Legislation

Like their American counterparts, British officials are increasingly opting for so-called "security" rather than ensuring the privacy of their citizens. In Oxford, England, security officials have announced a plan to install surveillance cameras in private taxicabs.

 

The United Kingdom has announced that it will continue to use airport body scanners and backscatter X-ray scanners and will not permit passengers to opt out of the machines if they are chosen for further screening — despite reports of the potential dangers posed by radiation from the machines. The announcement follows the European Commission’s adoption of strict new guidelines regarding the limited use of the body scanners and a full ban of the backscatter X-ray scanners pending further studies.

A harshly critical new report by congressional investigators says that despite spending close to $60 billion on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), screening is based on “theatrics” that has failed to catch any terrorists, while passengers and crew are still the most effective line of defense. Air travel, meanwhile, is no safer than it was before September 11, 2001.

Instead of focusing on security, the agency has become “an enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy, more concerned with human resource management and consolidating power,” according to the investigation released on November 16. “Today, TSA's screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public.”

The Joint Majority Staff Report entitled "A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform" sharply criticized the widespread waste and inefficiency that is rife throughout the “bloated bureaucracy.” The agency also suffers from a lack of administrative competency, investigators found.

According to the report, TSA has more than 65,000 employees. That means it has more personnel than the Departments of Labor, Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and State — combined. And its own “classified” performance results “do not reflect a good return on this taxpayer investment,” investigators said.

Not long ago, factions on both sides of the political aisle — from Republican Senator Charles Grassley in 1994, to liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in 2008 — viewed allegations of massive prying by government agencies, which purportedly tracked the personal information and activities of private citizens, as lunatic-fringe alarmism. But in the aftermath of United States v. Jones last week, even former skeptics are worried that the proverbial boat has sailed.

 

The Federal Trade Commission reportedly forwarded a settlement offer last week to social media behemoth Facebook. The FTC began investigating Facebook over claims that the latter was violating the privacy of millions of users by changing the default value of several privacy settings without providing prior notice to subscribers.

According to published accounts of the content of the proposed settlement agreement, Facebook would agree to obtain advance, express consent from users before sharing any material that was posted prior to the new guidelines.
 
 

The Department of Homeland Security has announced it will be bringing it’s "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign to hotel rooms across the nation. Guests checking in at reputable hotels like the Marriott and Hilton will be greeted by a message featuring Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano immediately upon turning on their televisions.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign was launched in July 2010, as a “simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and violent crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local law enforcement authorities.” It was launched in conjunction with the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) which is touted by the DHS as “an administration-wide effort to develop, evaluate, and implement common processes and policies for gathering, documenting, processing, analyzing, and sharing information about terrorism-related suspicious activities.”

It was first utilized by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), but will be reportedly expanding. UPI explains, “The Department of Homeland Security is turning to television and public service announcements to urge U.S. hotel guests to fight terrorism.” The same PSAs that will be aired in hotel rooms are already playing at hundreds of Wal-Marts across the country. They will now be expanded to 5,400 hotels that are serviced by television provider LodgeNet.

When Ben Franklin declared, “Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” he wisely predicted that the American people would often be prone to willingly forego their rights for so-called protection from the federal government. The clearest example of that has been with the inception of the PATRIOT Act, which has garnered a surprising level of support from the majority of Americans; however, there are a number of local examples of that exchange of liberty for safety as well. The most recent example can be found in cities across the country: high tech street lights which act as surveillance cameras as well as display signs.

Produced by Illuminating Concepts, the “Intellistreets” feature motion sensors and video surveillance, and are composed of a “wireless digital infrastructure that allows them to be controlled remotely by means of a ubiquitous wi-fi link and a miniature computer housed inside each street light, allowing for ‘security, energy management, data harvesting and digital media,’” reports Prison Planet.

The devices are also set to aid the Department of Homeland Security by displaying “security announcements.” CBS Detroit reports, “The signs can be programmed by authorities to show any message — a civic welcome, directions to parking for festivals or farmer’s markets, maps, pretty much anything the imagination can conceive. In emergencies, they can also post pictures of children being sought in Amber Alerts or the location of toxic chemical releases or the paths of tornadoes (and more importantly, how to stay away from those dangerous areas)."
 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has long turned a deaf ear to criticism and complaints. Whenever its groping of toddlers sets the country howling, the TSA responds that employees “followed proper … procedure.” Ditto when they inspect a 95-year-old invalid’s diaper or drench a survivor of bladder-cancer in his own urine — twice. Last week they even searched trucks and busses in Tennessee to huge outcry nationwide and a sharp rebuke from the heroic Ron Paul. But you can bet such opposition will only increase the number of these internal checkpoints.

Likewise, the more passengers protested the agency’s computerized strip-searches at airports, the more it insisted that its “whole-body imagers” didn’t violate anyone’s modesty. It even changed the porno-scanners’ name to convince us:  “AIT [advanced imaging technology] machines … have built-in safeguards to protect passenger privacy,” administrator John Pistole repeatedly asserted. Indeed, he called those safeguards “rigorous” in an editorial for USAToday.

Yet now the agency’s adding software to protect privacy it swears didn’t need protecting. The software supposedly substitutes a generic figure that resembles a genderless gingerbread-man for the picture of our naked bodies the scanners produced — pictures the TSA’s “area director” in Denver, Colorado, admitted “were graphic, no doubt about it.” Mr. Gingerbread appears on the monitor as a stand-in for all passengers, or so claims the TSA, which lies about everything, all the time; yellow boxes highlight any contraband. If you leave your cell-phone in your hip pocket, Mr. G blushes yellow there.

First it was airports. Then it was bus and train stations. Now, under the Transportation Security Administration’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, even the highways aren’t safe from the TSA’s prying eyes and probing fingers.

“Tennessee is now the first state ever to work with the TSA to deploy a simultaneous counterterrorism operation statewide,” according to Nashville’s WTVF-TV. That operation, which involved the TSA along with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS) and state and local police, was deployed at “five weigh stations and two bus stations across the state,” the station reports.

It was a two-pronged approach, the report adds. Government agents were “recruiting truck drivers … into the First Observer Highway Security Program to say something if they see something.” At the same time, “the Tennessee Highway Patrol checked trucks with drug and bomb sniffing dogs during random inspections.”

One might expect the searches to make recruiting more difficult; but at least one truck driver, Rudy Gonzales, seemed willing to assist the TSA just the same. He told WTVF reporter Adam Ghassemi: “Not only truck drivers, but cars, everybody should be aware of what’s going on, on the road.”

Oh happy day! A check from the government! No, not a welfare check or a “stimulus” check, but a refund check to your editor from the U.S. Department of the Treasury — for tax year 2007. Seems the IRS — a division of the Treasury — with which this scribbler has had a running feud, has surrendered. After years of dunning me with claims that I owe thousands in back taxes and penalties, the good folks at the IRS have shown mercy; they have agreed with me that I overpaid my taxes. And they have generously deigned to return several thousand dollars of my meager salary that they had previously confiscated — with interest, no less!

What’s not to love about a government so kind, and munificent? Of course, in order to obtain the refund (of my own money), yours truly was forced to spend a couple hundred hours of indentured servitude researching, copying, and documenting records and receipts. Not to mention hundreds of dollars in accounting fees. Even worse though is the incredible invasion of privacy one faces for the decision to itemize deductions and business expenses, in the hope of retaining a fraction more of one’s hard-earned income. But after all, Big Brother must know of, and approve of, every penny earned and spent by the taxpayer — to keep us all honest, and keep us all paying our “fair share,” so that the government can keep doing all the wonderful things it does for us, right? That’s the “American way,” yes?

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