The Homeland Security Monstrosity

Congress spent just a few short hours last week voting to create the biggest new federal bureaucracy since World War II, not that the media or even most members of Congress paid much attention to the process. Yet our most basic freedoms as Americans – privacy in our homes, persons, and possessions; confidentiality in our financial and medical affairs; openness in our conversations, telephone, and Internet use; unfettered travel; indeed the basic freedom not to be monitored as we go through our daily lives – have been dramatically changed.
The last time Congress attempted a similarly ambitious reorganization of the government was with the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947. Back then, congressional hearings on the matter lasted two years before President Truman finally signed legislation. Even after this lengthy deliberation, however, organizational problems with the new department lasted more than 40 years! What do we expect from a huge bureaucracy conceived virtually overnight, by a Congress that didn’t even read the bill that creates it? Surely more deliberation was appropriate before establishing a giant new federal agency with 170,000 employees!
When the Homeland Security department first was conceived, some congressional leaders and administration officials outrageously told a credulous rank-and-file Congress that the new department would be "budget neutral." The agency simply would be a reorganization of existing federal employees, we were told, and would not increase the federal budget. In fact, the agency was touted as increasing efficiency, rather than expanding federal power. Of course the original 32 page proposal sent over by the White House quickly grew to 282 pages in House committees, ending up at more than 500 pages in the final version voted on last week – with a $3 billion price tag just for starters. The sheer magnitude of the bill, and the technical complexity of it, makes it impossible for anyone to understand completely. Rest assured that the new department represents a huge increase in the size and scope of the federal government that will mostly serve to spy on the American people. Can anyone, even the most partisan Republican, honestly say with a straight face that the Department of Homeland Security does not expand the federal government?
The list of dangerous and unconstitutional powers granted to the new Homeland Security department is lengthy. Warrantless searches, forced vaccinations of whole communities, federal neighborhood snitch programs, federal information databases, and a sinister new "Information Awareness Office" at the Pentagon that uses military intelligence to spy on domestic citizens are just a few of the troubling aspects of the new legislation.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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