How far will our government go in its effort to control us and keep themselves safe from any threat, or could it be that they really do have our best interest at heart? An article in Wired Magazine written by James Bamford about the new Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah highlights the ever-expanding and scary secret spying on Americans by our government. The art of intelligence gathering has been expanding at unimaginable rates. Methods of gathering information on us from monitoring our location by cell phone GPS signals, to actual monitoring our phone calls, text messaging and e-mail have been improving at great speed under the guise of national security and remain shrouded in secrecy. Huge data bases have been built with more under construction to collect, categorize, analyze and investigate data collected on all of us looking for any perceived threat to national security from drug use to terrorism. Huge computers with amazing speed and capacity pour over data night and day recording and analyzing data from all our phone and computer communications, both personal and business. Data about our web surfing, shopping, internet searches and communications are stored and categorized while being scanned for target words and phrases or connections to known threats. Virtually everything we do is recorded on some computer somewhere and the NSA wants access to that information to examine, looking for any activity it may suspect as criminal or suspicious. Breaking the encryption of all this data takes extremely fast and large computers and they are being built. Former NSA senior crypto-mathematician, William Binney quit the NSA in 2001 citing violations of the U.S. Constitution is his resignation.
Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its
warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,”
he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and
they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started
violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far
larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on
domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the
program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to
80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul
only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with
agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the
country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that
conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes
through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.
The software, created by a company called Narus that’s now part of Boeing, is controlled remotely from NSA headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland and searches US sources for target addresses, locations, countries, and phone numbers, as well as watch-listed names, keywords, and phrases in email. Any communication that arouses suspicion, especially those to or from the million or so people on agency watch lists, are automatically copied or recorded and then transmitted to the NSA.
The scope of surveillance expands from there, Binney says. Once a name is entered into the Narus database, all phone calls and other communications to and from that person are automatically routed to the NSA’s recorders. “Anybody you want, route to a recorder,” Binney says. “If your number’s in there? Routed and gets recorded.” He adds, “The Narus device allows you to take it all.” And when Bluffdale is completed, whatever is collected will be routed there for storage and analysis.
According to Binney, one of the deepest secrets of the Stellar Wind program—again, never confirmed until now—was that the NSA gained warrantless access to AT&T’s vast trove of domestic and international billing records, detailed information about who called whom in the US and around the world. As of 2007, AT&T had more than 2.8 trillion records housed in a database at its Florham Park, New Jersey, complex.
Verizon was also part of the program, Binney says, and that greatly expanded the volume of calls subject to the agency’s domestic eavesdropping. “That multiplies the call rate by at least a factor of five,” he says. “So you’re over a billion and a half calls a day.” (Spokespeople for Verizon and AT&T said their companies would not comment on matters of national security.)
Considering what the government may do with this ever-expanding sea of information Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier published an article in Popsci titled, “Should We Use Big Data To Punish Crimes Before They Are Committed”. Similar to the movie Minority Report, law enforcement may soon have access to unlimited data on all of us fed into huge computers capable of (with surprising accuracy) predicting our behavior. These systems of logarithms that define human behavior and analyze our actions have been shown to predict human aggression with 70% accuracy and it will only get better as advances in these programs are made. As long as this information is not used to punish people for anticipated actions it may not be a problem, but who knows how this loss of privacy will affect our future. Almost as scary is the danger of being categorized and labeled by this information. It could be used to deny employment, insurance and even medical care or gun ownership. How safe will we be when our secrets can be mined and sold. This type of surveillance of our shopping habits and e-mail is already being used to target us with sales and investment offers.
Soon none of us will have any secrets. Drones will soar above us watching our every move and record our communications. Check points with molecular scanners and facial recognition will check if we are armed or carrying drugs and look for people suspected of being criminals. Huge databases with our lives laid bare will be used to target us in ways we never dreamed possible. This information could be used to target gun owners for confiscation or virtually any group or person deemed worthy of government scrutiny. We are all vulnerable to this invasion of privacy and our freedom has already been infringed. Our Constitutional rights are incrementally being neutered and the saddest part is most of us are unaware or unengaged. Apathy may bring the end of freedom as we know it.
This article at Prison Planet.com highlights the recent onslaught of violations of our constitutional rights and the use of ever-increasing surveillance on all aspects of our lives. It discusses the use of drones, information surveillance of our computer and phone usage and smart street lights that can listen to our conversations, track individuals with facial recognition software and cameras and even be used to give instructions through built-in microphones. Who will be the first criminal to surrender to a street light?
A research project under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology) tries to identify potential terrorists by monitoring individuals’ vital signs, body language, and other physiological patterns. The idea is that surveilling people’s behavior may detect their intent to do harm. in tests, the system was 70 percent accurate, according to the DHS. (What this means is unclear; were research subjects instructed to pretend to be terrorists to see if their “malintent” was spotted?) Though these systems seem embryonic, the point is that law enforcement takes them very seriously.
I know this age of information keeps us busy. We are bombarded with texts and e-mail. We have almost limitless entertainment and information at our finger tips. Never in the history of man has so much information been so portable and accessible or so overwhelming. And never have we been so disconnected from the process of governance. It may be caused by apathy or information overload but we have failed to oversee those that govern us and hold them accountable to constitutional limits. The part that worries me, is that many of our elected officials don’t seem to recognize our rights anymore and they may use this wealth of information to take away more of our rights. We need to demand that they recognize and honor our rights if we want to keep them. The longer we wait, the less likely we will succeed in preserving our freedom.