We haven’t been shy over the years in highlighting the threat to our privacy and wealth that Uncle Sam’s wars on (some) drugs, (some) terrorists, and (some) money launderers pose.
Whether it’s warrantless spying on your smartphone, warrantless wiretapping of the internet, warrantless searches of your banking and credit records (scroll down), or confiscating your property without convicting you of a crime, America’s anti-drug, anti-terrorism, and anti-money laundering warriors have turned our country into a virtual police state. Meanwhile, many in Congress are eager to impose domestic terrorism laws and ban effective encryption – one of the few effective tools we have left to protect our privacy.
And the hits keep on coming. Newly released records show that the Trump administration used anti-terrorism laws to stop and question journalists, lawyers, and activists at border crossings. One was Taylor Levy, a lawyer representing the family of a girl who died while being detained by the Border Patrol.
No matter what your views on America’s immigration policy, Levy is hardly fits what most of us view as a “suspected terrorist.” But as proof that both parties broadly support America’s police state, the Biden administration is vigorously defending several lawsuits filed against the Trump administration over this egregious misuse of anti-terrorism law.
And why not? After all, Biden was one of the principal supporters of the Patriot Act, enacted in 2001. Indeed, he’s boasted many times about being its original author, along with a similar proposal he introduced in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Meanwhile, the business model of “surveillance capitalism” is alive and well. This involves the exploitation of the enormous amounts of data that we unknowingly generate as we go about our day. Whether it’s images of our faces secretly compiled in giant databanks or records of our movements assembled and analyzed, our right to privacy is under attack as never before.
A great example of this business model are companies that aggregate this data and then sell it to the highest bidder. One such firm is The Ulysses Group, which promotes a technology claiming it can find the current location of nearly every car on the planet. “Currently, we can access over 15 billion vehicle locations around the world every month,” the company claims. It says this is possible due to the data cars themselves collect and transmit to the manufacturer or a third party (such as Google Maps).
You don’t own this data, so it can be used for any purpose that generates profits. One potential client is the US military, which has previously purchased other Ulysses technology.
But can’t we count on America’s independent and courageous judiciary to rein in these practices?
In a word…no.
A case in point is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court), which oversees requests for surveillance warrants against foreign intelligence targets inside the United States. Between 1979 and 2001, it approved more than 20,000 wiretap applications, turning down only a handful.
In 2002, the FISC found that in more than 75 cases, the Justice Department violated federal law in its use of FISA wiretaps. It found that agency rules authorizing counterintelligence agencies to share data on Americans “accidentally” gathered by spy agencies with prosecutors were illegal. When the Bush administration appealed the ruling, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which met for the first time to review the lower court decision, overruled the order.
Fast forward 18 years, and nothing has changed. In April, the FISA court declassified a decision it made last November dealing with the same issue: the use of foreign intelligence wiretaps to listen in on Americans’ communications. The court acknowledged that the FBI might be using FISA wiretaps illegally but refused to order the agency to stop this practice. In the words of FISA critic Marcy Wheeler, “evidence of violations is not sufficient evidence to find that the program inadequately protects privacy.”
So if you can’t trust surveillance capitalists, government agencies, or the courts to protect your privacy, who can you trust? Absolutely no one, except yourself. That’s why we’re enthusiasts of privacy-enhancing technologies like virtual private networks, encrypted emails, and keeping your data outside the United States.
Today would be a good time to take the initiatives necessary to protect your privacy. Big Brother certainly isn’t going to do it for you.