5 Ways the War on Terror Has Changed Your Life

Human Rights

The leaks from National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden over the summer have made one thing abundantly clear: the war on terror has come to affect every single American. The justification for the NSA’s massive surveillance program has been that it helps prevent terrorist attacks, though journalists, analysts and U.S. politicians have cast doubt on those claims.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Muslims in the U.S. were systematically targeted, harassed and detained. But soon enough, the war on terror at home became a war where all Americans got caught up in its dragnet.

Now it’s not just Muslims who are affected, though they still remain the most under threat from government power. It’s all Americans--and the powers of the National Security Agency prove that. From having your phone and internet data collected to the militarization of the police, the war on terror is having a major affect on American lives.

Here are 5 ways the war on terror impacts you.

1. Phone Data

The first major Guardian story by Glenn Greenwald resulting from Snowden’s leaks was on a secret court order requiring Verizon to give the NSA information on all phone calls made on its system. The specific information collected from these calls is “metadata,” or the “information generated as you use technology” that can include the “date and time you called somebody or the location from which you last accessed your email,” as the Guardian notes. These calls included those within the U.S. and those between domestic and international callers. The secret Verizon order was renewed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last month, as it must be every three months.

But it’s not just Verizon callers who are having their “metadata” collected. After Greenwald’s first story was published, the Wall Street Journal reported that customers of AT&T and Sprint also have their metadata collected under a similar court order.

Millions and millions of Americans are having information about who they call and where they call from collected by the government. And that’s just a start to how the war on terror is impacting you.

2. NSA Data For Criminal Investigations

Yesterday, Reuters reported that information collected from government agencies, including the NSA, was being sent to local law enforcement for use in criminal investigations. It’s an example of how the war on drugs is bleeding into the war on terror.

Reuters reported that the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Special Operations Division (SOD) takes the lead on this. The SOD is comprised of a number of partner agencies, like the NSA, CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security. Information that comes from phone records, foreign governments, wiretaps and more is funneled to local law enforcement authorities to crack crime cases, particularly drug cases.

What’s worse is that the law enforcement authorities who receive this information then try to cover up that they got it from this program. The data the NSA is collecting is now being used to target Americans accused of ordinary crimes.

3. Internet Data

In addition to phone “metadata” being collected, the NSA also collects all sorts of information from your Internet activities. One NSA program called PRISM collects “metadata” from a number of Internet companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook.

While the NSA claims to have “direct” access to the servers of these companies, they have denied that and only say they comply with specific court orders. Whatever the case, it’s clear that the NSA collects data about Americans’ internet use.

Last week, the Guardian’s Greenwald published another major story on yet another NSA program that targets Internet use. Greenwald reported that “a top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

The program, called XKeyscore, show how individual analysts can easily search through massive databases about Americans’ internet use. No court order is needed for this type of searching.

4. Your Tax Money Pays for the NSA

At the same time that the NSA is collecting data on you, you’re paying for them to do so. The NSA’s budget comes from the American taxpayer, and so taxpayers are giving this powerful agency the money to carry out their surveillance.

As CNN reported in June, when the NSA scandal first broke out, “ it's impossible to say exactly how much money the NSA is given to conduct its surveillance efforts” because the details of its budget are classified. But there’s at least some information that gives a hint as to how much the NSA is costing the American taxpayer.

In total, the intelligence budget was $75 billion last year. And transparency advocate Steven Aftergood estimates that about $10 billion goes to the NSA.

Additionally, the American taxpayer is paying for the rest of the war on terror at home. That includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s budget, which is used for terror investigations and hiring informants to bait young, troubled Muslims into saying they want to commit terrorism--even if there was no real threat.

5. Militarized Police Force

Another way American taxpayers are footing the bill for the war on terror is how they’re paying for the militarization of America’s police force.

Police militarization began before September 11, as author Radley Balko notes. After 9/11, the militarization continued apace. America’s police departments now needed to fight crime and terrorism.

Police departments were given high-grade weapons that were unnecessary to combat local crime. The departments received things like armored personnel carriers, aircraft and boats. They also began getting machine guns from the military in order to fight terrorism.

“The main effect of 9/11 on domestic policing is the DHS grant program, which writes huge checks to local police departments across the country to purchase machine guns, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers,” Balko told VICE magazine.


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