Friday, March 07, 2008


The banality of the surveillance state

by Glenn Greenwald

Independent of revelations yesterday that the FBI has been abusing its NSL powers for years, it was also reported that the Federal Government is now launching "a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information." The system will store broad new categories of data about the behavior of Americans -- from the mildly suspicious to the perfectly innocuous -- and will create "new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues."

When asked yesterday during her weekly chat about the dangers of this new system, The Washington Post's intelligence reporter Dana Priest, one of the country's few truly great investigative journalists, said this (typos corrected):

Savannah, Ga.: Dana, what's the flap about this new info sharing system? From what I read in the article, it only shares existing data. . . . Anyway, this seems to be merely a case of reality catching up to Hollywood . . . after all, we've been watching "CSI" and "NCIS" for years where they make a few keystrokes and a suspect's entire life comes pouring out. This was supposed to be one of the things put in after Sept. 11, correct?

Dana Priest: Ah ha -- but was is "legal" information? Sure, if you get arrested that's one thing; or even picked up as a suspect in a crime. Let's use the example in the story: You have a flat tire near a nuclear power plant. The cop puts that into the data bases and discovers you've had three flat tires outside nuclear power plants in the last year. Now that's interesting and worth looking into, right?

But does that mean something as simple and innocent as a flat tire gets added into the data base. Would that be legal? Switch out "flat tire" for "defaulting on a loan" or "attending a political rally" or "gun purchases" -- all legal things. Does it bother you that the police could link up your political rally attendance if they had some other reason to query your information? You see where it's going . . . . lots of questions. Would have to have safeguards to make it acceptable, I'm certain.

The amount of data which the Federal Government now collects and stores regarding the behavior of innocent American citizens is truly staggering. It is just literally true that the Government now maintains sweeping digital dossiers on its citizens, including ones who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing of any kind. And without much debate or attention of any kind, the amount of monitoring and the scope of the data just keeps growing. Since when was sweeping domestic surveillance and keeping records about innocent Americans ever supposed to be a function of the Federal Government?

Read the rest here

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