Politics, Economics, and the Law
“They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.” – Frédéric Bastiat
Or, perhaps another quote would have sufficed; “Who watches the watchmen?”
Technology marches on, steadily introducing new avenues for oppression. And it would seem that They won’t rest until the whole of us have been examined, numbered, and cataloged. “They” seems to encompass a variety of people and organizations, all of whom appear to believe that the key to making the world More Decent is just a little less privacy for everyone.
For example, the FBI wants tech companies to provide built-in back doors for government access. Presumably, if you oppose the idea of all your social media and communications software coming set up for government snooping, you probably support Terrorism and/or Child Pornography. The rhetoric nearly always frames these sorts of things as the false choice between either “Giving law enforcement the Tools It Needs” or “Letting the bogeymen win.”
The NSA, as part of their continuing efforts to elevate themselves to the status of comic book villains, informed the Senate’s Intelligence Oversight Committee that they essentially had no idea how many Americans had been spied on, couldn’t devote the manpower to figure this out without hindering their ability to continue spying, and would consider it a violation of citizens’ right to privacy to say, even if they did know. I don’t even know where to begin. I would certainly hope the NSA knows how many Americans it has intentionally spied upon. That should be simple math, counting up the files. I can certainly believe they may not know how many Americans have been accidentally spied upon. This is an agency that is attempting to analyze all communications. All. That they’d be unaware they were listening in on your calls to Aunt Mavis back at the farm until someone told them it was happening is completely believable. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, just that it seems like a very real possibility. But that they would tell the people in charge of their oversight that it would violate Americans’ privacy to know that their privacy was being violated is some kind of insane troll logic. It’s hard to formulate a good reply, because you don’t even know how they could arrive at that conclusion.
Or perhaps we do know how they arrive at these sorts of conclusions. These are the kind of statements and policies put forward by people who firmly believe themselves to be our betters. They’re doing important work; protecting the sloppy masses from the demons that live in this world. Demons we may not even be aware exist. Their power has made them arrogant, and given them a profound sense of entitlement. Good People do Good Things, and they are Good. As such, how could anything they do be Bad? They are the Holy Paladins, who’ve turned into the demons they fight.
Or perhaps they’re just thugs. It’s probably a coin toss.
But at least neither the FBI nor the NSA is advocating that everyone be bar-coded (at least not yet). Elizabeth Moon is suggesting just that. This is one of those fanciful ideas that probably seems just swell to the same sort of people who’d advocate for more surveillance. The idea being that our wise rulers are hampered greatly due to the fact that they’re not omniscient. So, naturally, instead of restricting their powers to minimize the damage they can do, we should instead try and get them as close to omniscience as possible.
Moving right along, a company called IDair has developed a system capable of reading fingerprints from six meters away. The current customers are, predictably, military. But the creator sees the system being rolled out for civilian purposes, foreseeing, among other uses, being used as a way to purchase things without bringing your wallet. This presupposes a system where your bank account is tied to your biometrics. This is probably one of those things that either bothers your a lot, or not at all. I’m firmly in the first camp.
Perhaps IDair could be used right alongside the cameras being deployed around twenty San Francisco bars. SceneTap is the company installing the cameras, and the goal is apparently to build demographic data so that you know which establishments you’d like to go to, when you’re out on the town. Fair enough. But if we take a stroll down the slippery slope, how soon until a system such as this would be used for more objectionable purposes? Facial recognition linked to biometric databases could be used to determine whether a bar patron is of age. Or perhaps subpoenaed for a divorce case to cast one parent’s visits to the local watering hole as evidence of their unfitness to raise children. Crack open a cold one, and let slip the dogs of well-founded paranoia.
In the name of fighting the never-ending War on Drugs™, the DEA would like to scan the license plates of all vehicles travelling I-15 in Utah. Then they’d like to keep that data for two years. This would create a record of movement that I feel certain wouldn’t stay tied to only drug investigations. Mission creep inevitably sets in, and the data would surely be used for purposes that weren’t initially considered. And when they sort out who you are, they could just track you via your cell phone, even if it’s not GPS-enabled.
Or, as Futurama put it, describing the evil robotic Santa, “He knows when you’ve been sleeping! / He knows when you’re on the can! / He’ll hunt you down and blast your ass from here to Pakistan!”
I don’t care for drones on the battlefield. While it is quite possible they cut down on the number of our own military personnel getting killed and/or maimed (you will hear this referred to as “saving lives,” though the drones certainly don’t appear to be saving the lives of anyone else), I believe they create an insurmountable moral hazard.
I am no happier to have them flying around in U.S. airspace. Wired reports that there are, at present, 64 known drone bases on U.S. soil. The number of drones and bases is likely to increase, and drones are likely to proliferate widely. That there would be drones, and drone bases on American soil is interesting, but hardly shocking. The military also has a great many other vehicles, weapons, explosives, etc. on American soil. After all, where else are they supposed to put these things when they’re not being used for the intended purposes? But what uses will these drones be put to, while they’re here? Well, surveying military bases, government property, the occasional disaster zone, and maybe the odd bit of completely-totally-accidental surveillance.
“Oops, it seems we’ve inadvertently spied on you. Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to get rid of that information. Hand to God. Right after hanging onto it for 90 days to see whether we can make a legal case for keeping it, and passing it on to other government agencies if we can.”
Call me cynical, but in the present political and legal climate, I see little reason to suspect the information won’t be retained, given even the flimsiest pretense of a reason. Especially when you’ve got people such as Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell saying that police drones would just fantastic.
Increased safety and reduced manpower are among the reasons the U.S. military and intelligence community use drones on the battlefield, which is why it should be considered in Virginia, he says.
Indeed. It’s vital that our gendarmerie be able to enforce order with minimum of cost and inconvenience. And while police drones, at present, are extremely unlikely to act in any capacity other than tracking and surveillance, is it completely out of reason to expect them to evolve into an armed form? Not a week goes by where you don’t read about a questionable police shooting, or wrong-address SWAT raid, or somesuch event. Are police drones something we actually want?
Not that what we want matters very much. The State will exert its will when and where it cares to, so long as we react with our characteristic passivity.
Lawfare reports that Senator Rand Paul (R. KY) has introduced legislation intended to prohibit (for the most part) the use of drones for surveillance by the U.S. government. I wouldn’t bet the farm on the bill passing, but it is nice that someone in Washington is attempting to nip this in the bud.
There are several news pieces I’ve been procrastinating on linking, and issues I’ve been putting off discussing. If anyone asks why, I’ll say I’ve been caught up in the SOPA/PIPA fight. Now where to begin…
The TSA, apparently not content with merely being a headache and/or terror at airports across the nation, have decided it’d be a rather good idea to also slow down your bus and train experience. Recognizing that that this still leaves the travelling public with the option of driving, there has also been an expansion of TSA’s VIPR program, including a joint exercise in Tennessee between the TSA and THP. In light of the past decade, it seems reasonable to assume that if you’re not seeing them where you live, they’ll get there sooner or later. The expansion of security screenings pairs nicely with the “If you see something, say something” propaganda campaign that is currently being employed by the Department of Homeland Security. These short ads depict ordinary people thwarting terrorism by reporting the activities of strangers to police, TSA agents, etc. The lesson being taught is that no one can be trusted, and that anyone around you could be a terrorist preparing to blow something up in the semi-near future, but fortunately you could be a hero if you have the quick thinking necessary to find a nearby blueshirt and inform on a stranger.
Not to be outdone, the NYPD is working with the Pentagon to deploy mobile imaging scanners to New York streets in addition to the already widespread cameras. Is it constitutional to use these devices? I wouldn’t think so, but I kind of doubt that will stop anyone. Civil rights are an outdated concept meant for a more innocent age; a relic of pre-9/11 thinking.
Drones are being operated in the United States by various groups. This in and of itself isn’t really news. We know the Border Patrol employs them for various missions, some not directly related to their named purpose. The EFF would like a full account of who is operating them, but the FAA won’t tell them. It seems the government is content to let them speculate.
What is the purpose of all this? The end-game?
The constant propaganda to keep us afraid of terrorists ensures docility among those not overly blessed in critical thinking, the perpetual wars to ensure there will be a supply of actual terrorists should they be needed, and the technology is there to do nearly everything but directly monitor our thoughts (but they’re hard at work on that). We are witnessing the birth of the perfect surveillance state; the ne plus ultra of police states. Complete knowledge, and total control. The provisions in the NDAA to allow the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, and the enemy expatriation act in the works (H.R. 3166, S.1698) to ensure if we balk at that, then our citizenship can simply be revoked, making us into non-persons.
Is there really that much freedom left to fight for?