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Thread: How domestic surveillance affects you and me

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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    Default How domestic surveillance affects you and me

    So, you think domestic surveillance is a problem only for terrorists and criminals? Well, take that smug look off your face. As I write, information collected on millions of Americans is being used to punish them for activities as benign as purchasing retread tires.

    Have you visited a bar, played billiards, visited a massage parlor or sought marriage counseling? Then, there's a good chance you have been economically punished for those activities through lowering of your credit limits and scores. That could cost you a home loan or a job, or perhaps a government security clearance. If you reported illegal activities by a former employer, you could be blacklisted for life thanks to databases maintained by firms that conduct background checks on workers for both government and businesses.

    As activists have repeatedly warned, corporate and government voyeurism, aided by datamining technology, homeland security mandates and secrecy, has progressed to manipulation and penalization of lawful activities. And, it's likely to get much worse.


    With the help of technological advancements and government mandates under the rubric of homeland security, your activities and mine are tracked in minute detail. Thanks to technology, too, those details are easily shared, with a speed unknown in the 1950's, when paper records formed the basis for blacklisting writers, teachers, lawyers and even child actors (Shrecker). But, then as now, a cozy relationship between government and business was critical to enabling abuses.

    Since December, 2005, when the New York Times broke the story of domestic surveillance, we have learned much about the Bush administration's secret deals with telecommunications companies...deals that gave the government wholesale access to the records for millions of Americans. Pending FISA legislation would give the government greater freedom in snooping into the details of our lives, despite current law that seems to pose no barrier to legitimate surveillance, and fails to provide meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability.

    Despite protests from privacy experts, many in Congress are prepared to pass the bill. They should first read Ellen Shrecker's book, "The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents."


    In shocking detail, Shrecker describes how a cozy information sharing relationship between government and the private sector enabled political retaliation that destroyed the lives of many thousands of people, including many innocent of any connection to the boogeyman of the day, communism.
    The punishments were primarily economic. People lost their jobs. The official manifestations of McCarthyism--the public hearings, FBI investigations, and criminal prosecutions--would not have been as effective had they not been reinforced by the private sector. The political purges were a two-stage process that relied on the imposition of economic sanctions to bolster the political messages conveyed by public officials. The collaboration of private employers with HUAC and the rest of the anti-Communist network was necessary both to legitimate the network's activities and to punish the men and women identified as politically undesirable. Without the participation of the private sector, McCarthyism would not have affected the rank-and-file members of the Communist movement or so effectively stifled political dissent. (Schrecker)

    Tens of thousands, and probably many more, were forced out of their jobs (Ralph Brown, cited in Schrecker), through data sharing between government and the private sector.
    The two-stage nature of McCarthyism, in which political undesirables were first identified by one agency and then fired by another, increased its effectiveness. By diffusing the responsibility, the separation of the two operations made it easier for the people who administered the economic sanctions to rationalize what they were doing and deny that they were involved in the business of McCarthyism. (Schrecker)

    Often, the data sharing took place in secrecy and in ways that avoided accountability.
    The FBI was also involved in the unemployment business. Throughout the late 1950s, agents routinely visited Junius Scales's employers to ensure that he could not keep a job. Naturally, the bureau operated with greater stealth than the committees, for it was not supposed to release material from its files to anyone outside the executive branch. But not only did the FBI leak selected tidbits to sympathetic journalists and members of Congress, it also inaugurated a systematic flow of information called the "Responsibilities Program." The program began in 1951 when a group of liberal governors, who were worried that they might be vulnerable to right-wing charges of harboring Communists on their payrolls, asked the bureau to give them information about state employees. Deniability was the program's hallmark; FBI agents usually conveyed the requisite information to the governors or their representatives in oral reports or in the form of what the bureau called "blind memoranda," typed on plain unwatermarked paper that gave no evidence of its origins. During the four years of the program's existence, it transmitted 810 such reports, most of which resulted in the intended action.(Schrecker)
    The FBI's role in the 1950's witch hunts has a modern counterpart in the Bush administratin's Justice Department. A recent report acknowledged that DOJ officials barred from employment individuals with even minor connections to 'liberal' judges and organizations. With Shrecker's study in mind, the DOJ revelations, the CompuCredit suit and the NSA's wiretapping should be tripping alarms like the climactic scene in "China Syndrome."

    When records were almost always made of paper, it was cost-prohibitive to micromonitor activities of large numbers of people because records had to be reviewed manually. Post-9/11 government requirements to make records electronic - from medical histories, to school records, to security clearance applications - opened the door to cheap, automated monitoring by computers. But, those millions of bits of information would be useless if one could not tie them to a single, specific person. The Bush administration's push for REAL ID addressed that problem.


    The ongoing lawsuit against the credit card firm CompuCredit gives us a glimpse of what the future holds in store.
    The FTC claims that CompuCredit didn't properly disclose that it monitored spending and cut credit lines if consumers used their cards at certain places. Among them: tire and retreading shops, massage parlors, bars, billiard halls, and marriage counseling offices. (AOL)
    Notice that the FTC's complaint does not take issue with the firms' policy of penalizing consumers based on lifestyle, only that CompuCredit failed to disclose the penalties. That's better, isn't it?

    Well, it's not better if the knowledge would discourage couples from seeking marriage counseling if they cannot pay cash. And, as the uses of credit, debit and affinity cards grow and grow, there are more and more opportunities for companies to manipulate our behavior by using the threat of punitive action to convince us to self-censor what we say and do. More and more, companies are willing to do exactly that.
    CompuCredit maintains that the FTC's lawsuit is without merit, and defends its practices... "These scoring models are commonplace across the industry." (Business Week)

    If you think avoiding credit cards resolves the problem, think again. Corporate America has a strategy for dealing with cash-paying hippies.
    Midwest, JetBlue, Virgin American, AirTran and Frontier have all stopped accepting cash for things like headphones, food and drinks. Instead, they require you to swipe plastic if you want something on board.

    Thus, credit card firms now penalizing people for bar tabs will now have a record of in-flight purchases of alcohol. In this case, one can still opt out by going thirsty. But, opting out isn't always possible, particularly for job seeekers. Take, for example, the case of Theron Carter, a Michigan truck driver who is unemployed thanks to a database used to provide background checks.
    In May, 2006, a U.S. Labor Dept. administrative law judge ruled that Carter was wrongly terminated by Marten Transport (MRTN) for making legitimate complaints about the safety of his 18-wheel truck. He had hauled loads for the Mondovi (Wis.) company for only two weeks before being fired in June, 2005. The judge awarded him more than $31,000 in damages and back pay and ordered Marten Transport to delete "any unfavorable work record information" in a report compiled by USIS, a large screening company in Falls Church, Va. Once an arm of the federal Office of Personnel Management, USIS was privatized in 1996. It still screens government workers and runs an employment-history database used by 2,500 transport companies called Drive-A-Check, or DAC.

    Despite his legal victory, Carter's DAC report still says Marten Transport dismissed him for "excessive complaints" and a "company policy violation." "No one will hire me," says Carter, who withdrew $50,000 from retirement savings to support his wife and himself. Business Week
    (Do read the entire Business Week article, an eye-opener for all job applicants.)

    In other cases, workers have been blacklisted or denied insurance based on medical records (which the Bush administration insists must be electronic) or on records of workers comp claims. Often, blacklisting is not even rational. Consider that the intelligence community reportedly wants to ban from their guild applicants who participate in online communities like Facebook and Second Life, although the intelligence community, itself, plans to participate in Second Life for its own purposes.


    With little transparency in these processes, it's easy for organizations to penalize us based on aspects beyond our control - our color, for example, or gender, or sexual orientation.
    With competition increasing, databases improving, and technology advancing, companies can include more factors than ever in their models. And industry experts say financial firms increasingly are looking at consumer behavior, as CompuCredit did. The worry is that companies may tweak the credit scoring systems in unfair or biased ways, weeding out or limiting borrowers based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. (Business Week)
    When the details obtained through monitoring and surveillance grow in variety and number without a corresponding increase in our privacy protections, the opportunities for discrimination and manipulating our lives grow, too. Could that online donation you made to a political campaign, religious organization, or public interest group be used to blacklist you from employment? If you knew that was a possibility, would it affect what causes you support, how you vote, where you worship?

    Like some in the McCarthy era, you might choose to leave the country rather than face years of unemployment or abandon strong beliefs. But, in the age of multinational corporations and multinational "security" agreements, finding a safe haven is much more difficult than it was in the 50's.

    Within a decade, the passions of McCarthyism had burned to ash, and those who were blacklisted began to find employment again - if they weren't among those who had commited suicide in despair. But, we cannot assume a similar outcome today. The abuses possible with 1950's technology were child's play compared to the abuses possible with modern technology. Except for the companies providing background checks, few in the McCarthy era had figured out how to make citizen monitoring profitable. That is no longer the case. Multinational corporations have invented profit schemes capable of long-term, worldwide manipulation, with the aid of authoritarian, foolish or greedy 'public servants.'

    For the above reasons and more too numerous to include, H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, poses more of a threat to you and me than it does to terrorists. It would gives the government more latitude for surveillance of Americans without providing meaningful (external) oversight and accountability of the government-corporate alliance.


    Though they never saw a computer or spy satellite, the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution knew that information is power, and those with power find it hard to resist the urge to use it for personal or political gain. Thus, the Founders wrote into the Fourth Amendment, this guarantee.
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (U.S. Constitution/Bill of Rights at Findlaw)
    President Bush wants us to believe that he must have unfettered authority to snoop as if there are no trustworthy individuals available to provide oversight and accountability. But, if it is possible to find thousands of people trustworthy to snoop, surely we can find a dozen or so to oversee the snooping - from outside the executive branch. Proposed changes to FISA would rely on agency inspectors general, appointed by the President or the agency head, to provide oversight.

    Ironically, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote in favor of the bill upon their return this week from the Independence Day holiday. It's up to you and me to change their minds. Shall we?

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    Freedom ain't free, it costs a buck o' five...
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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    Elite Member Beeyotch's Avatar
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    What the hell kind of significance does purchasing retread tires impart on one's credit or propensity for terrorist activities?? And penalizing you for paying for bar tabs by credit?? WTF? What has the world come to that people can't be functional alcholics in private? It's bullshit like this that drives people to drink in the first place!

    Oh, but it's perfectly okay to give up your freedoms, because it's all worth it for our national safety, isn't it? /sarcasm

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    Hey, if you don't have anything to hide then it shouldn't bother you.. right?
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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    Elite Member Beeyotch's Avatar
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    Riiiiiight. Until they decide they just want to fuck with you in whatever way benefits them. Fuck the Bush administration, for this and so many other things!

    This is why I never read the politics section, it just pisses me the fuck off.

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    but that would never happen.. the US government is benign and kind. They only have your best interests at heart. If they kidnap you in the middle of the night soviet style, ship you off to a CIA black site or extraordinarily render you to another nation to undergo a couple years of torture, or stuff you in GITMO and keep you there without charge and without access to any means to defend yourself.. well, you obviously did SOMETHING wrong didn't you? The US government doesn't make mistakes. George Bush is a kind and gentle ruler.

    But remain calm.. these things are only bad when THE ENEMY does them.. when the US does it, it's for the cause of GOOD.
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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    Thank you so much for posting this piece witchcurlgirl. It is vitally important that people who believe "if you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about" read and understand just what is going on here.

    H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, poses more of a threat to you and me than it does to terrorists.
    It was never intended to be used to capture terrorists. That is a lie they use so pesky citizens won't bother them about the legislation. They want to fuck us in peace.

    It would gives the government more latitude for surveillance of Americans without providing meaningful (external) oversight and accountability of the government-corporate alliance.
    The very definition of fascism.

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    Elite Member chartreuse's Avatar
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    *reaches for tinfoil hat*

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasha View Post
    It was never intended to be used to capture terrorists. That is a lie they use so pesky citizens won't bother them about the legislation. They want to fuck us in peace.
    exactly. i wonder when people will open their eyes & see that the their own gov't are the terrorists.
    white, black, puerto rican/everybody just a freakin'/good times were rollin'.


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