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The Internet is Watching You

July 10, 2008

This is one of those issues that I think is very scary for American citizens, but that (still) isn’t making much press.

Essentially, this means that we are moving more towards an Orwellian “Big Brother” state, all in the name of protection from terrorism.

Originally, the government was only supposed to be monitoring international phone calls.  However, it was in fact monitoring every communication, both phone and internet, and both domestic and international.

Keep in mind that nearly anybody can be targetted directly through this process.  The “seven degrees of Kevin Bacon” effect is pretty much true for our society as well, although probably at a slightly higher degree.

There’s a surprisingly small chain of acquaintances you need to follow to link yourself to nearly everyone else in the country or planet.  If one of those individuals is targeted for investigation, you will most likely have all of your information pulled and filtered as well. Keep in mind the government has already lied to us once about the extent and nature of the information it looks at.

Some people may not have a problem with this, but keep in mind that the guy in the ABC documentary was able to walk in, without security clearance, and gather information on this illegal setup in the ATT building.  Others may be able to do the same, and unscrupulous employees with access to the actual machines may be able to as well.  So, even if you say you’re not doing “anything wrong”, you’re still at risk from a breech of information.

Others might say “I’m not important enough for criminals to target”… but keep in mind that other people are.  Politicians, judges, CEO’s, etc.  It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when this power will be abused.  Information about or against certain people is worth much more than the lifelong salary of an NSA or security guard.  The blackmail or abuse of information for such people will have a far reaching negative impact for all others.

Furthermore, the government has just recently enacted a FISA amendment which effectively eliminates a good deal of the legal responsibility of phone companies. Here’s the actual bill, and here’s a wikipedia entry describing it.

Here’s the relevant section (802A):

[A] civil action may not lie or be maintained in a Federal or State court against any person for providing assistance to an element of the intelligence community, and shall be properly dismissed, if the Attorney General certifies to the district court of the United States in which such action is pending that . . . (4) the assistance alleged to have been provided . . . was —

(A) in connection with intelligence activity involving communications that was (i) authorized by the President during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, and ending on January 17, 2007 and (ii) designed to prevent or detect a terrorist attack, or activities in preparation of a terrorist attack, against the United States” and(B) the subject of a written request or directive . . . indicating that the activity was (i) authorized by the President; and (ii) determined to be lawful.

This means, even if the phone companies do something illegal like monitor internet traffic for the government, or something even more illegal like leak the information to others (accidentally or otherwise), the Attorney General can give them a get out of jail free card, saying that they were helping with national defense. Then, they cannot be held accountable by state judicial systems (which most individuals would work through to settle claims).  Furthermore, the government’s ability to (legally) monitor and retain information has been greatly increased  (note that these limitations have not mattered to them before).

Department of Defense officials play up the role of needing these powers to catch terrorists and sexual predators and deviants.  However, keep in mind that they did not need these powers to stop 9/11, they could’ve done so with competent (legal) intelligence gathering and sharing.

The worst part is, neither one of the two presidential candidates voted against the recent FISA bill. Obama voted for it, McCain didn’t bother showing up.

It’s very, very, sad to see it happen in my generation.  I had thought of the Internet and Web as one of the greatest achievements of mankind. Now it more of an impending tool of oppression.

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