An opinion column at NetworkWorld considers the civil liberties price of domestic surveillance and intelligence-gathering:
ACLU’s Policy Counsel Mike German suggested that more people should report on the extreme cost of domestic spying. In the security vs. civil liberties arena, we continue to sacrifice privacy even though there is really no evidence that all this surveillance is making us any safer.
Regular people were alarmed when The Washington Post reported on the U.S. government’s expanded counterterrorism efforts to build a vast domestic spying network filled with collected information on Americans. But defining the actual cost of domestic spying is extremely hard since it is cloaked in secrecy. President Obama introduced his $3.8 trillion proposed fiscal 2011 budget that doesn’t give funding levels for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) — because NIP’S budget is classified [PDF] and does not specify types of surveillance. It does, however, highlight undisclosed funds will be used to strengthen capabilities to support a “U.S. Government-wide counterterrorism action plan.” […]
National security spying vs. civil liberties: The ACLU reported the “National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI’s authority” to “compile vast dossiers about innocent people.” The domestic spying extends to electronic surveillance and collecting information about what you do online. It allows the FBI to get hold of “the web sites a person visits, a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website.” The FBI doesn’t need prior court approval and can “gag” the person, forbidding them to tell anyone about receiving the NSL.
The ACLU stated that the excessive secrecy surrounding vast networks of domestic spying and government surveillance works in the government’s favor. Thanks to Top Secret America reports, we know that private companies also take part in domestic surveillance as contractors. And then Time reported that major defense contractors have spent years “engaged in systemic fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.” How many of those contractors were hired for domestic spying efforts?
And then there’s DHS. According to the Keeping America Safe and Secure factsheet, the budget for DHS is up 1 billion to $44 billion because “Protecting the American people is a top priority of the Administration.” Part of that protection includes TSA and “See Something, Say Something” like the video screens installed at Walmart which encourage neighbors to report suspicious neighbors. According to Death and Taxes, another TSA and “See Something, Say Something” ridiculous report involved a man who was arrested after a (crazy) passenger reported the man’s bagel was making a “suspicious noise.”
Do you feel safer now?