Surveillance Data Use Creep

Drug Enforcement AgencyWhat did I say? You remember: back in June. I was angry at Lindsey Graham telling Fox News that we shouldn’t be upset about the NSA spying on us because they were just going after the terrorists. He said, “I’m a Verizon customer; I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government, if the government’s gonna make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to terrorists; I know you’re not. I know I’m not so we don’t have anything to worry about.” You know, I hate Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came…” It isn’t that it is bad (although as poetry, it is). It is just that people overuse it and apply it to ridiculous things. For example, a lot of people used it when the government was talking about closing the gun show loophole in the gun registration law. Sorry: that wasn’t what Niemoller was talking about. But in the case of surveillance, I think it applies. Oh, how it applies!

As I wrote back in June, “We don’t know what the government is doing with those records. For another thing, data use creep is a well known phenomenon. I can well see the definition of terrorism creeping from ‘people who bomb us’ to ‘people who sell drugs to us’ to ‘people who cheat on their wives.'” Well, step one was already fully underway when I wrote that. According to John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke at Reuters, Exclusive: U.S. Directs Agents to Cover Up Program Used to Investigate Americans. They write:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

And then they tell those local authorities to cover up the fact that they got the information that way. So via an illegal wiretap, the local authorities are told of a cannabis grower. Then the local authorities just happen to pull the grower’s car over because he, “didn’t use his turn signal.” And of course, they just happen to have a drug sniffing dog with them. You get the idea.

Now you may not like cannabis growers, but that hardly matters. There are a couple of issues here. One is that our intelligence services are illegally misusing data. Another is that people’s fundamental Constitutional rights are being denied without them ever finding out about it. Yet another is that they won’t be able to mount a good defense should they even attempt to do so. But most of all: this is data use creep. If you think this same thing will not happen to political groups, than you are hopelessly naive, evil, stupid, or all of the above.

This is an outrage and it has me really angry. But while the story is getting a decent amount of coverage, I don’t expect that Americans will be too concerned about it. Just as with Lindsey Graham, they’ll think, “I have nothing to worry about because I’m not a drug dealer.” And they’ll keep saying that right up to the point where it directly affects them. And then they’ll write some shitty poem about how first they came for the terrorists.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

1 thought on “Surveillance Data Use Creep

  1. Back in the ’30s, membership in the Communist Party was perfectly legal and not uncommon. Who could have predicted that in the not too distant future, having been a member could wreck your career and ruin your life.

    Which of today’s perfectly acceptable activities might become a liability? Who can say?

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