Ten Ways the Government Invades Privacy Today Essay
Ten Ways the Government Invades Privacy Today
The book 1984 by George Orwell is one of the most powerful warnings ever issued against the dangers of a totalitarian society. It illustrates the worst human society imaginable, in an effort to convince readers to avoid any path that might lead toward such societal degradation. In his book, Orwell talked about the invasion of government into our lives, the effect that it would be on our freedom and the repercussions in everyday life. He describes a world beyond our imagination. Now it is being said the Fourth Amendment’s promise of protection from government invasion of privacy is in danger of being replaced by the futuristic surveillance state Orwell described (Liptak, 2011).” By the same token, does 1984 present a startling and haunting vision of the world today?
In Chapter One, Orwell writes about “Big Brother,” the authoritarian leader of Oceania, a totalitarian state where the ruling Party wields total power for its own sake over the inhabitants. Big Brother is the face of the Party and he sees all, knows all and controls all. Big Brother is watching everyone. The citizens are told that he is the leader of the nation and the head of the Party. Orwell is focusing on the fact that we may someday live with cameras around every corner and “Big Brother” constantly looking over our shoulder. Americans will now too have their every utterance listened to by Big Brother in public through surveillance-capable street lights now being installed in major cities across the country which can record private conversations. Just as the citizens of Oceania could never be sure of their privacy, a deputy of Homeland Security Director told FOX News Charlotte, “you would never know” if Big Sis was watching (Watson, 2011).
The system detects movement and if too much movement is detected, the police are notified. Many citizens view this as an invasion of privacy, “creepy” and the feeling that Big Brother is watching. Others see the system as a way to keep their neighborhoods safer. Recently, Edward Joseph “Ed” Snowden (born June 21, 1983) an American computer specialist, a former CIA employee, and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor disclosed up to 200,000 classified documents to the press. Details released from the cache have revolved primarily around the United States’ NSA mass surveillance program (Edward Snowden, 2013). In his very first public words, Snowden himself addressed the alarming consequences of the NSA’s hunger for obtaining and storing an incomprehensibly vast record of our lives: Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. [T]hey can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrong-doer (Kaufman, 2013).
Since media reports revealed that National Security Agency is collecting millions of Americans’ telephone records as well as data from the servers of major technology firms, there have been discussions in the public square about the relationship between the government’s efforts to protect national security and citizens’ expectations about the privacy of their personal data. President Obama and leaders in Congress have defended these efforts, declaring that they have prevented terrorist attacks, and there is evidence of public support (John P. Mello, 2013). Is “Big Brother” watching causing this to be an invasion on American’s privacy, or is it an effort to prevent terrorist attacks? Another example of how the government invades our privacy, similar to “Big Brother” in 1984, is “Carnivore,” a system the FBI uses to scan Internet traffic for e-mail associated with criminal suspects. You pick up the phone, you drop a letter in the mail, and you reasonably expect that no one will be listening in or secretly reading your notes (Moran, 2000).
Think again. According to John Moran: In congressional hearings, the FBI said the Carnivore system is used infrequently (25 times overall, 16 times so far this year, according to news reports) and only with proper legal authorization. The agency says the system is the Internet version of a telephone wiretap. All of the usual suspects are being rounded up to justify the need for this Internet-age surveillance: organized criminals, child pornographers, terrorists. Carnivore was introduced during the Clinton/Gore Administration. During this time many worried that the Carnivore system would make it easy for the FBI to tap into virtually anyone’s e-mail, with or without probable cause. Can we really be certain that the procedures established for using Carnivore will protected the rights of law-abiding citizens? Is Carnivore being used today? Also contained in Chapter One, Orwell focuses on the omnipresent telescreens which are the book’s most visible symbol of the Party’s constant monitoring of its subjects. The telescreens were television and security camera-like devices used by the dictator of Oceania to prevent anyone in his realm from forming conspiracies with others against the government.
No one ever knew how many screens were monitored at any one time or how. During Winston’s first meeting with Julia, we gain further insight into the Party’s invasion of privacy. Even in the remote countryside there may be electronic devices planted to monitor peoples’ activities: “In general you could not assume that you were much safer in the country than in London. There were no telescreens of course, but there was always the danger of concealed microphones by which your voice might be picked up and recognized…” (Orwell, 1949) . Similarly, surveillance cameras are in most buildings (operated by businesses), and in some public streets (operated by police) to prevent crime. Although most of these cameras are operated by private businesses instead of our intrusive government, the end result is the same. Studies show time and again that video surveillance cameras have more or less limited effects on crime prevention and in most cases, surveillance cameras only merely enhance people’s sense of security and does not directly do anything to ensure their actual physical security (Surveillance Cameras and Privacy, n.d.).
After serious terrorist attacks in the recent past, more and more policymakers as well as security and intelligence services are turning towards video surveillance technology as the solution to terrorist threats and the need to improve public security. However, there are certain important questions that need to be addressed before passively accepting the routine surveillance of public spaces. The other subject of debate is whether an effective remedy for crime prevention and deterrence can be visualized by means of video surveillance; right to privacy need not acknowledge this as an appropriate security measure in terms of protection of civil liberties (Surveillance Cameras and Privacy, n.d.). When the government wants to record or monitor our private communications as they happen, it has three basic options: it can install a hidden microphone or “bug” to eavesdrop on your conversation; it can install a “wiretap” to capture the content of your phone or Internet communications as they happen; or it can install a “pen register” and a “trap and trace device” to capture dialing and routing information indicating who you communicate with and when (Surveillance First Defense, n.d.).
Pen registers are used by the government to record the phone numbers that you call, while trap & trace devices record the numbers that call you. The Supreme Court decided in 1979, in the case of Smith v. Maryland, that because you knowingly expose phone numbers to the phone company when you dial them (you are voluntarily handing over the number so the phone company will connect you, and you know that the numbers you call may be monitored for billing purposes), the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect the privacy of those numbers against pen/trap surveillance by the government. The contents of your telephone conversation are protected, but not the dialing information (Surveillance First Defense, n.d.). Luckily, Congress decided to give us a little more privacy than the Supreme Court did — but not much more — by passing the Pen Register Statute to regulate the use of “pen/trap” devices.
Under that statute, the police do have to go to court for permission to conduct a pen/trap tap and get your dialing information, but the standard for getting a pen/trap order is much lower than the probable cause standard used for normal wiretaps. The police don’t even have to state any facts as part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 — they just need to certify to the court that they think the dialing information would be relevant to their investigation. If they do so, the judge must issue the pen/trap order (which lasts for sixty days rather than a wiretap order’s thirty days). Also, unlike normal wiretaps, the police aren’t required to report back to the court about what they intercepted, and aren’t required to notify the targets of the surveillance when it has ended (Surveillance First Defense, n.d.). Another way the federal government conscripts the private sector to threaten privacy is illustrated by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).
Passed in 1994, CALEA requires telecommunications companies to modify their equipment, making it easier for government investigators to snoop on communications (The Government Sector — Greatest Menace to Privacy By Far , 2000). In 1992, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made the original proposal for CALEA. It would have required all communications services, including computer networks, to assist in government surveillance. A consistent threat to privacy, wiretapping of suspected criminals by law enforcers can easily evolve into monitoring of the general public, which violates the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of law-abiding citizens (The Government Sector — Greatest Menace to Privacy By Far , 2000).
In the greatest surveillance effort ever established, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has created a global spy system, codename ECHELON, which captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world (Poole, 1999/2000). Echelon, a project of the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA), is a worldwide network for intercepting communications. It made headlines in February 1998 when a report from an arm of the European Parliament revealed that telephone, fax, and e-mail traffic in several parts of the world were routinely intercepted. Communications outside the United States are not subject to the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections. Investigators can snoop on our international phone calls without technically violating our legal rights.
Orwell’s “the Party” undermines family structure by inducting children into an organization called the Junior Spies, which brainwashes and encourages them to spy on their parents and report any instance of disloyalty to the Party. Today, as part of Homeland Security’s See Something, Say Something program, Americans are being bombarded at every level, from Wal-Mart, to football games, to hotel rooms, with messages encouraging them to report their fellow citizens for engaging in “suspicious activity” (“If You See Something, Say Something™” Campaign, n.d.). Whether Americans are following their regular commute route, on their way to a movie, or meeting up with friends, they will be safer knowing everyone is watching out for something or someone who is suspicious or out of place. In 1984, useless statistics, incorrect economic predictions, and slanted opinions polls are presented on the telescreen as “legitimate news”, to give people the impression that “things are getting better”, and that all people agree with the popular way of thinking.
Today, useless statistics, incorrect economic predictions, and slanted opinions polls are presented on the Evening news as “legitimate news”, to give people the impression that “things are getting better”, and that all people agree with the popular way of thinking. “In preparing for his commission testimony in 2004, former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger removed classified documents from the National Archives by stuffing them in his clothes, secreted them at a construction site near the Archives, went back and removed other classified documents, then brought all of the documents home and shredded them (Eggen, FBI Probes Berger for Document Removal , 2004). This is as outrageous a trespass on history as one might imagine. Those documents, and the truths they reflected, are lost forever. We are left instead to wonder what was so damaging in those documents that it was worth the risk to a sterling reputation and career, and to personal liberty, to steal and destroy them. What was so damaging to him or the government’s administration that he was willing to risk his career so that we’d never find it out? The teaching of the Civil War is another example.
Most people believe the war was fought over slavery (which isn’t true) and that the South was evil and the North was good. The South does not get its side of the story fairly told in schools and most people do not know anything about it. But it is essential to teach it this way so as to be able to promote politically correct propaganda, usually in the form of multiculturalism (How does the book 1984 relate to today?, n.d.) The tactic the government uses teaches us to believe multiculturalism is good, whether we believe it or not. This tactic holds true for the teaching of just about every historical event. In 1984, helicopters silently watch over the masses to keep people from committing thought-crime, by planting the fear of “always being. Today, “the fact is that drones vest vast new powers that police helicopters and existing weapons do not vest: and that’s true not just for weaponization but for surveillance. Drones enable a Surveillance State unlike anything we’ve seen.
Because small drones are so much cheaper than police helicopters, many more of them can be deployed at once, ensuring far greater surveillance over a much larger area. Their small size and stealth capability means they can hover without any detection, and they can remain in the air for far longer than police helicopters” (Greenwald, 2011 ). Drones have taken on crucial tasks in the military that have often been deemed too risky for humans: providing surveillance, launching missile attacks on insurgent leaders and dismantling roadside bombs that have been a leading cause of deaths in the recent wars. Frontline reports that since September 11, 2001, the number of drones in the U.S.’s military arsenal has expanded from 60 to more than 6,000, with President Obama making unprecedented use of these robotic warriors. Drone strikes have taken out some of al-Qaeda’s most notorious figures (Lee, 2012).
The government’s GPS satellites are one-way beacons that cannot track you or anything on the ground. But commercially available GPS devices with communication or recording features can help users keep track of everything from vehicles and cargo to people and animals. The use of GPS technology to covertly monitor the movements of suspects, employees, customers, and other people raises questions and concerns about individual privacy rights. Several lawsuits and legislative actions have sought to address these questions, but much remains unresolved today. The New York Times notes that Orwell’s novel 1984 is being referenced more often as judges are asked to decide whether such tracking violates the Fourth Amendment. “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco (Weiss, 2011).
On another note, a number of Supreme Court justices invoked the specter of Big Brother while hearing arguments over whether the police may secretly attach GPS devices on Americans’ cars without getting a probable-cause warrant. While many justices said the concept was unsettling, the high court gave no clear indication on how it will rule in what is arguably one of the biggest Fourth Amendment cases in the computer age. Moreover, the Obama administration maintains that Americans have no privacy rights when it comes to their movements in public (Kravets, 2011). In 2010, a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals states that it is perfectly legal for government agents to plant GPS devices on your vehicle without warrant- even if it’s parked in your driveway (Youmans, 2010). This seems extremely disturbing since it conflicts with the fourth amendment which protects Americans from search and seizure without warrants.
The Clipper Chip is an encryption chip designed under the auspices of the U.S. government. The government’s idea was to enforce use of this chip in all devices that might use encryption, including computers, modems, telephones, and televisions. The government would control the encryption algorithm, thereby giving it the ability to decrypt any messages it recovered. The purported goal of this plan was to enable the U.S. government to carry out surveillance on enemies of the state even if they used encryption to protect their messages. However, the Clipper chip created a fierce backlash from both public interest organizations and the computer industry in general. The government eventually retracted its original plan but has since promoted two other plans called Clipper 2 and Clipper 3, respectively (Clipper Chip, n.d.).
Privacy, or lack thereof, is an important issue in this day and age. Social networking, online bill pay services, simple email accounts–these are just a few of the things most Americans, and indeed people around the world, use daily, in the process of living; whether we wish to or not, and whether we think about it or not, we are sending volumes of information about ourselves and our personal lives out into the world with the simple clicking of a mouse. While we are not–at least in this country–susceptible to police authority for our expressions, we are certainly visible to people we don’t even realize might be seeing us. Given substantial evidence that the government sector is the premier threat to privacy, one must ask why it poses this threat. A two-part analysis makes the reasons fairly apparent.
First, governments have many incentives to collect personal information and few incentives to protect privacy. Second, the laws that require the government to protect privacy in the United States are narrow and weak. In a situation where our privacy is being violated by the government, a mature stance to take would be to accept the fact that breach of privacy is not more important than having to sacrifice millions of innocent lives which could have otherwise been prevented by the use of efficient video surveillance. Let’s try and make an effort to compromise on a few small comforts in life so as to help make the world a safer place to live in.
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