Americans love their privacy and do not lightly tolerate it being violated. This is a long-running tradition that dates back to the country's founding. The Founding Fathers did their best to protect it, and put provisions in the Constitution to make sure the government respected it. This is changing, though. Technology is advancing, and with it comes newer and better ways to watch people which were impossible only a few decades ago. The ability curious observers have to spy on unsuspecting people is as astonishing as it is frightening.
Privacy issues have become very controversial since the War on Terror began. Groups like the ACLU and MoveOn.org have publicized their fights to counter infringements on Americans' Fourth Amendment freedoms and brought the debate to the forefront of American consciousness. Government surveillance continues to grow regardless of the legal battles. Here are some of the more serious and frightening expansions that took place in 2012.
1. Private Collaboration
This is a serious problem which seems to be ignored by most politicians. The federal government is seeking information from organizations that collect personal information, such as wireless carriers for example, that can aid law enforcement and intelligence organizations. While this may seem like an important tool for enforcing the law and fighting terrorism, it also essentially makes almost every interaction with a private business tacit self-incrimination.
2. FISA Expansions
The 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allowed the government to conduct surveillance without warrants, were passed by the House in September 2012. The senate has not voted on the extensions yet, but no one would be surprised if it passed.
3. Stored Personal Information
The National Counter Terrorism Center now has authority to access data stored by other government agencies that includes flight records, exchange student hosts, casino records, and behavior patterns, all in the name of preventing terrorism. Former National Security Agency analyst William Binney admitted as much when he went public with information that the NSA and FBI have access to virtually every email in the country.
4. The National Defense Authorization Act
Many PolicyMic pundits have already commented on the NDAA and the provisions which allow the government to indefinitely detain people without trial through the military. This is disturbing enough, but considering all the surveillance expansions covered in this article, the implications are truly terrifying.
From the digital pages of publications like Wired to respected humanitarian organizations such as Amnesty International, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, as the media has come to call them, are a serious concern. Drones offer intelligence collectors persistent, low-risk collection capabilities which at times have proven lethal to targets in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. There is increasing concern these assets may be turned on American citizens, such as what happened to North Dakota farmer Rodney Brossart. The Air Force also keeps all video information on file for 90 days, regardless of whether a drone is flying in the U.S. or abroad.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Research turned up dozens of articles for respectable news sources covering increasing surveillance at all levels of government. The trend is becoming clear, the government is collecting surveillance data and is seeking legal means for justification. Regardless of intent, the implications are clear. Uncle Sam is looking more like Big Brother. The famous quote about “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” seems more relevant in light of increasing government powers and authority to pry into the personal lives of its own citizens.