by James Smith
While a bit long and perhaps dry, I tried to keep the language and structure of this article simple so a younger audience might be able to digest it.
1. It's Not Only About You
Snowden said, "Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say." Just because YOU have nothing to say does not mean other people do not have something to say. Just because YOU don't feel you have anything to hide does not mean other people do not have something to hide.
The decisions you make about privacy don't just affect you. Your decisions affect everyone you communicate with and everyone that tries to communicate with you. I am not a criminal, but I do have things to 'hide'. I do have things I want to keep private. These things are private to me and those I trust to share these things with. When you tell me that you don't care about your privacy, you are also telling me you don't care about my privacy. I cannot trust you to confide in you, share my discoveries with you, or share my personal thoughts and feelings with you.
2. The Psychology of Manipulation
It is important for you to look up a specific word rather than define it or give you its history so that you can disassociate what you read here with one of the most basic concepts of human psychology: free will. It is important that you understand emotional and behavioral manipulation. It makes no difference if you look it up before or after reading this section.
Free will is a fundamental human right when describing the concept of liberty in a 'free' country. The ability and right of the individual to make choices and decisions, to act and behave as desired, and to acquire knowledge is paramount to living free, as long as one's actions do not negatively affect someone else's right to liberty or their "pursuit of happiness". We call the USA a free country.
Unfortunately, when we know we are being observed we act differently. When we know someone is listening we clam up or choose our words more carefully or do not discuss personal things. Our behavior changes due to a lack of privacy.
I am a very curious individual by nature. I don't just want to know something exists, I want to why it exists. I want to know how it works. When I hear about IEDs killing our troops in the middle east, I don't just want to know what an Improvised Explosive Device is, I want to know how they are built. Is it a complicated device that some genius is running around planting out there in the sand? Or is it a fairly simple device pieced together with whatever is available? I have no use for one, but my curiosity compels me to seek this knowledge.
But, what happens when I look this information up online? I would certainly be put on some terrorist watch list for simply satisfying my thirst for knowledge. Perhaps then I would be detained and harassed any time I enter or leave my country or travel within 100 miles of a national border2. I am risking my "freedom" just mentioning some of these words in this post.
What I'm trying to illustrate is that surveillance manipulates our sense of free will. It destroys it. I believe that privacy is a fundamental component of freedom. Without privacy, you cannot have liberty. Surveillance has nothing to do with "protecting" you. It has everything to do with controlling you. Do you really believe you live in a "free country" with your phone calls monitored, your emails grabbed and stored by government spies, your text messages scooped up and analyzed, your web surfing habits forever stored in a government database, and your purchases scrutinized?
3. Your Online Information Can Hurt You
We've all made someone angry at some point in our lives. We all have "enemies" in some form. Some of us have very dangerous enemies - I wasn't exactly part of the upright citizen's brigade when I was younger. I did things I am not proud of; I ran with people I would consider vile today. I made some of these people very angry. I'll leave the details for my senior memoirs in a couple of decades.
Between the Internet and the proliferation of data brokers, stalking has become so easy today that anyone with an internet connection can dig up a wealth of information on most people. Add to that the overwhelming amount of data people share about themselves and their friends on sites like Facebook and YouTube, plus every single business you deal with selling your information to anyone willing to pay, it is becoming nearly impossible to "hide" from stalkers, abusive exes, or just about anyone that may wish you harm.
I won't go into detail about finding a career, but understand that employers now do extensive background checks that include social media posts, uploaded video, support forum inquiries, etc. There are services built for this that compile and *flag* anything they might consider controversial about you. Have you ever said anything online that you might not want a potential employer to know? Most people have, and it is now possible to correlate and connect even 'anonymous' posts with an individual. Once you post something online, you cannot remove it. It will exist in some form somewhere forever.
4. Its Not Illegal ... Today
No single person knows all of the Federal laws in this country (USA), nor can any single person keep up with the daily changes in Federal law in this country. That is not exaggeration, that is fact.
As of April 2015, the Federal Tax Code alone is 74,608 pages3. It has 187 times more pages than it did 100 years ago. It has nearly tripled in size since 1984 when it was a "mere" 26,300 pages. Keep in mind, this ONLY covers Federal tax law. The Federal government is so much more than just the IRS.
New departments of government are created each year to keep up with and manage our out-of-control protean "legal system". Each of these departments oversees its own newly created departments to sub-manage more evolving law. It just keeps changing and growing so much and so often that our own government can no longer manage it all.
It's bad enough that our Federal government can't seem to manage its legal system. Each state seems to be suffering the same pitfall. It never ends. What purpose could this absolute mess of ever-changing law possibly serve? Perhaps if our legal system was actually purpose-bound for serving justice instead of greed, things might be different.
Think about these statistics for a moment:
- The United States is home to roughly 4.5% of the world's population (~319 million out of ~7.1 billion)
- The United States is home to roughly 23% of the world's prison population4
- Nearly 60% of inmates in the United States are serving extended sentences for non-violent victimless "crimes"
- At their current growth rate, private prisons will house 50% of US inmates by 2035
Incarceration in the United States is big business, fetching billions in revenue for the corporations that own and operate private prisons. These corporate owned and managed prisons have outrageous contract agreements with the states in which they operate, usually requiring 90%-95% minimum occupancy, else the state (actually you: the tax-payer) pays penalties to the corporations. In some cases the contracts stipulate 100% occupancy5. Keep in mind, these contracts don't change just because the crime rate declines. States are still under contractual obligation to fill these prisons.
Corporate lobbying and corporate campaign contributions are nothing short of bribery, but they are legal in the United States. Two of the largest private prison corporations, Geo Group (GEO) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), have given more than $10 million to US candidates and spent more than $25 million on lobbying efforts since 19896. All that legal bribery has paid off to the tune of $3.3 billion in annual revenue for just these two companies.
Crime rates have been on a steady decline in the United States since the early 1990s7. Violent crime is roughly half of what it was 25 years ago. According to the ACLU, in 1992 there were 12,453 inmates in the US serving life without parole, but by 2012 the number had grown more than 300% to 49,081. In 1990 there were a total of 771,243 Federal and state prisoners8, and by 2013 that number more than doubled to 1,574,700. The total number of incarcerated inmates in 2013, including municipal jails, was 2,220,300.
If crime rates continue to drop year after year, what do governments (Federal and state) do to keep private prisons full, especially as more private prisons are contracted each year?
If you aren't catching on yet, lets recap.
- Nation-wide crime rates have been steadily declining over the last 25 years
- The US prison population is still increasing
- Most inmates are serving lengthy sentences for non-violent "crimes" that did not involve a victim
- Government is finding it harder to maintain contractual occupancy obligations to privately-owned prisons
- More private prison contracts are being awarded to corporations each year where money matters more than justice
- Thousands of new laws and regulations are created in the US each year
- Private, for-profit prisons create government incentive for incarceration
Only in America, land of the fee, home of the incarcerated. What was "legal" yesterday may not be "legal" today. Do you still think you have done nothing wrong and that you have nothing to hide?
- About 6.9 million persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems in 2013 (Federal, state, municipal)9, 10
- Roughly 1 in 35 adults have been incarcerated in the United States, 1 in 100 are currently incarcerated9
- It is estimated that the average American unwittingly commits three felonies a day11, 12
5. The War on Terror
Witches and Communists and Terrorists ... oh my!
Up until just a few hundred years ago, governments (the church) kept citizens under control with a slightly different form of mass surveillance - an all-knowing god. 'God is watching you, he knows your sins, he will punish you in the afterlife'.
As the masses became educated and began to read, different interpretations of religious texts emerged and the church started to lose control. In the 17th and 18th centuries, witches started to plague the land, but, fortunately, the government (the church) was there to help. Witches were brought to trial and executed in an effort to save their souls and give them a chance at redemption (... and remind the public that they will be burned at the stake if they step out of line).
In the 50's, the witches all became communists. Just like the time of the Witch Trials, you could simply accuse someone of being a communist and away they went. Honestly, not much has changed today.
In the 80's communist witches became terrorists. With the fall of communism in the 80's, the US needed a new national enemy to convince the American people they need 'government protection'. This is a sham invented to keep the average citizen agreeing with mass surveillance. We have largely been convinced we need to trade personal freedom and liberty for a false sense of security. Again, the purpose of surveillance isn't about protecting you, it is about exerting control over you (see #2 above).
Do 'terrorist' attacks occur? Sure they do, but the chance of an American being killed or injured by a terrorist is far less than the chance of an American citizen being gunned down by American police on American soil. As an American, you are 8 times more likely to be killed by US police than by a terrorist13. So, where is the government's "War on Police"?
No, I absolutely do not want a "War on Police". That is ridiculous. I am merely trying to make a point; our powers-that-be have blown 'terrorism' so far out of proportion that the perception of freedom has become grotesquely distorted. The average citizen is in favor of state-surveillance because they've been told it gives them security from terrorists. The United States is not the 'land of the free' it claims to be.
Not much has changed in the last few centuries regarding control with surveillance. We've replaced God with electronic surveillance and the threat of hell with no-fly lists and prison without trial under the NDAA-201214 or Patriot Act. After all, terrorists don't deserve attorneys and they certainly don't have any rights. In the meantime, it may take a few years to determine if you are a terrorist while you rot in prison for 'googling' "IED".
- 2 The Constitution in the 100 Mile Border Zone (archive.is - from ACLU)
- 3 Look at how many pages are in the federal tax code (archive.is - from Washington Examiner)
- 4 Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Total (archive.is - from International Centre for Prison Studies)
- 5 This Is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall (archive.is - from Mother Jones)
- 6 PDF - Gaming the System (justicepolicy.org)
- 7 Crime in the US (wikipedia.org)
- 8 PDF - Prisoners in 1990 (bjs.gov)
- 9 PDF - Prisoners in 2013 (bjs.gov)
- 10 Census Quick Facts (archive.is - from US Census Bureau)
- 11 We're All Felons, Now (archive.is - from Reason.com)
- 12 Three Felonies a Day (youtube.com - Texas Public Policy Foundation)
- 13 US Police Have Killed Nearly 9,000 Civilians Since 9/11 (archive.is - from MintPress News)
- 14 NDAA (2012) (wikipedia.org)
- 1990 Census Data (census.gov)
- 2010 Census QuickFacts (census.gov)