Wednesday, 29 May 2013

An Increasingly Unchecked Surveillance State

The US government extensively monitors its citizens' internet activities, with dangerous effects on personal liberties.
by Murtaza Hussain          Published by Al-Jazeera-English            May 21, 2013

Companies could face fines if they refuse to share client data requested by government agencies. The most egregious rights violations tend to happen against the voiceless; those who have neither the platform nor resources to articulate their grievances to the broader world. Last week, however, the US Department of Justice was caught in a very public transgression against the freedom of an influential and empowered private organisation when it was revealed that it had engaged in a spying campaign against the Associated Press (AP) - one of the country's largest news agencies.
In what has been described as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion", AP revealed that Obama's Department of Justice had engaged in a surveillance campaign targeting its reporters and editors. This campaign included the covert acquisition of phone records from AP staff; including from their home and personal cell numbers. In a public letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President Gary Pruitt said the surveillance would: Reveal communications with confidential sources and disclose information... that the government has no conceivable right to know.
It would seem, however, that soliciting such confidential knowledge was just what the government was after, as it sought to obtain information regarding AP's reporting on CIA operations in Yemen. Indeed, far beyond this incident of spying on the press, it has been demonstrated over the past several years that the US government under Obama has developed a seemingly insatiable appetite for its citizens' private information. Furthermore - and to the detriment of the American right to privacy - they have shown few qualms about the means they are willing to employ to acquire such data.
Digital documentation :   In 2010, the Washington Post's landmark report "Top Secret America" - an investigative effort to document the rapidly expanding and unaccountable security apparatus developing in the country - uncovered a stunning fact about the depth of surveillance Americans today find themselves under.   According to the report: Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.
In a world where such media have become the primary means of communication for millions of citizens, this level of undisclosed documentation is incredibly significant. Government spying on citizens' internet activities is not simply an intrusion into their external communications, but in many ways it represents surveillance of a significant chunk of their mental lives as well.
Never before has such an immense repository of information been available to a state - but without so much as public disclosure, this huge trove of knowledge is being created by the US government for purposes that have never been properly articulated.
A particularly insidious example of how Americans have been robbed of their right to privacy can be seen in government monitoring of social media and email platforms. When services such as Twitter, Facebook and Gmail first launched and millions of Americans rushed to take part in what seemed to be another opportunity for benign internet socialising, they could not have been expected to know that they were sharing intimate private thoughts and information not just with friends and family, but with the state as well.
In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security quietly began a programme to monitor social media in conjunction with the military contractor General Dynamics. This programme - disclosed only after privacy organisations filed lawsuits that revealed its existence - casts its surveillance net broadly enough that any internet user who uses certain keywords (some apparently as innocuous as "wave", "pork" and "Mexico") would be considered suspicious and subject to more intensive investigation.
The above is the first half of a long article. A.

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