Domestic Surveillance Practices Are Indefensible

                     By Steve Rensberry
                          Commentary
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   (RPC) - 7/4/2013 - The massive data mining practices currently being undertaken by agencies in the United States are like a knife in the heart to a free and open society.
   Irrespective of the government's stated intent that it means us no harm and that they are only seeking to protect us from terrorism, the mass surveillance and collection of an entire population's Internet communications and phone records--and who knows what else--is deeply damaging to the body politic.
   The goal, it would seem, is not merely to apprehend criminals and punish them when others are hurt, but to predict the behavior of all of us through an analysis of both our behavior and thoughts -- gleaned from the words we use and the things we share and derived from digital algorithms and selected criteria hatched behind guarded doors and the walls of secretive agencies. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking reasonable steps to prevent crime, but what is freedom worth without the basic right to free and open communication? Digital communication is all but ubiquitous in a modern society.
   The government, and the National Security Agency in particular, has no justifiable reason in digging for data on innocent Americans, or in collecting metadata that contains details of who people talk to, what they read and what they do in the digital world. Certainly the objective of fighting terrorism can be accomplished with far less intrusive means, that respects our privacy.
   What we now know is that every email you send to your relatives, every phone call you make and receive, every business dealing,  financial transaction and text message that you make using electronic communication, will now be analyzed, scanned, profiled and stored indefinitely for easy access by agents snooping for dirt.
   Who will be watching the watchers?
   It is not Google the search engine you will be using to search the Internet. It is, for all practical purposes, a government search engine. The same can be said for Yahoo, Microsoft's Bing, Facebook and all the rest of today's Internet giants who are now routinely ordered to hand over records containing some of the most personal electronics transactions we make.
   Entrusting our data with private-sector corporations is one thing. Having it collected and stored by powerful government agencies as though we were common criminals who need constant surveillance is another thing entirely.
   David Rosen, writing about "6 Government Survillance Programs Designed to Watch What You Do Online," noted in June of 2012 the growing list of methods by which the U.S. government tracks, without probably cause, the behavior and habits of its own civilians. These include a procedure by the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property section to gather data from social networking sites in order to "establish motives and personal relationships"; the IRS practice of using sites such as Facebook and Google to investigate taxpayers; an effort by the Director of National Intelligence to obtain a mechanism to "integrate all online information,"; a Defense Department effort involving a "Social Media Strategic Communications (SMISC) program; and an FBI effort to develop an "FBI Social Media Application," program.
   Add to these a long list of other government surveillance projects such as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative; PRISM; DCSNet: Main Core: NSA Call Database; Intelligence Community (IC); Financial Crimes Enforcement Task Force: Terrorist Finance Tracking Program; Tailored Access Operations and Boundless Informant .
   A June 15, 2013 story by the Associated Press entitled "PRISM part of a much larger government surveillance program,"  cites a program called US-98XN which predates the PRISM program and which it says has been collecting data on U.S. citizens from private sector companies for years.
   Other past efforts have included Project Echelon, the Total Information Awareness System, the COINTELPRO program and Spygate.
   Computer and digital technology has provided us with tremendous freedom to express our ideas and to communicate, all at speeds that would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago. We can send, receive and store practically an endless number of photos, documents and messages.
   But it's a freedom that clearly has become a two-edged sword.
   It's sad and unfortunate, but the days of deep encryption, digital privacy fences, multiple aliases and the serious mistrust of everything we see and hear, appear poised to grow exponentially.
   Unless things change, the days of a free and open Internet, of corporations that can be trusted to safeguard our data for an exchange of services and revenue, would appear all but dead. (Edited with corrections, July 5, 2013)

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Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014