Privacy & Security

Somersaulting into a Total Surveillance State

Last summer, I spent a weekend in Michigan with a group of old friends from high school. A highlight from the trip was a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

One of the most popular activities at the lakeshore while we were there seemed to be running down a steep, 450-foot high dune at Overlook #9. However, I didn’t attempt the stunt myself. I was concerned that I’d lose control on the way down and possibly wind up somersaulting to the bottom of the slope.

Now, in our -COVID-19 world, it’s become clear that governments’ preferred response to the pandemic is to impose mass surveillance on their populations. Like tripping down Overlook #9’s dune, we’re somersaulting into a total surveillance state.

Some of my colleagues believe that global elites deliberately unleashed COVID-19 in order to divert attention from their long-term efforts to consolidate their power and curtail human rights and freedoms. But even if the virus evolved naturally, or at least wasn’t deliberately released, the pandemic has proven to be a convenient excuse to force people to accept much more intrusive surveillance than ever before.

Consider China’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus, for instance. As I discussed in this article, despite near-zero evidence that anyone could actually catch COVID-19 from handling cash, one of the Chinese government’s first initiatives in fighting the pandemic was to quarantine or even destroy cash.

That was only the beginning. Hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens can’t travel or even leave their home unless they install a tracking app on their smartphone. The app uses a series of colors to determine how freely you can move outside your home, if at all. A green code is all clear; yellow permits limited local movements; and red means stay home.

The code you receive is based on your past pattern of movements; whether you’ve been in the proximity of persons known or suspected to be infected, and if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 checkpoints are everywhere, where you must prove you have Big Brother’s permission to leave your home. Violators are severely punished.

China, of course, is a vastly different society than the US. But similar measures are now being implemented here. And they could prove exceedingly difficult to reverse. For instance, Apple and Google have already developed similar smartphone apps.  If you opt into Google’s Location History feature, Google says it will aggregate the data it collects into anonymized reports shared with public health authorities. But of course, the reports can be de-anonymized anytime, and these tech giants hardly have an unblemished record when it comes to privacy.

What’s more, social monitoring technologies, including cameras, drones and security systems, are already being used to control the spread of the virus.

Indeed, these tracking technologies open new and potentially lucrative markets for “surveillance capitalism.”  None of the measures being discussed have expiration dates, such as when the pandemic finally comes under control. And of course, as the more widely this data is bought, sold, aggregated, and analyzed, the more likely it will be abused by governmental authorities or stolen by hackers.

Thus, when the pandemic finally ends, Big Brother will have new and hugely enhanced measures of social control available to tame the social and political unrest that’s almost guaranteed due to the collapsing economy.

The 9/11 attacks are a useful analogy. Only a few weeks after the event, a terrified Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, almost without debate. The law vastly expanded the government's authority to monitor ordinary citizens, while at the same time eliminating many checks and balances on the unfettered use of data it collected. Despite the fact that you’re four times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than a terrorist attack, nearly all the privacy-invading provisions of the PATRIOT Act remain in force.

It’s also important to understand that once the PATRIOT Act came into effect, its provisions weren’t only used to investigate people who match the typical terrorist profile. For instance, the law gives Uncle Sam the authority to seize and forfeit assets in a domestic bank account allegedly belonging to a terrorist or terrorist organization. If the account is held at a bank outside the US, the Feds can seize an equivalent amount of money in the “correspondent account” foreign banks maintain in the US to conduct business in dollars.

However, this authority needn’t be used only against terrorists. Indeed, the first time the government used it was in an insurance fraud investigation. A husband and wife alleged to be involved in the fraud opened a $2 million bank account in Belize. The Justice Department promptly used its new authority under the PATRIOT Act to freeze $1.7 million in the correspondent account of the Belize bank.

There’s zero reason to think it will be any different with COVID-19.

According to whistleblower and former National Security Agency (NSA) Technical Director Bill Binney, the long-term goal of the NSA is “total population control.” That goal will be that much closer when the “blame” for our right to work, travel, and congregate is placed not on our politicians, but on a virus.

Plan B, anyone?

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