google’s lengthening historical record of privacy and regulatory issues, both domestically and globally. If you think Google is trustworthy, check the internet (while you can before Google erases the links), because there’s plenty of people around the world who don’t.
So, has every wireless customer in America made calls relating to a foreign terrorism investigation? No of course not. The government won’t admit that what the NSA has been doing is clearly illegal, even by the over-reaching measures of the Patriot Act.
So do you really have any rights?
If the Constitution guarantees your protection from unlawful search and seizure, guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process when charged with a crime and yet all of those rights can be suspended not because you are a terrorist per-se but because the government wants to know if you might be connected to a terrorist, then you actually never had those rights in the first place.
The regimes of oppressive governments enjoy the popular quip, “If you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about”.
The problem is if you think you are not doing anything that’s wrong, you probably don’t realize that you don’t get to define what’s “wrong”. The government does, the government defines what is right and wrong and whether or not they target you. So, it’s not up to you. If you attend a rally, meeting or protest, or even now, visit an internet blog, website or forward an email that speaks of a position on something that is against the position the reigning administration has, then you could easily become a target. So in other words it’s like they are saying, “You don’t need to have rights”, as long as you please those in power.
Benjamin Franklin saw things clearly saying those who would trade essential liberties for temporary security, deserve neither.
In early June of 2015, the Associated Press reported that the FBI had been using fictitious front companies to operate a small air force of surveillance aircraft carrying video and cell phone surveillance equipment known as a “cell-site simulator”.
Aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general. However, a federal budget document from 2010 mentioned at least 115 planes in the FBI’s surveillance fleet. That’s a lot of spy planes.
The AP reported that in one 30 day period at least 50 FBI spy planes bristling with unusual antennas spied on Americans in more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country. There are less than 10 cities in the US that have over 1 million people, so they’ve pretty much got us all covered when they spy on 30 cities.
The use of planes with pilots seems to be a dodge as the Justice Department seeks to navigate privacy concerns arising from aerial surveillance by unmanned aircraft, (drones).
The program raises more questions about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies offer new opportunities for more intrusive government spying.
During this same time period there was much public debate on headline issues such as stopping ISIS, and the related security risks and economic importance of controlling the infiltration of our own borders. Instead we learned that the FBI was busy with as many as 115 planes spying on Americans in every major city? It’s obviously just more fun, for them. And if you don’t like it, they’re probably spying on you too.
It is not too late to take back our rights, and to ensure that “national security” surveillance is conducted under effective and reasonable constraints, subject to genuine oversight. But everyone should speak up now, before our surveillance regime becomes omnipotent and we find that we have permanently lost our rights. We should do something that will help while we still can. We should call or write our local media outlets and tell them we want to hear more real news reporting on government waste, corruption and domestic spying. And tell them we want to hear their follow-up on their stories. They shouldn’t just drop it with the next news cycle. Consistent constant pressure is needed. Let’s call out the politicians who are involved.
We continually see individual examples of political abuse of power or waste in our government. We want to know what is being done to stop it, and we want to see progress made toward stopping government invasion of privacy.
You are losing your right to privacy. You are losing your ability to think freely, to speak, to disagree, to exchange ideas, to engage in political activity. You are losing your freedom.
So don’t be intimidated, stand up for your rights, speak up, and share this information.
And of course, we hope you enjoy our song “Spy Drone Bounty”. It’s a fun song that touches on an important right to privacy issue, so please share it.