Driving the three miles to the office this morning, I passed through a school zone. School is out for the summer and the School Zone signs were off. When school is in session those signs, solar powered, flash yellow lights and tell you to the mph how fast your vehicle is travelling. And they could be easily modified to take photos and issue citations electronically. The trip to work also involved travelling through two stop light intersections, both with camera enforcement. My daughter once got an electronic citation waiting in an intersection to turn left. Speeding is electronically and camera monitored and enforced. Cameras are popping up at key locations in many cities, including mass transit stops, parks and simple street corners.
It’s not just traffic enforcement and street snooping of course. We have recently been reminded of the broad scope of federal government surveillance with the revelations about wiretapping of reporters, collection of “metadata” phone records (I have a question about that in a minute) and rooting about through invasive internet searches including email and social media. Then yesterday we learned that the FBI uses surveillance drones (I have a thought about that coming up here in a paragraph or two as well). Now today Politico reports that FBI Director Robert Mueller thinks the federal government needs to have its surveillance authority broadened even further. This would include forcing tech/communications/internet companies to make their systems susceptible to government snooping, if I’m reading between the lines of the report correctly.
Feel free to add other examples of government intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Airports, train stations, court houses and other public buildings all come to mind.
So here’s my question about this metadata flap. The big excuse for gathering all these phone records is that the government isn’t listening to actual conversations; it’s just “metadata” which doesn’t really intrude on anyone’s privacy…right? So, if metadata is so non-specific and doesn’t provide intrusive information, how is it that it has led to thwarting 50 or so very specific events, plots, conspiracies or whatever. From my perspective, if the truth is being told about one of these things, say ability to prevent specific occurrences, then the truth is likely being fudged on the other representation, that it isn’t really intrusive from a privacy perspective. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. I don’t think anyone is intentionally lying. It’s just that bureaucrats of the security and police mindset don’t generally have the same sensitivity to issues of privacy and constitutional liberty as others of us. What they regard as protecting privacy, for example, I might regard as very weak tea.
Oh yeah, I was going to say something about the FBI’s surveillance drones too. I was puzzled by the admission that the FBI is still developing a policy on drone surveillance, though it is already in use. Using the technology before having the policy in place is an odd cart-before-the-horse approach for anyone who is the least bit serious about privacy and constitutional rights. Like I said, those with a security/police mentality tend to have a different view of civil liberties. This appears to include Director Mueller.
It also reminds the citizenry, to the extent they’re paying attention, that we have armed drones killing folks around the globe. Is anyone else concerned that our president believes he has the authority to put human beings on a “kill list” based solely on the hearsay of an intelligence agency, sometimes second hand hearsay originating with a foreign intelligence agency? So here’s what I want to know. Remember all those people who ranted till they could barely breathe about GWB and “Darth Vader” Cheney torturing people through the use of water boarding?
Aside: to those on the security/police power side of the fence that would be “enhanced interrogation”. See, they really do view these issues differently.
Back to the point. If water boarding is immoral and unethical, where are these same ranting voices when a president claims the authority to construct a kill list and order that it be acted upon? Two perspectives. First, those who were water boarded, and I am not justifying water boarding, at least survived the experience; those on a kill list do not. Second point. It’s no secret that I oppose the death penalty in our criminal justice system. But those sentenced to die and put to death in our execution chambers had the benefit of a trial and appellate process, as opposed to being put on a “kill list” by a politician.
Is it a police state yet? That’s in the eye of the beholder I suppose. I know how it looks through my eyes. What do you think?
Police graphic via shutterstock.com