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Updated -- 20 June 2005

Or the lack thereof.

"The privacy debate is, essentially, a debate about the control of personal information." It's not so much about massive amounts of electromagnetic monitoring [as bad as that might be], as it is the possible use [or misuse] of such information -- information which "can be exchanged, bought, or sold for secondary use without one's knowledge or consent." It's about many people in the know saying that there is currently zero privacy -- get over it! [1] Or it's just the sense of losing something valuable and not knowing how or why.

A 1999 Wall Street Journal article placed the average American's concern for privacy ahead of overpopulation, racial tensions, and global warming. Roughly 12% of the population may be unconcerned and 63% are pragmatists who may be willing to give up some privacy for other benefits, but a fourth of the population are very deeply concerned about their privacy rights and potential invasions of dastardly people into their private affairs. Driving the concerns of many is the sheer intensity of the motivation to invade the privacy of individuals. For example, the use of bio-chips to track, monitor, and "recover" humans assumes a potential worldwide market fromf this single aspect of privacy-invading technology exceeding $100 billion. [1] This is a lot of motivation!

For the vast majority of Americans, privacy is greatly prized, but often most of those same people will give up privacy for security.  Consider, for example, a community near Phoenix, Arizona, which in catering to elderly retiree residents has installed cameras throughout the neighborhood.  These cameras are constantly monitored, and allow a security person to quickly notice if one of the residents out for a walk or other activity should suddenly have health problems -- like falling to the ground.  In this case, help is summoned very quickly -- even if the victim is alone and without other help.  Clearly, these people have no problem with being “spied upon” in that the monitoring of their activities is intended to help them as necessary (and this gives them a sense of security).

Many people, however, are less generous in giving up privacy for security -- especially when they question both the uses to which their lack of privacy will be applied (and thus negatively effect their lives), and the questionable degree of greater security afforded thereby.  In the latter case, giving up rights for greater security often does not increase the security one whit (but does result in less freedom).  In the former case, giving up one’s sense of privacy can greatly demean one’s life.  If, for example, one had a monitor on them so that they could be tracked at will (and thereby aided in the event of kidnapping, for example), then that same monitor could be used to determine if the person has called in sick, and instead gone off to the ball game!  Playing hookey would no longer be any fun.  

Security, however, is not the only incentive to reduce one’s privacy.  In fact, the question of privacy versus security/convenience/other-benefits is fundamentally of great importance in the current era.  Having a device in your automobile which informs you where you are -- and can even guide you to your destination (after a quick referral to a monitor) -- can also result in your receiving speeding tickets based on too rapid changes in your location as monitored by the police or other authorities.  (This assumed fanciful episode is in reality already occurring with some rental car agencies, who have a desire to keep abreast of the what, where, and the speed of their rented automobiles.)

Giving up privacy, freedoms, or rights for some perceived benefit is an individual choice (even though the choice is seldom overtly stated as such).  The key is whether or not the choice to give up privacy is an informed, voluntary, and willful one.  While the voluntary aspect is strongly dependent upon the specifics of the lack of privacy/gained benefit scenario, being informed is generally less difficult, and is perhaps the first step.

One problem in being informed is the loss of rights contained in various agreements one reads for the most mundane and simplistic of reasons -- use of computer software, for example. As Mark Rasch has noted, somewhat in jest, "I have a recurring nightmare. Microsoft CEO Stever Ballmer shows up on my doorstep demanding my left kidney, claiming that I agreed to this in some 'clickwrap' contract." [2] [I say in jest, because donation of kidneys really is in the Microsoft Use of Software Agreement under the paragaph "miscellaneous and sundry benefits accruing to the executive officers of Microsoft and any and all of their friends."]

The fact of the matter is that no one has the time -- or out of the sheer necessities of life chooses not to take the time -- to read all of the privacy, security, licensing and downloading policies. And not just in the world of computers. In the process of buying a house, for example, one might sign a hundred documents -- amounting to about an inch thick of legalese -- all in the space of less than an hour. One may have unknowingly given up the right to breathe in the new home and at least one of those documents. Furthermore, all of this information is available to anyone with the right amount of money.

[From a strictly legal point of view, one has to wonder if there is anyting binding in agreeing to what could not have been understood in the context and environment in which it was presented. But the fact remains, that one does not have to sign. One can always choose not to sign, live in a home of their own, use a computer, have a credit card, own an automobile, live, and so forth.]

Angela Gunn writing for the Seattle Weekly has provided an excellent essay on the subject [3]. Published in the July 8 - 14, 1999 issue -- i.e. prior to 9-11-2001 -- the article is more on the subject of the loss of privacy due to our unconscious and/or reluctant choices.  Her article is included below in its entirety.

A second article [4] considers the more extreme example of people choosing to “get chipped” -- i.e. permit a microchip to be installed in their body which will allow someone to monitor them at all times.  Seen as a security measure, this might have reasonable desirability -- especially if one is a soldier behind enemy lines.  But the potential for misuse -- including the potential for including within the microchip a covert control mechanism -- is enormous. Another article on the same subject is by Jack Duggan [5].

A third article [6], published June 3, 2002 then addresses the question of whether or not there is any real increase in one’s security even after giving up privacy, freedom, and/or rights.  William Safire, being a well known, conservative commentator, makes his views of the current Bush Administration’s tactics and response to 9-11-2001, extremely clear. As with Ms. Gunn's article, Mr. Safire's article is also included below in its entirety.

Finally, one of the better articles is Toby Lester's "The Reinvention of Privacy" (The Atlantic Monthly) [1], which is already quoted in several parts of this essay.

In passing, one rather stupid (or perhaps, more accurately, devious) FBI director has said that privacy is over-rated, and that unless someone had something to hide, there was no need for privacy.  He was then asked for the names of his children, their ages and photos, and what schools and other activities they regularly attended.  He declined to have his own privacy thus invaded.  

It must be emphasized in this regard that the FBI is very interested in revamping the Inter Net in order to make wiretapping much easier for police. Consequently, the FBI is equally interested in preventing the use of crypto codes to protect privacy on the Inter Net (and elsewhere). [7] This is why so many people are so very interested in just the opposite -- keeping private crypto codes private.

In fact, such codes have always been, according to Bruce Schneier "the province of learned people everywhere" Certainly if you are about to send a message that "the king's passion for drink is divesting him of all respect, the queen is detested, and an explosion of some sort is not impossible"... it stands to reason that you would probably want to encode your words -- just as Thomsas Jefferson did. [1]

An excellent source of the subject of privacy is Privacilla, which acts as a starting point for the press, academics, and researchers of all kinds.  “Privacilla takes a free-market liberal (or libertarian) stance toward privacy issues.  The consensus among participants is that the best policy is to limit the role of government to robust and equal protection of individual rights under law.”

A partial index of Privacilla includes:  1) What is Privacy? (including: Privacilla's Two-Part Definition of Privacy and Privacy: A Fundamental Right? Or Something Else? 2) Why is Privacy Important? 3) Anonymity and Pseudonymity, 4) Privacy and Culture, 5) Security and Privacy, 6) Privacy Polls (including: Privacy Survey Design is Often Flawed and Comparing Privacy Polls and Consumer Behavior, 7) The Value of Making Personal Information Public, and 8) Differences Between Government and the Private Sector (including: Different Incentives and Different Laws).

Privacilla carefully attempts to answer the question of: What is Privacy?  “Privacy is best defined as a condition people maintain by controlling who receives information about them, and the terms on which others receive it.  Importantly, privacy is a personal, subjective condition.  One person cannot decide for another what his or her sense of privacy should be.”  [emphasis added]  

“An important conclusion flows from this latter observation.  That is that government regulation of the private sector in the name of privacy can only create confidentiality or secrecy rules based on the guesses of politicians and bureaucrats.  The better way to protect true privacy is to distribute decisions about how personal information is used to the people affected.”   

In essence, privacy choices are individual -- anything else is an automatic invasion of one’s privacy.  Privacy might be considered an “inalienable right”, somehow protected by the Constitution for the United States of America, but in fact is not directly addressed.  On the other hand, self-defense is a right which supercedes virtually all rights, constitutions, statutes, and government rules, and privacy is logically and rationally tied to self-defense.  The Fifth Amendment which limits self-incrimindation is an aspect of privacy.

In addition, Toby Lester [1] has written that Samuel D. Warren and the future Supreme Court justice Louis D. Brandeis defined privacy for the modern age in their article, The Right to Privacy," published in the Harvard Law Review.

"Warren and Brandeis' masterstroke was to document in the common law the presence of a 'principle which protects personal writings and any other productions of the intellect or of the emotions', and to argue that 'the law has no new principle to formulate when it exends this protection to the personal appearance, sayings, acts, and to personal relation, domestic or otherwise.' In other words, the two men broadened the legal conception of privacy to include not only the tangible but also the intangible realm." [1]


Privacilla adds that:: “While privacy is held up as one of our highest values, people also constantly share information about themselves by allowing others to see their faces, learn their names, learn what they own, and learn what they think.  In fact, it is a desirable lack of privacy that allows people to interact with one another socially and in business.  This does not mean that people should lose control over the information they want to keep private.  It means that generalizations about privacy are almost always wrong.”

Privacilla has also formulated a “Two-Part Definition of Privacy:  A person has privacy when two factors are in place.  He or she must have the ability to control information about him- or herself, and he or she must exercise that control consistent with his or her values.  The first factor goes to the existence of choice — the legal power to control the release of information — not how pleasant the choice is.  In the commercial world, people almost always have the ability to control information about themselves.  By absenting themselves from commercial transactions, they can decide absolutely who receives information about them.  This satisfies the first factor.

“Exercising control of information — the second factor that delivers privacy — is difficult in many commercial marketplaces.  Many consumers are unaware of how the Information Economy works, and the fact that they are a part of it.  Only consumer education will deliver them from this state.  Only educated, empowered, and responsible consumers can — by bringing businesses to heel.

“For consumers with the highest sensitivity to disclosure of information, companies still rarely offer an appropriate range of information practices.  These unsatisfactory choices make the second factor in privacy protection hard for some people to achieve.  Other consumers may have a higher tolerance for information sharing or they may have senses of privacy that point toward information not touched by commerce.  Their privacy may be entirely unaffected by even the broadest commercial information sharing.  

“There is no question that protecting privacy in the commercial world can be hard.  It is important to note, however, that protecting privacy from government is often impossible. When citizens apply for licenses or permits, fill out forms for regulators, or prepare tax returns, they do not have the power to control what information they share.  They must submit information that the government requires.  The first factor in privacy protection — power to control personal information — is totally absent in the governmental context. Privacy from government is categorically different from privacy in the private sector.”  

The latter is fundamentally important when one asks the crucial question with regards to privacy: whom should you trust? Sadly, increasing numbers of citizens no longer trust their government to do what is in their best interests, or more importantely do what they would choose to have done themselves.  It raises the same issue as the bumber sticker:  “I love my country, but I fear my government.”  The fact that this bumper sticker is prevalent in the United States is of particular poignancy with regard to the State of the Union.

The Yale political scientist James C. Scott has written [1]:

"The modern state, through its officials, attempts with varying success to create a terrain and a population with precisely those standardized characteristics that will be easiest to monitor, count, assess, and manage."

You might want to read that sentence again -- especially the part about being managed.

One of the premier pro-privacy techniques is the use of cash. "It's anonymous and very efficient. Until World War Two it was the primary means of payment for all but the largest transactions." But with credit cards and especially e-commerce, it suddenly becomes necessary to keep records of who you do business with, just in case they lie to you or attempt to cheat you. Furthermore, the increasingly reduced use of cash for purchases, and "the rise of bookentry settlement has helped create a more invasive government, because the state, as lie enforcer, if you will, becomes an integral part of the entire economy." The sad part is that for the convenience of credit cards and the like, we put up with governmental invasions of our privacy, pay taxes, tolerate spam, and so forth. With the convenience of Internet bearer transactions, the task of minding our business is made even easier of ourselves and the government (and business).

It seems evident that anyone who values their privacy would do well to strongly advocate the continuation of cash transactions, and in fact use cash whenever possible. Such a person might also want to strive for what Chrisopher Hansen suggested: "We need to place video and audio [pickups] with direct links to the World Wide Web in EVERY government office in the United States of America so that any American can see what any government official is doing." By constantly watching the officials, one might even see how that official is invading one's privacy. If the government wants to more secrets from them -- then why not have no more secrets from the people the government allegedly serves?

Finally, one can take the Privacy Option Check List Test given below.  An essential aspect to keep in mind, however, is that in choosing your options, assume that Any and Everyone has access -- acquired legally or illegally, via purchase or other means -- to any and all of the information that can be gleamed (and/or inferred) from the lack of privacy.  

            r A device which monitors where your automobile is during selected/all times.

            r A device which monitors who is in your house during selected/all times.

            r A device which monitors who is in your office during selected/all times.

            r Devices monitoring selected/all public places that you frequent.

            r Devices monitoring selected/all private places that you frequent.

            r A device which monitors selected/all communications you send or receive.

            r A device which monitors where you are during selected/all times.

            r A device which controls your mood and/or your physical body.

            r A device which when triggered remotely can terminate your life.  



[1] Toby Lester, "The Reinvention of Privacy", The Atlantic Monthly, March 2001 [PRE-9-11-2001]

[2] Mark D. Rasch, "You Need a Robolawyer", Wired, October 2004.

[3] http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/9927/features-gunn.shtml

[4] http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,50435,00.html

[5] http://www.newswithviews.com/guest_opinion/guest15.htm

[6] http://www.nytimes.com

[3] http://news.com.com/2100-1028-5172948.html



The war over your personal privacy is over.  You Lost!

The top five ways the technological revolution was a war against you.  


About 15 years ago, my high-school civics teacher (who would later be arrested in front of the class for refusing to pay income tax) invited a professor from a nearby college to talk to us about how the world was headed to hell in an Orwellian handbasket.  He was mighty disappointed when the prof insisted instead that we were moving toward Huxley’s Brave New World, amusing ourselves into attention-deficient immobility.*  

Thanks to the Net, they can both be right.  

Attached please find five recent widely reported technology developments that, taken together, should discomfit even the most law-abiding, SUV-driving, politically oblivious latte-esthete Weekly reader.  Roll the following five statements around in your head and see if you, too, don’t start feeling uneasy as you pedal your $2,000 road bike down to the co-op for your salmon steaks.  

You no longer have the right not to incriminate yourself.

Taking the Fifth is a nice tactic on Law and Order, but the point is virtually moot in real life; your body and history have already betrayed you.  Your fingerprints are on file with such places as the bank, the DMV, and the welfare office; you can even be asked for a thumbprint to cash traveler’s checks (or write personal checks).  Many well-meaning parents have even contributed their children’s fingerprints to government databases voluntarily, thanks to the allegedly ever-present specter of child abduction.  (Show of hands, please, of everyone who’s had a child abducted.  Now let’s see a show of hands for all those whose children have been stopped by police for vandalism, traffic violations, or worse.  Now, how do you think those fingerprint files will be used?)  

Your hair is of interest to thousands of potential employers and some schools, who find it provides a much longer-term drug-use profile than does the old-fashioned piss test.  Your child’s treasured school yearbook doubles as a collection of mug shots for the local cops in many urban areas.  Your banking and credit history -- sensitive/personal data in the lives of even the most innocuous among us -- is anybody’s baby if your bank decides to pimp it out.  And your driver’s license info is for sale to telemarketers and insurance companies.  

Even the open road isn’t so open these days.  With devices such as Lo-Jack and GM's Sensing and Diagnostic Module (which monitors your car to discover causes for possible mechanical failures and accidents), your vehicle can send information about your where abouts and driving peccadilloes back to the manufacturer, or to the cops.  The Sensing and Diagnostic Module has raised the ire of even sleepy old conservative William Safire, who doesn’t want his car spying on his bad driving habits.  (He has apparently chosen to ignore the 2,400 police surveillance cameras monitoring the streets of his beloved New York, but every little bit helps.)  

Thanks to the 1994 Crime Control Act, your DNA is scheduled to go on file nationally within the next few years.  This data is available to federal, state, and local investigators, and there are precious few legal guidelines as to how it can be used.  (Pondering the irony of a DNA database signed into law by Bill “Blue Dress” Clinton is left as an exercise for the reader.)  

All these indignities are brought to you by databases--vast collections of tiny shards of knowledge.  Once upon a time, it wasn’t possible to collect that much data on one person, and even if it were possible to collect it, it wasn’t possible to enter it in a computer in a timely fashion, and even if it were possible to collect it and enter it in a computer, it wasn’t possible to correlate it with all the other information in all the other databases.  Those days are over, and the only legacy we have of them is a dire lack of laws regarding who owns the information the database has about you and what they can do with it. But we do know who doesn’t own it: you, buster.  And by the way . . .  

You have been priced out of the marketplace of ideas.

As for your personal data, forget those clickpaths and cookies and other bits of online data, which most folks will happily exchange for a free PC or a chance at winning a VW Beetle or some shiny beads.  What about your genetic history?  Ask the good people of Iceland, whose government in December sold the rights to the entire country’s health, genetic, and genealogical info to deCODE Genetics, who in turn has licensed it to Swiss pharmaceutical mega-company Hoffman-LaRoche.  No one was asked to sign consent forms -- and once an individual’s info is in that database, she can’t ask to have it removed. Someone else quite literally owns the rights to her.  

Artistic endeavors fare no better.  The public will lose public-domain rights to millions of early 20th-century texts in the next few years, and not a single artist will cease starving in a garret because of that.  (But the publishing companies are thrilled -- potential 21st-century Net content paid for at early 20th-century rates!)  Thanks to late US Rep. Sonny Bono, the Copyright Term Extension Act keeps works from entering the public domain for the life of the artist plus 70 years, or in the case of a “corporate creator” (e.g., Walt Disney) for 95 years -- in both cases, an increase of 20 years.  It’s no coincidence that the copyright on über-icon Mickey Mouse would have expired in 2003, or (more broadly) that thousands of movies and pieces of recorded music were edging into the public domain.  

These extensions do not, however, protect artists.  Writers, musicians, and illustrators will tell you that the average publishing contract these days forces the artist to sign away rights for “all media now or hereafter created” -- in other words, everything but your immortal soul.  Companies like Time-Warner and Warner Brothers realize that in the days of five zillion cable channels and Web sites, even the mustiest items in the library are valuable content.  And you’ll pay for it.  Old Media bad?  Maybe. But new media are worse...

Dot-com businesses have little imperative to stand up for you, the customer.

Dot-coms may be swashbuckling when it comes to financing and IPOs, but they’re timid as kittens when it comes to standing up for their clientele.  For instance, Amazon.com has shown several times in the past few months that speaking to them in a sharp tone of voice will scare them enough to pull books off their un-shelves -- a decision that earned the un-bookstore widespread derision from real booksellers, long accustomed to standing up for books threatened to be censored or banned.  

Amazon leads by example, even in retreat.  Auction giant eBay, which had planned to open a British version of itself this year, felt the chill and announced that it would not be offering its services after all.  And naturally the original Church of Scientology complaint against an Amazon-offered book (which was, by the way, never banned from sale by British stores, whatever you may have heard) has opened the door to a slew of intimida-tion imitators -- probably not the get-along-go-along result the company had in mind.  

But Amazon’s not alone under the electronic dunce cap. Around the world, ISPs deny users access to various parts of the Net for fear of specious lawsuits.  As I write this, an SOS has gone up from the UK, where provider Demon Internet has blocked customer access to certain Usenet areas under threat of a libel suit by one Dr. Laurence Godfrey, who has made something of a career of suing people he feels have defamed him on the Net.  According to the UK courts, Demon is liable for damages if it does not prevent its users from reading the alleged libel on Demon news servers.  Though Demon representatives claim to be confident of winning the libel case, they failed to appeal the liability ruling, which may in the end be the more damning precedent.  

ISPs have themselves been the target of an increasing number of “John Doe” lawsuits, which hamstring individual users’ attempts to shield their identity.  A John Doe suit is filed before the names of the defendants are actually known; the complainants’ lawyer can then subpoena an ISP or online service for the real name and personal information of the user they claim has done them wrong.  (In fact, in some cases an actual lawsuit is overkill; the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it possible to issue subpoenas to get such information without any suit being filed.)  Many of these suits have been filed by companies hunting down online detractors, but at least one has been filed by the Church of Scientology to obtain the identity of a former church member who has posted copyrighted Church texts in the past.  That person responded to AT&T WorldNet’s dangerous lack of customer support, so to speak, in the only way he/she could: “I guess it won’t surprise anybody that because AT&T has put my life at risk [from] this harassment organization, I will be switching both Internet service providers and my long-distance service from AT&T to MCI.”  

It's not just the threat of litigation that’ll turn an ISP against a customer; sometimes all you have to do is pick up the phone.  In 1998, Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy McVeigh (no, not the bomber) was dismissed from the Navy after being outed by an America Online representative who received a phone call from a Navy investigator--with no warrant, no court order, no proof at all that AOL was legally bound to release the information that connected McVeigh to a user profile that said he was gay.  AOL spokespeople said it was an accident that would never happen again; they say that they only read or disclose user information under a “valid legal process.” (Or until they get caught, apparently.)  

Meanwhile, back at the office, pending legislation would allow software companies to disable (by remote control!) programs you bought and paid for.  Allegedly, this protects companies from the scourge of piracy.  But what happens the first time someone names, say, Microsoft as a party to a libel suit because Word was used to create the defaming pamphlet?  If it came to light that Photoshop was the preferred graphics package of the Aryan Nation, wouldn’t it be good PR for Adobe to shut the Nation’s software down? What if a firm with known right-wing leanings such as Solid Oak Software was able to purchase the licensing and shutoff rights to software used by Planned Parenthood or the ACLU? And speaking of shutdowns...  

Your government hires hackers to wage undeclared wars in your name.

US government sites ranging from the FBI to the Department of the Interior have gotten walloped by hackers during the past few weeks, and the Feds are wringing their hands in the media about how these nasty hackers are simply common criminals and not making a political statement at all, whatever they claim.  So what does it mean when the Feds enlist hackers to attack foreign governments and their sovereign rulers?  

In May, Newsweek published reports stating that government hackers had been authorized to “diddle” with Serb president Slobodan Milosevic’s international bank accounts. Whether or not you regard that kind of news as mere FUD, it hardly inspires confidence in your own account’s security or sanctity. And what happens if you become an enemy of the state?  (Can you imagine how much fun Dick Nixon could have had with a roomful of hackers and his Enemies List?)  

Your government allows -- no, encourages -- them to spy on you.

Can you imagine a system of spy posts and satellites that captures almost every e-mail, fax, phone call, or other transmission, scans it for certain key words and concepts, and files it (and you, the sender or recipient) for future reference?  And what if the US, UK, Canadian, and other governments were working together to spy on each other’s citizens with such a device?  It sounds like X-Files conspiracy fodder.  Problem is, last month the Australian government admitted to The (Melbourne) Age that science fiction became science fact years ago.  

The system is called Echelon, and it’s run by a five-country consortium called UKUSA, which for the past 50 years has been in the business of signals intelligence (“sigint”).  In the US, Echelon’s operation falls in the bailiwick of the National Security Agency.  But that’s not who’s spying on you: in a legal sleight-of-hand, the five countries work together to circumvent respective prohibitions on domestic espionage.  A US agency can’t legally gather information on Americans -- but under international law, a British (or Australian or Kiwi) agency can gather it and hand it off.  

According to some published reports, Echelon automatically intercepts millions of messages per hour and feeds them into a system called the Dictionary, which parses them against “collection requirements” specified by the various spy agencies involved; messages with attention-getting content are routed to the requesting agencies.  According to the Australian government, some of the current collection filters seek out Japanese trade-ministry plans, information on Pakistani nuclear capabilities, and various data on North Korea’s slide into the economic abyss.  Economic information is in fact highly pertinent data for the signatory countries, and there are few restrictions on collecting it.  

The computing firepower involved is prodigious, but it’s not unattainable.  (Echelon also includes taps on the Net and, since 1971, on underwater cables.)  It has been documented that Echelon monitors the communications infrastructures used by diplomats, criminals, and industrialists; what’s unknown is how far that net is cast and how much data is actually parsed.  Worse, the heavy veil of secrecy under which Echelon has operated makes its workings opaque even to US government officials.  The NSA likes it like that; when Congress recently requested more disclosure on Echelon-related information, the NSA declined to cooperate citing (to the bafflement of Congress) attorney-client privilege.  

The good news is that the US may be about to get its Echelon flakes frosted by the international community.  Since the US and UK have been denying the existence of UKUSA for nearly half a century, one can only imagine how overjoyed they were to see the Australians on the record about it.  Various European parliamentary bodies have commissioned reports to discover exactly what info Echelon tracks and what’s done with it; a number of companies (including Boeing nemesis Airbus) have already charged the US with redirecting sensitive information to “preferred” American competitors.  And the backlash is widening: the UK, formerly in virtual lockstep with US calls for privacy “key escrow,” has suddenly stepped off the bus.  (Key escrow allows private citizens to use data-protecting encryption, as long as the government is free to decrypt it -- sort of like putting a lock on your door but being required to leave a key hanging next to the doorbell.)  

Now, before you flip the page and forget about this cant, because all this wild-eyed talk is annoying and because the government isn’t really going to bother People Like Us because we’re not (choose one: criminals, addicts, foreigners, left-wing, right-wing, poor, rich, online shoppers, hackers, terrorists, of color), get this straight: You may not think you’re a dangerous commodity, and I sure may not think you’re a dangerous commodity, but that doesn’t matter.  You’re being tracked, hacked, and attacked anyway -- just in case -- just like the rest of us.*  


*According to a recent article in The Progressive Review, over 100 of the 137 predictors or indicators of a grim, totalitarian future in Orwell's 1984 have already come to pass.  As for the other side, one of the most promising e-commerce sites has named itself soma.com -- a Brave New World homage that went almost entirely unnoticed. <http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/9927/features-gunn.shtml>


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company -- June 3, 2002  

“J. Edgar Mueller”  


WASHINGTON:  Under the police powers it operated under last year, and with the lawful cooperation of a better-managed C.I.A., an efficiently run F.B.I. might well have prevented the catastrophe of Sept. 11. That is the dismaying probability that Congressional oversight (it should be called undersight) will begin to show this week.  

To fabricate an alibi for his nonfeasance, and to cover up his department’s embarrassing cut of the counterterrorism budget last year, Attorney General John Ashcroft - working with his hand-picked aide, F.B.I. Director “J. Edgar” Mueller III - gutted guidelines put in place a generation ago to prevent the abuse of police power by the federal government.  

They have done this deed by executive fiat: no public discussion, no Congressional action, no judicial guidance. If we had only had these new powers last year, goes their posterior-covering pretense, we could have stopped terrorism cold.  

Not so.  They had the power to collect the intelligence, but lacked the intellect to analyze the data the agencies collected.  The F.B.I.’s failure to absorb the Phoenix and Minneapolis memos was compounded by the C.I.A.’s failure to share information it had about two of the Arab terrorists in the U.S. who would become hijackers (as revealed by Newsweek today).  Thus we see the seizure of new powers of surveillance is a smokescreen to hide failure to use the old power.  

Ashcroft claims he is merely allowing the feds to attend public events, or to surf the Internet, which “even a 12-year-old can do.” That’s a masterful deceit: under the former anti-abuse guidelines, of course the F.B.I. could send an agent into a ballpark, church or political rally. All it needed was “information or an allegation whose responsible handling required some further scrutiny” - not even “probable cause” to investigate a crime, but a mere tip about possible wrongdoing.  

Same with surfing the Net or reading a newspaper or watching television news. Often that’s how F.B.I. agents in the field have been alerted to a potential crime, and could then open a preliminary inquiry. If a lead showed “reasonable indication of criminal activity,” agents could initiate a full investigation without going through Washington headquarters - hiring informants, staking out a house, seeking wiretap and search warrants.  

But under the new Ashcroft-Mueller diktat, that necessary hint of potential criminal activity is swept away. With not a scintilla of evidence of a crime being committed, the feds will be able to run full investigations for one year. That’s aimed at generating suspicion of criminal conduct - the very definition of a "“ishing expedition.”  

Not to worry, say governmental perps - we won’t collect data in dossiers on individuals or social or political clubs or church groups - the sort of abuse that suppressed dissent in “the bad old days.”  

Just because the F.B.I. brass hats are presently computer illiterate, do they think the public is totally ignorant of the ability of today’s technologists to combine government surveillance reports, names on membership lists, and “data mining” by private snoops to create an instant dossier on law-abiding Americans?  

Consider the new reach of federal power: the income-tax return you provided your mortgage lender; your academic scores and personnel ratings, credit card purchases and E-ZPass movements; your political and charitable contributions, charge account at your pharmacist and insurance records; your subscription to non-mainstream publications like The Nation or Human Events, every visit to every Web site and comment to every chat room, and every book or movie you bought or even considered on Amazon.com - all newly combined with the tickets, arrests, press clips, full field investigations and raw allegations of angry neighbors or rejected lovers that flow into the F.B.I.

All your personal data is right there at the crossroads of modern marketing and federal law enforcement. And all in the name of the war on terror.  

This is not some nightmare of what may happen someday. It happened last week. Jim Sensenbrenner, chairman of House Judiciary, said the removal of restraints made him “queasy”; Pat Leahy of Senate Judiciary is too busy blocking judges to object. Some sunshine libertarians are willing to suffer this loss of personal freedom in the hope that the Ashcroft-Mueller rules of intrusion may prevent a terror attack. They won’t because they’re a fraud. 

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company  



Redistricting         A Case for Free Elections

Counting Votes         The (9) Supremes

Missing 13th Amendment         9-11-2001         Justice, Order, and Law

State of the Union

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You

Forward to:

9-11-2001         Homeland InSecurity

The War on Terrorism is Bogus          Free Speech


The Milgram Effect

Freedom of Religion        Holy War        The Rules of Holy War

Racism and Culturalism         Multiculturalism         Perils of Immigration

The Halls of SCOTUS

An American Third Party         A Third Party That Knows How to Party



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