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The New Surveillance Society: How "Community" Policing Follows Your Every Move

A new notion of "community policing" has emerged, where monitoring communities has taken the place of solving crimes.
 
 
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Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the "Homeland"is a collaborative project with Truthout and ACLU Massachusetts.

Surveillance now is everyone's business, as the line between intelligence-gathering and crimefighting rapidly fades and the public is conditioned to play its part.

The work of Deputy Police Chief Michael Downing of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) exemplifies the new surveillance paradigm. The head of the 750-strong counterterrorism force within the LAPD, he is on the hunt for "people who follow al-Qaeda's goals and objectives and mission and ideology." He says his officers collect intelligence and practice the "essence of community policing" by reaching out to Muslims and asking them to "weed out" the "hard- core radicals."

He adds that he is pleased that many Muslims have adopted the LAPD's iWatch program and are prepared, along with the general public, to call in tips about suspicious activity. With "violent Islamists" as his main target, Chief Downing is also keeping track of "black separatists, white supremacist/sovereign citizen extremists and animal rights terrorists." If threats materialize, he can draw upon the LAPD's "amazing" backup capacity - SWAT units, direct-action teams, air support, counterassault teams and squads that specialize in disrupting vehicle bombs.

Here we see several of the components of the new surveillance society. A militarized police force no longer leaves intelligence work to federal authorities. It seeks out information about anything that can be connected to "suspicious" activity and is keeping track of certain individuals and groups whether or not there is evidence that they are engaging in criminal activity. Police are expected to chase down unsubstantiated tips from the public, and not just to pursue evidence of wrongdoing. A new notion of "community policing" has emerged, where monitoring communities - with all the trust issues that this implies - has taken the place of winning community support by being accountable to residents and solving crimes.

The LAPD is one of some 3,984 federal, state and local agencies now collecting information about "suspicious activity" that could be related to terrorism. The Washington Post's "Top Secret America" series states that 854,000 people now hold "top-secret" security clearance. We estimate that's about one for every 215 working-age Americans. An additional 3 million people reportedly hold "secret" security clearance.

The federal government spends more annually on civilian and military intelligence than the rest of the world put together - $80 billion is a conservative figure, according to the October 28, 2010, Post. This is in addition to the $42-plus billion allocated to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the spending on intelligence activities by the LAPD and other state and local police forces. The homeland security industry is flourishing, with lucrative contracts being awarded to Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and other major defense contractors.

What exactly is being built with these funds?

The "Information Sharing Environment"

Essentially, the "total information awareness" assumption that the nation can be made safe by applying advanced technology to massive databases has been married to the call for a "unity of effort in sharing information" issued by the bipartisan 9/11 National Commission. The commissioners had recommended a fundamental change in how the nation's 16 intelligence agencies carried out their business. They urged that the "need to know" culture be replaced with a "need to share" imperative, with information being transmitted horizontally among agencies, not just vertically within agencies. They further recommended that the FBI be equipped to assume prime responsibility for domestic intelligence-gathering, that it incorporate a "specialized and integrated national security workforce," and that it form collaborative relationships with state and local police for this purpose.