We The Watched vs. Big Brother
I was once very fond of Google. It’s given me whatever information I needed, and if it doesn’t at first, I get the answer by rephrasing my request. I even considered thanking Google on the acknowledgements page of my next book.
But having learned that Google is in a partnership with the National Security Agency (NSA)—the world’s most mammoth surveillance organization—and that I’m not allowed to find any details of what personal data they’re going to share, how can I thank Google? Will I still be prancing toward Google to make myself look like a masterful, knowledgeable reporter in many different fields? Somewhat cautiously. I still use a typewriter because it’s been part of me for so many years, and also I’m told the FBI can’t get into it the way they pick up whatever they want from the Internet and all kinds of digital communication.
Neither the NSA nor Google will provide any details about the scope of their partnership. And when the Electronic Privacy Information Center went to court with its concern for further raids on our privacy, the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals— which blocked the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval of granting habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo prisoners—derided the ingenuous contention that “the public has the right to know about any spying on citizens.”
Decided the federal appellate court: Not only can the NSA reject requests for information on what it is doing in alliance with Google, Yahoo! News reported, but it also “does not even have to confirm whether it has any arrangement with the Internet giant.” I bet judges in China and Iran smiled at that one.
Ah, but what if Mitt Romney becomes President? Will he demand that the NSA and Google disclose what they’re looking into? This brings us to a penetratingly disturbing analysis of how the post-9/11 fears shaped and sustained by Bush, Cheney and Obama are affecting the relationship between an imperious government and us individual citizens.
Says the Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead: “What we are witnessing, in the socalled name of security and efficiency, is the creation of a new class system comprised of the watched (average Americans such as you and me) and the watchers (government bureaucrats, technicians and private corporations).
The growing need for technicians necessitates the bureaucracy. The massive bureaucracies— now computerized—that administer governmental policy are a permanent form of government. Presidents come and go, but the nonelected bureaucrats remain.”
Whitehead continues: “Can freedom in the United States continue to flourish and grow in an age when the physical movements, individual purchases, conversations and meetings of every citizen are constantly under surveillance by private companies and agencies?”
As I, and others, have reported, Whitehead also makes the disheartening point that “the Obama White House has proven to be just as bad, if not worse, than the Bush White House when it comes to invading the privacy rights of Americans.”
How worried are We the People about the government’s unblinking eye? Dig this from the May 17, 2012, edition of the New York Daily News: “A plan to launch six drone testing sites in the U.S. has New York and two dozen other states battling to roll out the welcome wagon for robotic eyes in the sky. The Federal Aviation Administration’s call for comment drew a flood of pitches from groups and governments around the country clamoring for a slice of the pie.”
According to the Daily News, getting a slice of that pie is being expedited: “The FAA recently announced it would streamline the approvals for use of smaller unmanned aerial vehicles by police and other public safety agencies.” These much-harder-to-spot airborne spies— some reportedly no larger than a golf ball—will be added to the other surveillance drones already being used by local and state police, the FBI and Homeland Security. Which current or future alarmed U.S. President will dare to try to ground these eager destroyers of what’s left of our privacy? When you’re looking up to the sky, don’t make furtive movements.
Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America ; Living the Bill of Rights ; and the forthcoming Is This America?