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?
Sam Antonio interviews John Hallman, Legislative Affairs Director, Florida Campaign for Liberty.
Apologists for the State often excuse its surveillance by claiming that those who’ve done nothing wrong have nothing to hide. This implies that only criminals object to Leviathan’s all-seeing eye.
We’d have to head to Congress for anything more illogical or disgustingly craven. Meanwhile, a mystical and perhaps mythical Chinese philosopher from 2600 years ago deftly skewers this nonsense: “The more laws are enacted and taxes assessed,” Lao Tzu wrote, “the greater the number of lawbreakers and tax evaders.” A government big enough to spy on us is big enough to legislate on just about every subject. Which means we all fracture many laws each day, often unwittingly, whether jaywalking, relaxing with some weed, or bending the IRS’s byzantine rules in our favor.
Criminalizing huge swaths of behavior is one of government’s favorite weapons. Not only does it bring much of life under rulers’ control, it also silences dissent. Authorities can easily muzzle critics by investigating them. Given an endless list of laws and the likelihood of having broken some, which of us wouldn’t quail at the threat of such a fishing expedition?
Facebook continues to be the subject of controversy over issues of privacy, this time because Facebook cookies were found to be accidentally tracking other sites users visited after they had logged off. The information is then sent to Facebook via the cookies, provoking concerns over users’ privacy violations.
According to The Daily Mail, the cookies “send Facebook your IP address — the ‘unique identifier’ address of your PC — and information on whether you have visited millions of websites: anything with a Facebook ‘like’ or ‘recommend’ button on it.”
One Facebook spokesperson admitted, “We place cookies on the computer of the user,” and that some of those cookies do in fact send back the address of the users’ PCs and sites they visited, even while logged out. “Three of these cookies inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. We did not store these for logged out users. We could not have used this information.”
The malfunction was made public by Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic, who was disgruntled with the recent changes made to Facebook.