This commentary has been contributed by Brandom Smith of Alt Market. Brandon is truly one of the great voices of our time for liberty, truth and common sense. His Alt Market web site is an organization that facilitates networking, local community action, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas and promotes decentralization, localism, and the de-globalization of human economic systems. To contribute to the growth of the Safe Haven Project, and to help others, visit Alt Market’s donate page here: http://www.alt-market.com/donate.
October 6th, 2011
At the very foundation of perhaps every modern day conflict between the expansive powers of unchecked bureaucracy and the dwindling freedoms of the ordinary citizen dwells the vital issue of privacy. Privacy and the right to hold personal and political views without being singled out and scrutinized by government is absolutely essential to any society which dares to deem itself “fair and just”. Ultimately, without the presence of these two liberties, and without people to defend them, a nation is ill equipped to circumvent the growth of tyranny, and anyone claiming to be “free” in the midst of such a culture is living a delusion of the highest order.
Often, social engineers attempt to direct debate over the issue of privacy towards rationalizations of relative morality, or artificially delineated priorities. We quibble over the level of government intrusion that should be tolerated for the sake of the “greater good”. We struggle with questions of bureaucratic reach, wondering at which point we should consider government a threat to the safety and liberty of the people, rather than a servant and protector. The dialogue always turns towards “how much” room government should be given to lumber about our personal lives. Rarely do we actually confront the idea that, perhaps, government should not be welcomed at all into such places.
Really, what makes a governmental entity so special that it should be allowed free access to the activities of the average citizen? Why should ANY intrusion of privacy be tolerated, let alone the kind that goes on today? Our most important concern is not how much leeway our government should be given to snoop into our pocket books, our medical records, our education, our political leanings, or our child rearing philosophies, but rather, whether or not they fulfill any purpose whatsoever through these actions. Is the government, as it exists now, even necessary, or does it cause only harm?
Under tyranny, privacy is usually the first right to be trampled in the name of public safety. Its destruction is incremental and its loss a victim of attrition in the wake of more immediate crisis. Disturbingly, many people become so fixated upon the threats of the moment that they lose complete track of the long term derailment of their own free will in progress. Government, no matter how corrupt, is seen as an inevitability. Conditioned by fear, desperation, insecurity, and sometimes greed, we begin to forget what it was like to live without prying eyes constantly over our shoulders. In the past decade alone, Americans have witnessed a substantial invasion of our individual privacy as well as a destabilization of the legal protections once designed to maintain it. Not just America, but most of the modern world has undergone a quiet program of surveillance and citizen cataloging that goes far beyond any sincere desire for “safety” and into the realm of technocratic domination.
Spying on U.S. citizens by a host of alphabet agencies has been going on for decades, but the actual cataloging of the public by government became most direct during WWII, which saw the use of the Census Bureau as a tool for collecting the names and residencies of Japanese Americans, as well as the highly illegal and unconstitutional internment of these innocents and their families:
The creation of lists designed to brand dissenters, activists, and even average passive persons has only become more prevalent since. From the McCarthy witch hunts (based on some real threats but skewed by McCarthy’s ignorance of the bigger picture), to the Cointelpro antics of the Vietnam era, government spying and cataloging has been a way of life and an expected prerequisite part of the relationship between citizenry and leadership. Though consistently opposed, surveillance has become ingrained into our social framework.
In 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Information Act (FISA) was signed by Jimmy Carter into law.The claimed purpose of this act was to confront the extensive abuses of power initiated by the Nixon administration, and to ensure that intelligence agencies were never used again as tools for suppressing political opposition or activist groups. Instead, the act merely became a cover for even more surveillance of American citizens. FISA’s use was expanded far beyond the realm of “foreign intelligence” by both the Bush and Obama Administrations to include vast warrantless wire tapping programs and internet monitoring against U.S. citizens in tandem with telecom companies who are now immune from civil litigation should their intrusions ever be discovered. In 2010, orders for FISA surveillance were up 19%, and not a single request was turned down. This included over 24,287 national security information requests by the FBI pertaining to over 14,000 U.S. persons:
In 2002, the Bush Administration established the Information Awareness Office (IAO) under the supervision of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Using what they call “Total Information Awareness”, and stemming from the usurping authority of the Patriot Act, this project’s purpose is to monitor vast swaths of domestic communication, as well as collect a massive database of the personal information of every U.S. citizen, including phone calls, emails, social networking records, medical records, and financial records without search warrant authorization:
In the UK, a national database including biometrics has been ordered for completion by 2017, including the issuance of a microchipped ID card:
A similar action has been taken by the government of India for citizens “below the poverty line”, supposedly, to make welfare programs easier to administer. Of course, nearly half of India’s population is under the international poverty line:
In 2009, the Russian government gave itself sweeping powers to spy on citizens, including unlimited access to all private mail without a warrant:
Last month, the Obama Administration launched a website called ‘Attack Watch’. Its purpose?To monitor and catalog all internet based opponents of the Obama presidency. Obama supporters can “report” attacks on the White House using the website by sending an email or twitter:
And most recently, the Federal Reserve itself launched a new strategy called the “Social Listening Platform”, which is designed to compile and monitor lists of Fed opponents and critics in a vast database, while at the same time watching billions of web conversations and blogs for negative influence against the central bank:
Obviously, the current levels of surveillance against citizens has gone way beyond the old excuse of “defense against terrorism”, and jaunted into the realm of Orwellian thought police.The Fed, for instance, has always claimed that its privately controlled banking structure is valuable to the U.S. government and the economy because it allows them a level of political independence that is useful in applying “objective” solutions to economic problems. Yet, they now insist on tracking the political views and opinions of their opponents in the general populace! This hardly sounds “objective” to me…
If the Fed wants to know what we think of them, they certainly don’t need to covertly monitor our communications or writings. All they have to do is ask us! Of course, this kind of tactic has less to do with knowing our opinions, and more to do with silencing our opinions.
To understand the concept of the subversion of dissent through surveillance, we must examine two factors. First, is the reality of the spying itself, which we just outlined clearly above. Second, are the common arguments and talking points used by the champions of Big Brother culture, and how nonsensical they can be. Let’s take a look some of these arguments now…
1) If You Have Nothing To Hide, Then You Have Nothing To Fear From Government Surveillance
At bottom, whether we have “something to hide” or not is none of the government’s concern unless they can provide probable cause. This issue is directly dealt with in the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. It is NOT subject to wild interpretations or matters of stipulation. No national emergencies, wars, terrorist enemies, nor little green men from outer space take precedence over the rights of the individual to be secure from constant and unwarranted scrutiny. In a free country, all men are innocent until proven guilty, but in a surveillance slave culture, everyone is treated as a potential criminal.
2) Surveillance Makes Our Country Safer
Regardless of the society at risk, or the government involved, history has shown that the act of government spying is rarely if ever about citizen safety. Rather, it is invariably about protecting the establishment power structure itself, especially when that structure has committed heinous transgressions and criminal behavior that inspire the citizenry to overthrow it. The more offensive and corrupt the government, the more surveillance that government thrusts upon the public. Guaranteed. The safety provided by the state is, in general, an illusion, and the prevention of danger is hardly successful enough to warrant the faith that the populace places in the establishment. Citizens ultimately provide their own safety, or none at all. Governments cannot save you from danger, they can only give you a superficial sense of comfort. A social placebo to ease the constant paranoia they simultaneously strive to perpetuate.
3) The Authorities Already Know Everything About Us Anyway, So A Little More Surveillance Won’t Matter
The magic of faulty logic is apparent in its circular nature. One lie feeds into another until a complete, but erroneous, idea is born. Again, the question needs to be raised; what makes the inhabitants of government so trustworthy or upright that they deserve to expect full knowledge of our personal lives? What they know or do not know already is utterly irrelevant to this question.Being privy to public information databases does not qualify an individual to walk into your home, track your phone calls and emails, or place you on a list of undesirables. So, why should it be any different for a government?
4) Our Government Is Elected By The People, So If You Don’t Like Surveillance, Vote Them Out
The ignorance of this response is hopefully apparent to most readers. In an election dynamic controlled by a two party system in which both parties represent the top 1% or less of global elitists, and not the people, voting on the national level is hardly meaningful or effective. There is only one Ron Paul, and few others in government with similar convictions or principles.Therefore, regardless of how we vote, the system is designed to continue forward in the construction of a surveillance society. Our government today is NOT elected by the people. Not as long as the false left/right paradigm remains.
5) All Individuals Should Make Sacrifices For The Greater Good
The “greater good” is a matter of perspective. My definition is certainly much different from that of an elitist or a collectivist. Ideally, any widely applied view of this elusive greater good should be built upon the foundation of inherent conscience, and be driven by true sincerity and empathy for the future of humanity. This future, if it is to be any future worth living in, must include those liberties and desires for self determination that exist in every one of us. There is no group (an abstract concept) that is worth the sacrifice of these principles. There is no group that is worth more that the individuals which make its existence possible. The greater good then, logically, should revolve around the nurturing of strong individuals, without which, the group crumbles into chaos and dust. Supplanting individualism for the sake of a surveillance society always leads to such an end.
As stated above, government spying and cataloging of citizens is a means to several ends. It is meant to create fear, doubt, and self censorship. It is meant to divert attention away from the legitimate criminal behaviors of authorities and towards the inevitable and justifiable reactions of those in opposition. It is meant to create efficiency in subversion. Meaning, when smaller forces (corrupt governments) seek to destabilize and diminish larger forces (populations), efficiency of action is the key. By identifying, then targeting and defaming specific and prominent critics of the Fed, for example, rather than making broad based attacks on all of us, the central bank is more likely to dissuade the growth of dissent, and chill the air for leadership figures in the movement. That is, if they are successful…
The great anxiety here is one of “what if”? What if they target you? Or me? What happens then?My personal response; who cares! The more people who effectively endure as obstacles to centralization of control, the more people they have to add to their ridiculous lists. Eventually, with catalogs of millions cluttering the war room, the very tactic of government spying becomes futile. The key is to cast off the dread of the machine and realize that none of us is alone in the fight. The juggernaut is hollow. Its terrible roar is choked with smoke. It rolls forward only because we have not yet dared to stand in its path. It is weak, and indeed, we may find, its doubts are far heavier than ours.
You can contact Brandon Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org