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Assume you’re being watched

Published: Wed, July 17, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By William A. COLLINS


In my own malcontent civic organization, Veterans For Peace, we’ve always known we were being watched. We are, after all, against war. And we’re impolite enough about it to hold up signs.

We’ve been monitored, infiltrated, entrapped, stung, eavesdropped, raided, arrested, and exiled far from important happenings.

And why not? Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Franz Kafka, and Ray Bradbury long ago explained how the system would work once those in authority got their act together and the technology to snoop on us all.

Needless to say, there are many other democracy-infatuated groups like ours that suffer similar spying and harassment. It makes little difference who’s in power at the moment. Power is power, and those who hold it want to keep it.

Don’t feel left out

Now it turns out that we dissenters needn’t have been quite so proud of all that snooping. As Edward Snowden — America’s latest whistleblowing superhero — has just divulged, the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA) have been spying on everybody, not just us.

And we Veterans For Peace thought we were special! But it turns out that the authorities have been logging your calls as well. And scanning your email for keywords. And recording your personal movements.

None of us knew about it until Snowden blew a whistle.

Previously, you might have naively expected that your privacy was somehow protected by the Fourth Amendment. You know: freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures and all that. Nice try.

The NSA gave some thought to the Bill of Rights. Then the agency decided that re-evaluating its spy program wasn’t really necessary. It’s much easier to re-evaluate the Fourth Amendment instead.

The government essentially did that in 1978, when it created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This sneaky law created a special secret court to approve otherwise illegal spying on citizens when national security was at stake.

It sounds like a kangaroo court. Last year, there were 1,789 requests for permission to spy — all were granted. In 2011, there were 1,676 requests, and guess what? All of those were granted too.

Subsequent additions to the law have further broadened the government’s reach. Unfortunately, all those covered activities are still secret.

Thus, it’s all but impossible to challenge any of them because we aren’t entitled to the necessary information to find out which things the government’s doing that might be objectionable. Huh? Anyway that’s pretty much what the Supreme Court confirmed back in February.

Meanwhile, the authorities are drilling more peepholes into our private lives.

Candid camera

Nationwide, cameras and recording devices are popping up in public places to capture your comments and to place your whereabouts on record for posterity. Those cameras at intersections meant to snitch if you run a red light have more than one purpose, you know. They record your location forever, as does your car’s GPS. And most cell phones. You want privacy? Maybe you should move to Burkina Faso.

All this surveillance is naturally aimed at protecting us from terrorists. Really?

The FBI has, as expected, trotted out a dozen cases where a holocaust would surely have befallen the land had our sleuths not been illegally spying on us all. Maybe so, but there’s no way to fact-check such claims.

Everything is too secret.

William A. Collins is a former state representative, a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut, and a former member of the Veterans For Peace board. He wrote this for OtherWords, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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