Monday, April 14, 2014

10 Incredible Ways You Are Being Tracked, Catalogued and Controlled

Author John Whitehead has a terrifying new book out called “Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.” The basic thrust and premise of the book is that America’s basic freedoms are under heavy assault on all fronts, and are in danger of being washed away entirely. 

He outlines exactly what these various attacks are, how they are manifesting themselves, and precisely how we are being kept under round the clock surveillance at this point, by our own government and forces cooperating with them (mega corporations).

There are more than just these touched on in the book, but to provide a brief overview, among others, these are just some of the ways you are being tracked, around the clock in the “land of the free.”

Based on your consumer activities: Federal and State law enforcement agencies have begun acting in partnership, sharing data collected on you, and they’ve collected a lot of data in an attempt to identify what they term as “suspicious persons.” 

What kinds of things can land you on the “suspicious persons” list, you ask? Great question. It turns out that it could be almost anything, up to and including people buying pallets of bottled water, photographing government buildings, and applying for a pilot’s license. Major retailers are getting in on the fun as well, and are often eager participants. 

Big Box retailers like Target have been tracking and assessing the behavior of their customers for years. In 2015, mega-food corporations will be rolling out high-tech shelving outfitted with cameras in order to track the shopping behavior of customers, as well as information like the age and sex of shoppers.

Based on your public activities: It’s not hard to see which way the wind is blowing. Following the lead of big government, private corporations are jumping into the fray as well, negotiating incredibly lucrative contracts with various law enforcement agencies (at all levels) around the country. 

The major goal here is to create an interlocking, utterly inescapable web of surveillance that encompasses all major urban centers. Companies like NICE and Bright Planet are selling services, expertise, and equipment to police departments with the promise of monitoring large groups of people seamlessly (think protests and rallies). 

They are also engaging in extensive online surveillance, looking for any hints of “large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals.” Defense contractors are attempting to take a bite out of this lucrative market as well. Raytheon has recently developed a software package known as Riot, which promises to predict the future behavior of an individual based upon his social media posts.

Based on your phone activities: The CIA is on record as having paid AT&T over $10 million dollars a year for years on end, in order to gain access to data on Americans’ phone calls abroad.

Based on your computer activities: Federal agents now employ a number of increasingly sophisticated hacking methods (oftentimes by hiring the world’s best hackers into their own ranks) in order to gain access to your computer activities and “see” whatever you’re seeing on your monitor. 

Hacking software can be installed any number of ways, including USB, or via an email attachment or software update. It can then be used to search through files stored on a hard drive, log keystrokes, or take real time screenshots of whatever a person is looking at on their computer, whether personal files, web pages, or email messages. It can also be used to remotely activate cameras and microphones.

Based on your behavior: Thanks to a flood of federal money, police departments nationwide are able to fund a variety of new surveillance systems that turn the most basic human behaviors into suspicious situations to be studied and analyzed. Police in California and Massachusetts have received federal funds to create systems like that operated by the New York Police Department, which “links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists.” 

Police all across the country are also now engaging in unprecedented, large scale data mining operations, oftentimes with the help, and even blessing of private companies, in order to develop city-wide nets of surveillance. For example, police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, now work with IBM in order to “integrate new data and analytics tools into everyday crime fighting.”

Based on your face: Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily lives. The goal here is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantly identify everyone present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country (only twelve states do not use facial recognition software). 

For example, in Ohio, 30,000 police officers and court employees are able to access the driver’s license images of people in the state, without any form of oversight to track their views or why they’re accessing them. The FBI is developing a $1 billion program, Next Gen Identification, which involves creating a massive database of mugshots for police all across the country.

Based on your car: License plate scanners, which can read plates from a distance of several hundred feet, can identify the owner of any car that comes within its sights, are growing in popularity among police agencies. High resolution cameras are affixed to overpasses or cop cars, these devices give police a clear idea of where your car was at a specific date and time, whether the doctor’s office, the bar, the mosque, or at a political rally. 

State police in Virginia used license plate readers to record every single vehicle that arrived to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 from Virginia. They also recorded the license plates of attendees at rallies prior to the election, including for then-candidate Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. This data collection came at the request of the U.S. Secret Service.

Based on your social media activities: The use of social media as a form of surveillance will have some frightening consequences in coming years. As Helen Popkin, writing for NBC News observed, “We may very well face a future where algorithms bust people en masse for referencing illegal ‘Game of Thrones’ downloads, or run sweeps for insurance companies seeking non-smokers confessing to lapsing back into the habit. 

Instead of that one guy getting busted for a lame joke misinterpreted as a real threat, the new software has the potential to roll, Terminator-style, targeting every social media user with a shameful confession or questionable sense of humor.”

Based on your metadata: Metadata is innocuous and almost unnoticed by most, but it is an incredibly invasive dataset. Indeed, with access to one’s metadata, one can “identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.” 

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been particularly interested in metadata, compiling information on Americans’ social connections “that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.” 

Mainway, the main NSA tool used to connect the dots on American social connections, collected 700 million phone records per day in 2011. That number increased by 1.1 billion in August 2011. The NSA is now working on creating “a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion ‘record events’ daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.”

From the skies: Absolutely nothing will escape the government’s all seeing eyes, especially when drones take to the skies in 2015. These smart devices, ranging from the size of small aircraft to as small as a grasshopper will have the ability to see through the walls of your home, and be capable of tracking your every movement.

 Interestingly and compellingly, however, one of the major contributing factors to our loss of privacy, and with it, freedom, goes unmentioned by the author. The fact that we are actively participating in our own surveillance. 

Remember the Boston Bombings? Remember how the culprits were identified? It wasn’t from government placed cameras on buildings or signal lights, but rather, pictures taken off of someone’s cell phone. 

We document ourselves and our lives. We document each other, and we gleefully pass that information on to the State. Even if we didn’t, there is little to prevent them from getting it anyway, but we cannot pretend that We, the People, have no culpability.

In the end, the author concludes that the surest way to allow the Police State to come to full flower is our own, continued inaction. All we need to do is…nothing. Nothing at all. If we do that, the Police State is inevitable. The author ends on a chilling note: “Thus, we have arrived in Orwell’s world. The question now is: will we take a stand and fight to remain free or will we go gently into the concentration camp?” "

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