Military’s Invasion of Privacy
With more and more unmanned drones flying overhead, has the President or Congress told you that the U.S. Air Force, like the CIA, does not have the authority to conduct domestic “nonconsensual surveillance” unless the spying (so it says) is “accidental”? Secrecy scholar Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists dug up an Air Force rule you may never have heard of.
Thanks to a Pentagon directive permitting limited domestic surveillance, when this lawless snooping takes place, the Air Force has up to 90 days to bury the results while it decides whether to keep and share that data. In a Wired.com article titled “Oops! Air Force Drones Can Now (Accidentally) Spy on You,” Spencer Ackerman sheds light on Aftergood’s discovery: “Acceptable surveillance includes flying drones over natural disasters; studying environmental changes; or keeping tabs above a domestic military base.”
Here comes the curveball the government doesn’t want you to see: “once the drones’ powerful sensors and cameras sweep up imagery and other data from Americans nearby, the Air Force won’t simply erase the tapes. It’ll start analyzing whether the people it’s recorded are, among other things, ‘persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage in international terrorist or international narcotics activities.’” But you could unwittingly be nearby!
But how does the government “reasonably” believe who’s a criminal suspect? Ah, adds trenchant reporter Ackerman, “It doesn’t stop with the Air Force. ‘U.S. person information in the possession of an Air Force intelligence component may be disseminated pursuant to law, a court order’” or—now dig this— “the Pentagon directive that governs acceptable domestic surveillance.”
Ackerman provides a plausible example of what dragnet surveillance fosters: “So what begins as a drone flight over, say, a national park to spot forest fires could end up with a dossier on campers passed on to law enforcement.”
Loaded with sophisticated cameras and eavesdropping equipment, drones can document all sorts of information. What are those campers reading and talking about? Are they making furtive movements?
To make you feel a little more uneasy as you look skyward, Ackerman points out that “police departments across the country are beginning to buy and fly drones from the military. Now the Air Force’s powerful spy tools could creep into your backyard in a different way.”
So this is where we are in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. With deadly calm, the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Surveillance & Privacy” declaration lays out what will become of American values unless the spirit of Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Thomas Paine inspires future firebrand patriots to take to the streets while also becoming digital Paul Reveres as they strive to save our republic.
Like all the Bush-Obama unbounded spying on We the People, the ACLU reminds us, drones are the responsibility of the White House and Congress. What, if anything, will they do from January 2013 on—and what will we demand they do—to change the naked truth of the ACLU’s “Surveillance & Privacy” indictment of Bush and Obama?
As the ACLU warns, “the government can compile vast dossiers about innocent people. The data sits indefinitely in government databases, and the names of many innocent Americans end up on bloated and inaccurate watch lists that affect whether we can fly on commercial airlines, whether we can renew our passports…and even whether we can open bank accounts. … Dragnet surveillance undermines the right to privacy and the freedom of speech, association and religion.”
Moreover, the ACLU stipulates, “The FBI, the intelligence agencies, the military, state and local police, private companies and even firemen and emergency medical technicians are gathering incredible amounts of detailed information about us.”
When I talk to students, I ask if they can see that government agents secretly databasing what they say and think violates their freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. “Is there anything,” I inquire, “you’d rather the government doesn’t know?” More than ever before in our history, it’s the job of We the People to make sure the government is no longer allowed to spy on us.
Or don’t you give a damn?