America's Spy State: How the Telecoms Sell Out Your Privacy
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You need to know one simple truth: you have no privacy with regard to your electronic communications.
Nothing you do online, via a wireline telephone or over a wireless device is outside the reach of government security agencies and private corporations. Your ostensible personal communication -- whether a phone call, an email, a search, visiting a website, a credit card purchase, a 140 character Tweet, a movie download or a Facebook friending -- is a public commodity, subject to the dictates of the security state and market opportunists.
Corporate surveillance has begun to raise consumer, Congressional and regulatory concerns – a major case, Amnesty v. Clapper, is now before the Supreme Court. One can only wonder why it is not an issue in this year’s election?
Corporate spying takes a variety of forms. GPS tracking over a wireless device is widespread. Google’s efforts to commercialize its users’ keystrokes resulted in a $25,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Potentially more consequential, a growing chorus of criticism over its recently introduced data-harvesting program seems to have contributed to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation of Google; the FTC retained Beth Wilkinson, a high-powered outside counsel, to oversee a possible anti-trust prosecution of the company. On March 1st, Google introduced a new program that collects user data from its 60 services. Google stores “cookies” (i.e., code that compiles a record of an individual’s web browsing history) on a growing number of communications devices, whether a home PC, tablet, smartphone and a growing number of TV sets. These cookies track every website a person visits or function s/he uses. As the New York Times wrote, “The case has the potential to be the biggest showdown between regulators and Silicon Valley since the government took on Microsoft 14 years ago.
The surveillance state is a multi-headed hydra. Corporate spying is intimately linked to the surveillance state, an omnipresent system consisting of federal, state and local security agencies. This spying system is made up of many of the leading private telecommunications and Internet companies working closely with the Department of Justice (DoJ), NSA, FBI, DHS, FCC and still other entities. This increasingly integrated federal system is complemented by an ever-growing army of state and local police “intelligence” agencies. Individual entities work either on their own, together with others and/or with private companies, many that financially benefit from commercial data harvesting.
Jon Michaels, a law professor at UCLA, warned in an invaluable 2008 study: “[P]articipating corporations have been instrumental in enabling U.S. intelligence officials to conduct domestic surveillance and intelligence activities outside of the congressionally imposed framework of court orders and subpoenas, and also outside of the ambit of inter-branch oversight.” His warning rings louder in 2012.
“All the President's Spies: Private-Public Intelligence Partnerships in the War on Terror,”
The attacks of 9/11 provided the rationale for the institutionalization of the security state. Now, a decade later, the U.S. is in a perpetual state of war, fighting threats both foreign and domestic, thus providing the ongoing rationale for expanding surveillance.
The principle vehicle for this policing action is the National Security Letter (NSL), an administrative demand letter or subpoena requiring neither probable cause nor judicial oversight. In effect, an NSL overrides 4th Amendment guarantees safeguarding an American’s right from unreasonable search and seizure. 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. (Nicholas Merrill received an NSL; his experience should be a warning to us all.)