Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Walking down the All Seeing Path

The bipartisan oligarchic support for further erosion of our civil liberties continues. Much as the industrial revolution was the prime force pushing the changes in American household structure, microminiaturization and information technology are moving us down a path of least resistance.  Our cultural structures are feebly resisting the changes.  But when we get down the road a little way, it is pretty safe to say that that crowd is going to look back at us as a bunch of bumptious rubes.  Just as with us today, they likely will have little idea of what was lost and gained.

I think the thread of the quotes is self explanatory.

Tom Engelhardt, TomsDispatch, Forward to Karen J. Greenberg, 19 June 2011.
[I]n case you didn’t think American law enforcement could sink much lower while investigating “terrorist activity” and generally keeping an eye on Americans, think again.  According to Charlie Savage of the Times, a revised FBI operational manual offers its 14,000 agents new leeway in “searching databases,” using “surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention,” and “going through household trash.”  Yes, that’s right, if you see somebody at the dumpster out back, it may not be a homeless person but an FBI agent.
And then there was Peter Wallsten’s account in the Washington Post of a nationwide FBI investigation of “prominent peace activists and politically active labor organizers.” According to Wallsten, news leaking out about it hasn’t sat so well with union supporters of President Obama (or, for all we know, with the president himself), since “targets” include “Chicagoans who crossed paths with Obama when he was a young state senator and some who have been active in labor unions that supported his political rise.”  All are (shades of Cole in the Bush years) “vocal and visible critics of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South America.” 
In other words, Washington now seems to be engaged in a wholesale post-bin Laden ratification of business as usual, but this time on steroids.
Business as Usual on Steroids:  The Obama Administration Doubles Down on the War on Terror
Karen J. Greenberg, TomsDispatch, 19 June 2011.

In the meantime, President Obama used the bin Laden moment to push through and sign into law a four-year renewal of the Patriot Act, despite bipartisan resistance in Congress and the reservations of civil liberties groups. They had stalled its passage earlier in the year, hoping to curtail some of its particularly onerous sections, including the “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of non-US citizens in America, even if they have no ties to foreign powers, and the notorious Section 215, which grants the FBI authority to obtain library and business records in the name of national security.
One thing could not be doubted.  The administration was visibly using the bin Laden moment to renew George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (even if without that moniker).  And let’s not forget about the leaders of Congress, who promptly accelerated their efforts to ensure that the apparatus for the war that 9/11 started would never die. Congressman Howard McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was typical.  On May 9th, he introduced legislation meant to embed in law the principle of indefinite detention without trial for suspected terrorists until “the end of hostilities.”  What this would mean, in reality, is the perpetuation ad infinitum of that Bush-era creation, our prison complex at Guantanamo (not to speak of our second Guantanamo at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan).
In other words, Washington now seems to be engaged in a wholesale post-bin Laden ratification of business as usual, but this time on steroids.

Peter Finn, Washington Post, 23 January 2011

But by 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground – high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.
Such technology could allow police to record the activities of the public below with high-resolution, infrared and thermal-imaging cameras.
One manufacturer already advertises one of its small systems as ideal for “urban monitoring.” The military, often a first user of technologies that migrate to civilian life, is about to deploy a system in Afghanistan that will be able to scan an area the size of a small town. And the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence to seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity.
Lambert, Corrente, 19 June 2011  (Hat tip NC).
So, suppose an administration much like Obama's but with better technology wants to create a system of total control, much like the Stasi's. Suppose that administration -- or, more to the point, its elite owners -- has come to believe that events like Tahrir Square, or Syntagma Square, or Plaza del Sol are bad for business, and would just as soon they didn't happen. And suppose the administration notices that such manifestations tend to happen in cities, where the population is concentrated, people exchange ideas in coffee shops, the agora, the churches, the union halls, and so forth. And suppose, moreover, that the elite which owns the administration lives in or near cities -- like Manhattan, or the Gold Coast, or even McClean -- and yet would rather not deal with the ... Well, let's just go ahead and say the subhumans, eh? Don't you think everybody who matters would just love to put cities on lockdown with surveillance drones? As long as they could still get to their private planes? So much more effective than cameras, since while cameras are static, drones can be... kinetic.
Do the math. A list of the top 50 cities by population takes us all the way down to Minneapolis, MN. So, at rollout, you'd need 50 * 2,000 analysts (assuming no automation and a desire to avoid false positives). That's 100,000 people, plus some managers and political appointees. Seems like a lot, except (1) "Jobs!!!" and (2) TSA has a head count of 60,000 now, so 100,000 really isn't very much. Heck, the Stasi had 68,000, for a country the size of Nevada.
Anyhow, think how much safer we'll all feel.


Anonymous said...

Bit by bit. First it was radar. Then cameras at intersections. Now web cam every where. NSA able to check all phone/computer communications. With drones and infrared they will be watching you inside your house. Microchips on your drivers license. A computer record of all the foods you bought. What did I hear in the last ten years Calif. built 20 prisons, but only one college. (unchecked fact) Yep we keep voting them in. Dennis

russell1200 said...

When the drone gets to be the size of a fly, it may be on you without your even knowing. Sort of like the old Spidey Tracer but with more information coming in.

At the moment there are not many restrictions on the use of the technology by private individuals/corporations. The company you work for is actually the one who is the most intrusive right now. If you have a company phone, you can be tracked 24/7 and likely won't even know it.