When President Obama talked about a transparent administration during the run up to the 2008 election most Americans assumed he was talking about openness in government dealings. Obviously, this is not the case, as evidenced by the administration’s handling of the universal health care legislation which was passed without a single American having had a chance to read it for 72 hours before a vote as the President promised would be the case with all legislation, refusal to release photographic evidence of the Osama Bin Laden raid, the President’s own birth certificate which has taken two years to be made public, and the many secret meetings held with Congressional members behind closed doors.
It should be clear by now that Big Government’s domestic surveillance policies under Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush are being furthered expanded by Mr. Obama. Transparency, it seems, had nothing to do with making government more visible. It did, however, have everything to do with making your life more transparent.
Before we itemize the many ways in which you’re being watch, surveyed, monitored and aggregated, this latest report by Alex Thomas of The Intel Hub reiterates, yet again, that digital surveillance capabilities are not just isolated to intelligence agencies:
A lawsuit filed on Tuesday alleges that Aaron’s, a huge furniture rent to buy company, used software and a special device on their computers that enabled them to spy on PC renters.
According to the lawsuit, the company is able to track keystrokes and snap webcam pictures in the home of their customers.
Brian and Crystal Byrd, the couple who filed the lawsuit, claim that they were never told about these intrusive spying measures.
While computer privacy experts agree that Aaron’s has the right to install devices that enable them to shut down the computers remotely, customers must be told that they are being monitored.
The couple only found out about the spying after an Aaron’s employee showed them a picture of Brian Byrd that was taken remotely while the Byrds were in their home.
“After they showed us the picture, I, of course, felt violated,” Crystal Byrd said in an interview Monday. “There are many times I sat in front of that computer with barely nothing on. So I didn’t know if they had taken lots of pictures of us or what,” reported the Wyoming Tribune.
Brian Byrd also reported that he thinks the picture was shown to him in order to intimidate him into an easy repossession.
Source: The Intel Hub
While we often hear protests from privacy advocates about government intrusion into the lives of Americans, what many fail to understand is that it’s not just the government. Private businesses like Aaron’s, as well as large corporate conglomerates, are themselves engaging in the surveillance of Americans with the development of products and services specifically for this purpose – and often without the consent of their customers, or, through terms of services agreements that include dozens of pages of unintelligible fine print.
As modern technology continues to advance at breakneck speeds, just as the merger of the corporations and the state are occurring within political circles, so to are they becoming more prevalent in the intelligence sphere.
Fellow Americans, everything you do is being monitored.
With respect to the government, it’s not by choice. However, when dealing with private businesses, we have readily accepted our own fate by accepting into our lives the very technologies that make it all possible.
- What You Do Online Is No Secret: As you sit in the perceived privacy of your own home reading this article, a log of your surfing habits and preferred reading or video viewing subjects is being created. Your IP address, that unique identifier the points specifically to the broadband line connected to your home modem, is time stamped with every web site you visit. Everything you watch at video web sites, everything you download online, and even your search queries are logged. You don’t even have to have an account with a major online service provider – your IP is sufficient – but that user account you create is used to further improve your personal profile and characteristics.
- We can see you. We can hear you. Not only are your actions logged, but if you were deemed a person of interest for whatever reason, that little camera staring back at you on top of your monitor or that microphone built directly into your PC can be flipped on for remote surveillance at any time. While Aaron’s furniture or the local school district may need to install special software to remotely view what you’re doing in your bedroom, public sector intelligence groups operating on equipment that is technologically advanced compared to the consumer products of today is perfectly capable of entering your ‘secure’ home network and turning on those video and audio features – and you’d have absolutely no clue it’s going on.
- Your cell phone is a mobile monitoring device. Much like your computer, all modern day cell phones come with cameras. And they all have a microphone. It is no secret that law enforcement agencies have the ability to easily tap these devices and listen and watch anything that’s going on. This capability is essentially hard-wired right into the phone. In fact, it has been reported that even if your cell phone is turned completely off, the microphone can still be remotely activated. The only known solution is to remove the battery if you want to ensure complete privacy. Sounds pretty far-fetched doesn’t it? Up until two weeks ago, so did the notion that Apple and Android phones could track and log everywhere you go. We now know that this is exactly what’s happening, and literally, every movement you make is tracked within inches of your location. A log of everywhere you have been has been logged if your cell phone was in your pocket.
- Phone Conversation and Email Analysis. If you haven’t guessed yet, phones can be dangerous to your personal privacy. In the 1990′s, the few alternative media web sites on the internet often discussed a little know operation in Europe called Echelon. It was hard core tin foil conspiracy type stuff. You know, the kind where intelligence agencies were plugged into the entire phone, fax and email grids and had computers analyzing conversations in multiple languages looking for keywords and keyword strings. If you said a specific word, your conversation was immediately red-flagged and distributed to appropriate intel desks. As sci-fi as this may sound, it turns out that the ‘conspiracy theorists’ were 100% correct about Echelon. Its existence has been confirmed by the US government. Of course, no such system could possibly exist here domestically.
- Your pictures are not private. When you snap those photos of the kids in the front yard and subsequently post those pictures on your favorite social network, guess what? That’s right, an inquiring viewer on your social networking account can track exactly where that picture was taken. Remember that location logging thing with your cell phone? It turns out that every single picture you take with most newer model cell phones will be tagged with specific GPS coordinates. When you upload that picture anywhere online, that location information becomes publicly available. So anyone who wants to know can now track down exactly where it is your kids were when the picture was taken, or, where exactly you were if you happened to engage in an activity that may be deemed illegal.
- The social network. For many, it’s fun to spend every waking hour updating the rest of the world on what we’re doing. We publish our thoughts. We upload our pictures. We even click a like button at the end of articles like this one to let people know what we’re into and what they should be reading. As social networking becomes bigger, connecting hundreds of millions of people across the world, so to does the profiling of members of these networks. Have you agreed with what a certain person has said in a recent post? If they’re a person-of-interest for whatever reason, then guess what? You’ve just become one too. Did your friend recently take a picture of you at a party getting rowdy? Once that hits the social network, facial recognition technology will identify you and publish your name for all the world to see, including current or future employers. It’s a social network, and its purpose is to learn everything about you. Perhaps this is why key U.S. intelligence agencies made no effort to hide their $5 billion investment in the largest network in the world recently. Social networking is a critical tool in the struggle to categorize every person on earth.
- Toll tags and license plates. Even if you’ve given up the cell phone and prefer to go without for privacy reasons, when you drive around town you may have noticed those little intersection cameras – at least four of them – on every major (or more regularly now, minor) intersection. While most of them may not be tied to the computer processing systems yet, some, and especially those in sensitive areas and toll booths can automatically read your license plate. Like your cell phone, your position can be logged on a regular basis with either your toll tag or simply, your license plate. Impossible? Not really. Especially when you consider that the information required to track your personal movements are nothing but a few data bytes. All anyone really needs to keep extensive records is a bigger hard drive.
- We know your underwear size. Admittedly, we sometimes have a hard time remembering what size pants or shirts we need to purchase. But while our memory may be failing, private data aggregators have plenty of it, and the processing power to boot. Everything you have ever bought with a credit card or membership club card is sent off for processing and aggregation to centralized data centers. While you may use a Visa card at one store, a Mastercard at another, and pay cash with a grocery membership card somewhere else, it’s as easy as finding your name and cross referencing that on your cards – and your entire shopping profile can be created. The purpose, we’re told, is to better improve our shopping experience and provide market data to companies so that they can improve their advertising. We can only guess at who else has access to this information, which happens to be very easily accessible and widely available for a small fee.
- Radio Frequency Identification. Say you’ve decided to scrap cell phones, internet surfing and electronic payment or membership cards. And, you choose to walk everywhere you go. Not a problem for enterprising surveillance technologists. Large retail distributors have already begun implementing RFID technologies into every major product on store shelves. For now, most of the RFID tracking is limited to transportation and inventory control and is designed to track products on the pallet level. Tracking capabilities are improving, however, and are quickly being implemented on the individual product level. That means when you buy a soda at your local grocery store, an RFID monitoring station will be capable of tracking that soda across the entire city, with the goal eventually being whether or not you put that aluminum can in a trashcan or a recycle bin once you were finished drinking it. One day, you may be issued a ticket by a law enforcement computer autmatically for failing to dispose of your trash properly. Again, it’s simply an issue of hard drive space and processing power – and technology will soon get over that hurdle. All electronics, clothing, food packaging, and just about everything else will soon contain a passive RFID chip.
- Ripping Data Off Your Private, Secure, chip-enhanced personal identification cards. Passports, driver’s licenses, credit cards, cell phones – they all store data. Personal data like banking information, birth date, social security numbers, pictures, phone books – basically everything you’ve ever wanted to keep private. As storage technology further integrates into our daily lives, and everything from our passports to our health insurance cards contains a digital chip that stores our private information, it will become much easier to rip that data from your purse or wallet without ever touching you. A recent report indicated that local law enforcement officials now have devices that, when you’re pulled over, can remotely pull all of the data on your cell phone. This demonstrates how simple it is for anyone, be it law enforcement or criminals, to gain access to everything about you – including you personal travel habits.
- Eye in the sky. We’ve previously reported about domestic drone programs in Houston and Miami. Local and state law enforcement agencies are increasingly adding Federal and military technologies to their surveillance arsenals. Drones have the capability of flying quietly and at high altitude, while monitoring multiple targets simultaneously. It’s been reported that domestic drones can not only monitor in the visible light spectrum, but night vision and infrared. That means they can ‘see’ what you’re doing in your home behind closed doors. Incidentally, there have been reports of roaming ground patrols with similar infrared technology, capable of seeing right through your walls. This is not science fiction – this is reality right now. Combine this with real-time spy agency satellites and interested parties have the ability to see and hear you, even when you’re locked indoors with computers and cell phones disabled.
- Security cameras. We’ve already discussed traffic cams. But cameras are not limited to just the government. Residences, retailers and even day cares are now interconnecting camera security systems with online web browsing. And, as we pointed out earlier, these are easily subject to unauthorized access. Certain cities in the US are now allowing residents to register their personal or business camera systems with the city to allow for local police monitoring. The government doesn’t need to push the technology on us. The people willingly accept the technology en masse in exchange for a sense of being more secure.
- I See Something! When all else fails, the last bastion of surveillance is human intel. It’s been used by oppressive regimes for millennia. The Nazis used it. The Communists used it (and do to this day). It was very effective. And now, we’re using it. Remember, if you See Something, Say Something. Even if what someone sees is not accurately represented because of mis-perception, you can be assured that when they say something rapid response units will be on the scene to diffuse the situation.
Fusing It All Together
What is the purpose ? It depends who you ask.
Local law enforcement will tell you it’s to protect the safety of the public. Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies say it’s to prevent terrorism. Apple and Android tells us it’s so that they can produce better mobile products and services. Retailers want more customer data so they can improve advertising and marketing.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that almost everything we do, whether it’s in the privacy of our own homes or on public streets, can be tracked, monitored, and logged.
As technology improves and the internet interconnects even more nodes, the information collected by the public, private and personal sectors will be further aggregrated, cross referenced and analyzed. Your personal profile will become more detailed, including your shopping habits, hobbies, likes, dislikes, political affiliation, reading preferences, friends, and potentially your psychological and emotional status.
All of this information will eventually be fused into one large database. In fact, the government has already setup well over fifty fusion centers around the nation. What goes on in these centers is kept strictly confidential, and there doesn’t seem to be any agency in charge of them, but we know they exist, and we know that their purpose is to acquire, aggregate and act on whatever information they have available to them. These are fairly new, appearing just over the last several years. But be assured that as processing power and software technology improves, so too will the surveillance capabilities of fusion like facilities, whether they belong to government, private industry or criminal industry.
History has shown what tends to happen in surveillance societies. Often times, that surveillance is forced upon the people by tyranical government. We won’t argue that this is not the case today, as governments the world over are not hiding the fact that they want to know what everyone is doing. The odd thing is, we the people don’t seem to care a whole lot. What we’re seeing is that the surveillance state is expanding in concert with the definitions for what is criminal or terrorist-like activity – and that’s scary. Every year, more people are finding themselves on no-fly lists, no-work lists, or other terrorist watch lists. We’ve facetiously noted in a previous commentary that at this rate, the terrorist watch list will exceed the U.S. population by 2019. While we were, for the most part, trying to put a humorous spin on an otherwise very important issue, the fact is, that as surveillance expands, more and more people will become enemies of the state or persons-of-interest. That’s just how these things tend to work with these types of things.
In today’s world, the private sector is ready and willing to help government achieve these goals of total control and involvement in our personal lives. In fact, it is at times becoming difficult to distinguish between government and private industry.
But if we are to lay blame on anyone here, it must be ourselves. We need only take a look into the mirror and we’ll see who makes these technologies possible. It’s the American consumer who willingly adopts the technologies into his or her daily life, often standing in lines a quarter mile long to acquire the latest in digital monitoring.
While our votes at the ballot box account for something, how we vote with our pocket books will ultimately determine the direction of our country. We have empowered the corporation to lobby Congress and further erode our own freedoms, whether it’s with the surveillance technologies we choose to integrate into our lives, the food we buy, the cheap Chinese goods we’ll stampede children over, or the gas we pump into our vehicles.
The problem is not government. It’s us. We’ve let it go this far. It can only change when the individual does.