‘The Coming Surveillance Dystopia’

March 8th, 2013

I wasn’t going to post this. You know all of this, or, at least you should, if you’ve been hanging out here for any length of time.

But, Holder, “Dressed like Elvis and surrounded by the Real Housewives of Orange County,” won me over.

Must share.

Via: The Verge:

Assuming that some degree of privacy is still possible, most people don’t seem to think it’s worth the effort. The cypherpunks and their ilk fought to keep things like the PGP encryption program legal — and we don’t use them. We know Facebook and Google leak our personal online habits like a sieve and we don’t make much effort to cover our tracks. Perhaps some of us buy the good citizen cliché that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about, but most of us are just opting for convenience. We’ve got enough to deal with day to day without engaging in a privacy regimen. Occasionally, some slacker may lose his job because he posted a photo of himself cradling his bong or the like, but as with civil liberties more generally, as long as the daily outrages against individuals don’t reach epic proportions, we rubberneck in horror and then return to our daily activities.

Beneath this complacent surface lies a disquieting and mostly unexamined question. To what degree is the ubiquity of state surveillance a form of intimidation, a way to keep people away from social movements or from directly communicating their views?

Do you hesitate before liking WikiLeaks on Facebook?

Throughout its entire history, the FBI has used secret intelligence operations to spy on, disrupt, and otherwise target activists and groups it considered subversive (mostly on the political left). The most notorious incidents occurred between 1956 and 1971, under the umbrella of COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). When the FBI’s activities were revealed first in 1971 and later, more fully by the 1976 Church Committee, no politically astute person shrugged it off. It was understood without question that mega surveillance of political activists was an act of suppression period, full stop.

Part of the shock of the COINTELPRO revelations was the FBI’s engagement in illegal activities to destroy political organizations. The government’s violation of its own surveillance laws even trumped the desire to punish the “symbolic bombings” of the Weather Underground. Since the FBI used illegal breaking and entering surveillance in an attempt to destroy the radical group, the leaders received light sentences when they emerged from underground. The same FBI techniques, once illegal, are undoubtedly so legal now under anti-terrorism laws that US Attorney General Holder could conduct the searches personally, dressed like Elvis and surrounded by the Real Housewives of Orange County in front of the cameras on a popular reality show.

We have, perhaps, already let the surveillance culture slide too long.

It’s not as though the spirit of COINTELPRO has left us. Jacob Appelbaum, who has never been accused of any crime, has been subjected to relentless harassment, starting in the summer of 2010, when he was held up at Newark Airport where he was frisked, his laptop was inspected, and his three mobile phones were taken. He was then passed along to US Army officials for four hours of questioning. One army interrogator told him, menacingly, “You don’t look like you’re going to do so well in prison.” Several contacts found on the confiscated cell phones were then also given a hard time at airports and border crossings. In December of that year he was — along with other WikiLeaks activists — one of the subjects of a court order that compelled Twitter to let the feds snoop inside his account. (He only knows this because Twitter won a petition to be able to inform the subjects.) He has since been continually harassed by airport security and has been detained at the US border twelve times.

That this harassment is happening to someone who hasn’t been charged with a crime is particularly frightening.

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