OPINION – Even though Mexico is hurricane country and frequently has inclement weather that can wreak havoc with social media because of an electric outage that can collapse the communications infrastructure and disrupt telecommunications, we never witnessed a state of emergency while living on the Baja.
A fairly innocuous statement?
You see, just about every word in that first paragraph is what the Department of Homeland Security calls a keyword that can trigger the sensors that monitor our email and Internet usage. The words come from a list published by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which describes itself on its EPIC.org website as a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. that was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and Constitutional values.
So, somewhere, there very well could be some government computer geek reading this, wondering what in the heck is going on just a few hours south of where the feds are building one of the largest and most secure data repositories in the world—the National Security Agency’s Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center at Camp Williams near Bluffdale, Utah.
The facility will include a 1 million-square-foot building and cost taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion.
Now, the NSA isn’t going to tell us exactly what will take place at the facility. That would, after all, be a breach of security. But, based on what we do know about the NSA, dating back a good 10 years, we can surmise it won’t be good.
We had, of course, incidents of the NSA executing warrantless searches of emails and phone calls and Internet searches during the Bush administration. We have the most recent incidence of disclosure from a whistleblower who told The Guardian that the agency ordered Verizon to hand over telephone records detailing the time, location and telephone numbers involved in domestic calls last year from April 25 to July 19.
Thursday, the Guardian and The Washington Post disclosed the existence of PRISM (Planning tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization and Management), a program they said allows NSA analysts to extract details of customer activities — including “audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents” and other material — from computers at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet firms.
We can laugh and joke all we want about how boring it would be for some federal computer geek to have to listen in to our cell conversations, read our emails, or track our Internet usage, but that would be the epitome of ignorance because whether our data trail is somber or salacious doesn’t matter, the fact that our rights to privacy are being destroyed should trigger fear in the hearts of those who embrace liberty.
We have already seen, for example, the egregious assault on privacy at the Associated Press where telephone records were seized supposedly in the name of national security.
Now, the thing is, we are told that this is all in our best interest, that it helps prevent terrorist strikes on our own soil, keeps the bad guys at bay, but we never learn how successful these measures are because, well, the security wizards are under no obligation to reveal the results of these incursions into civil privacy.
“Trust us,” they say.
Not on your life.
Liberty is not negotiable.
But, it has been secretly, and not-so-secretly, under fire for decades.
In 1940, the FBI used unpaid American Legion post members as confidential sources within their communities to collect information regarding domestic security; in 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which
prescribes procedures for the physical and electronic surveillance and collection of “foreign intelligence information” between “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers,” which may include American citizens and permanent residents; in 1983, Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, William French Smith, lifted restrictions imposed
on the FBI’s domestic surveillance activities. Since then, we’ve had Operation TIPS, a program initiated by the Bush administration whereby U.S. workers who have access to private citizens’ homes, such as cable installers and telephone repair workers, could report on what was in people’s homes if it was deemed “suspicious.”
There was the TSA business, the Patriot Act, the Department of Defense TALON Program (Threat and Local Observation Notice) to gather information on anti-war protests and rallies, which are First Amendment rights the DOD has taken an oath to defend.
And, these are simply the highlights of the government’s continuing surveillance of its people.
Now, before you argue the knee-jerk argument that “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” remember that a statement of such sophomoric logic is an insult to, at minimum, our First and Fourth Amendments. By allowing government eavesdropping on our private conversations — whether written in emails or spoken on a telephone—we are throttling our personal freedoms because we are all innocent until proven guilty and, well, the cops — oops, there’s another word on the Homeland Security list — cannot investigate you, whether by looking at your phone records or correspondence, without probable cause.
But soon, well, as soon as this billion-dollar baby goes up near Bluffdale, they’ll be taking all this info, examining it, assessing what threat level you or I pose, and storing all our personal and private stuff in an electronic warehouse.
Thanks, Big Brother.
Have a nice day.
I hope that’s safe to say.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Email: [email protected]
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