Is Privacy Dead? 4 Government and Private Entities Conspiring to Track Everything You Do Online and Off
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The most Kafkaesque example of federal tracking efforts has been the DHS Transportation and Safety Administration’s (TSA) No-Fly List. As of 2011, it was estimated to contain about 10,000 names. The list’s inherent absurdity was illustrated when, some years before his death, Ted Kennedy discovered he (as “T. Kennedy”) was on the list.
The No-Fly List is administered by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) which cannot reveal whether a particular person is on the list, nor does it have the authority to remove someone from the list -- that's up to the FBI. The TSC also manages what is known as the Terrorist Watch List. Administered by the FBI, the list, according to an ACLU estimate, consists of 1 million names and is continually expanding.
DHS also maintains the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) that has the fingerprints, photographs and biographical information on 126 million people.
During the July 4, 2012, holiday weekend, Pres. Obama quietly released a new Executive Order, “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions.” While ostensibly seeking to ensure the continuity of government communications during a national emergency, it grants new powers to the DHS over telecom. It permits the agency to collect public communications information and the authority to seize private facilities when necessary. The Executive Order is legislation through the back door, the Obama Administration’s effort to implement a law that Congress rejected in 2011.
Parallel to the DHS efforts, the FBI maintains a number of operations tracking Americans. The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) keeps fingerprint records of some 62 million people; it makes this resource available to 43 states and 5 other federal agencies. Soon, the agency will switch over to the NGI (Next Generation Initiative), which will contain face recognition searchable photos, iris scans, fingerprints, palm prints, and a record of scars and tatoos. The FBI coordinates the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) that has DNA evidence from blood and saliva sample on more than 10 million people. In addition, the FBI maintains the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR) that includes some 160,000 reports on people who allegedly acted suspiciously.
(These activities are separate from the recent revelation from AntiSec that found on a FBI agent laptop a database of 12 million Apple device owners’ users unique identify, including owner's personal information.)
In 2004, Congress established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to serve as the “center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence, staffed by personnel from the various agencies.” It maintains the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) that includes records on an estimated 740,000 people. Federal authorities claim that less than 2 percent of the people on file are US citizens or legal permanent residents. Earlier this year, Att. Gen. Eric Holder extended the agency’s ability to maintain private information about U.S. citizens when there is no suspicion that they are involved in terrorism from 180 days to five years.
The NSA’s authority overrides 4th Amendment guarantees safeguarding a citizen’s right from unreasonable search and seizure through what is known as a National Security Letter (NSL). In 2008, Congress revised the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act freeing the NSA from the bothersome requirement of having to prove probable cause before intercepting a person’s phone calls, text messages or emails from someone in the U.S. suspected of involvement with terrorism. Between 2000 and 2010 (excluding 2001 and 2002 for which no records are available), the FBI was issued 273,122 NSLs; in 2010, 24,287 letters were issued pertaining to 14,000 U.S. residents.
In June 2011, the DoD originally launched a pilot program, the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) Cyber Pilot, with 20 private companies. It would allow intelligence agencies to share threat information with private military contractors. Among the companies who participated were Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon as well as telcos AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink. The telcos filter incoming email for malicious software. In May 2012, DoD and DHS announced plans to expand the program to 200 participants and the DoD estimates that approximately 8,000 firms could potentially participate.