Big Brother Is Watching You!
It was in 1949 when George Orwell published his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four where “big brother” is the mysterious dictator of a totalitarian state called Oceania. The tyrant and his hatchet men wield unlimited control over his one-party state by closely guarding the people on ubiquitous television screens.
Orwell assumed that within 35 years--by 1984--despotic regimes ruled by men like Stalin and Hitler would exert limitless control over their subjects, “right down to their very inner thoughts.” Americans generally remained certain that such police supervision of every individual by day and night could only happen in other countries.
Yet, the Washington Post recently reported that there are nowadays 3,984 federal, state and local organizations guarding against domestic counterterrorism and collecting information on people. Privacy may be eroding fast because the latest technology offers government increasing ways to spy on citizens. Bill Quigley, the associate director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, published information on the main agencies scrutinizing us.
Most important among the watchdogs, the National Security Agency (NSA) is known to collect millions of emails and phone calls and has the ability to sift through them. The monthly magazine WIRED, which covers new and developing technology, just reported that NSA is building “an immense new data center which will intercept, analyze and store even more electronic communications from satellites and cables across the nation and the world. Though NSA is not supposed to focus on US citizens, it does.”
Quigley found that he national security branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has more than 1.5 billion government and private sector records about US citizens. The New York Times reported that “cellphones of private individuals in the US are being tracked without warrants by state and local law enforcement all across the country. With more than 300 million cellphones in the US connected to more than 200,000 cell phone towers, cellphone tracking software can pinpoint the location of a phone.”
More than 62 million Americans have their fingerprints on file with the FBI, as well as with state and local governments. According to Quigley’s inquiry, the agency’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System “shares information with 43 states and 5 federal agencies. This system conducts more than 168,000 checks each day.” The FBI also has genetic and facial recognition profiles on over 10 million people in its DNA index.
The Department of Homeland Security operates an Automated Biometric Identification System which was described as conducting about 250,000 biometric transactions each day and has so far produced over 126 million fingerprints, photographs and biographical data.”
The Consular Consolidated Database of the Department of State (DOD) has issued over 110 million visas and adds an average of 35,000 daily. It then can enter the visa recipients’ photographs into its facial recognition records. The personal data on DOD employees are filed in the Department’s Intelligence Community Security Clearance Repository, commonly known as “Scattered Castles.” The DOD also operates a biometric identification system with “fingerprint, palm print, face and iris matching on 6 million people.”
The National Counterterrorism Center keeps information on over 740,000 people in its “Terrorist Identities Data Mart.” This is the federal government’s repository of intelligence on presumed terrorists, most of them foreign nationals. Records on citizens and legal residents, however, may now also be retained for up to five years.
The FBI’s project on suspicious activity reporting (SAR) has already assembled over 160,000 profiles of thousands of Americans who have not been accused of any crime but who allegedly acted suspiciously. The FBI admitted to having about 3,000 GPS tracking devices on cars of unsuspecting people, even after the Supreme Court authorized such tracking only after issuance of a warrant for probable cause. Bloomberg News reported that the newest surveillance products that can “secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices,” may change the contents of written emails in mid-transmission, and use voice recognition to scan phone networks.Professor Quigley concluded that the “advanced technology of the war on terrorism, combined with deferential courts and legislators, have endangered both the right to privacy and the right of people to be free from government snooping and tracking.”