John Whitehead's Commentary
You'd Better Watch Out: The Surveillance State Has a Naughty List, and You’re On It [SHORT]
Santa’s got a new helper.
No longer does the all-knowing, all-seeing, jolly Old St. Nick need to rely on antiquated elves on shelves and other seasonal snitches in order to know when you’re sleeping or awake, and if you’ve been naughty or nice.
Thanks to the government’s almost limitless powers made possible by a domestic army of techno-tyrants, fusion centers and Peeping Toms, Santa can get real-time reports on who’s been good or bad this year.
Consider just a small sampling of the tools being used to track our movements, monitor our spending, and sniff out all the ways in which our thoughts, actions and social circles might land us on the government’s naughty list.
Tracking you based on your health status. In the age of COVID-19, digital health passports are gaining traction as gatekeepers of a sort, restricting access to travel, entertainment, etc., based on one’s vaccine status. Government agencies are also preparing to use virus-detecting canine squads to carry out mass screenings to detect individuals who may have COVID-19. Researchers claim the COVID-sniffing dogs have a 95% success rate of identifying individuals with the virus (except when they’re hungry, tired or distracted).
Tracking you based on your face: Facial recognition software aims to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. Coupled with surveillance cameras that blanket the country, facial recognition technology allows the government and its corporate partners to identify and track someone’s movements in real-time. Similarly, biometric software, which relies on one’s unique identifiers (fingerprints, irises, voice prints), is becoming the standard for navigating security lines, as well as bypassing digital locks and gaining access to phones, computers, office buildings, etc. Scientists are also developing lasers that can identify and surveil individuals based on their heartbeats, scent and microbiome.
Tracking you based on your behavior: Rapid advances in behavioral surveillance are not only making it possible for individuals to be monitored and tracked based on their patterns of movement or behavior, including gait recognition (the way one walks), but have given rise to whole industries that revolve around predicting one’s behavior based on data and surveillance patterns. One smart “anti-riot” surveillance system purports to predict mass riots and unauthorized public events by using artificial intelligence to analyze social media, news sources, surveillance video feeds and public transportation data.
Tracking you based on your spending and consumer activities: With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, every frequent buyer card we use for purchases, and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time. Consumer surveillance, by which your activities and data in the physical and online realms are tracked and shared with advertisers, has become big business.
Tracking you based on your public activities: Private corporations in conjunction with police agencies and fusion centers throughout the country have created a web of surveillance that encompasses all major cities in order to monitor large groups of people seamlessly, as in the case of 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.”
Tracking you based on your social media activities: Every move you make, especially on social media, is monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line. The FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies are increasingly investing in and relying on corporate surveillance technologies that can mine constitutionally protected speech on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in order to identify potential extremists and predict who might engage in future acts of anti-government behavior.
Tracking you based on your phone and online activities: Cell phones have become de facto snitches, offering up a steady stream of digital location data on users’ movements and travels. Police have used cell-site simulators to carry out mass surveillance of protests without the need for a warrant.
Tracking you based on your social network: Not content to merely spy on individuals through their online activity, government agencies are now using surveillance technology to track one’s social network, the people you might connect with by phone, text message, email or through social message, in order to ferret out possible criminals. What this creates is a “guilt by association” society in which we are all as guilty as the most culpable person in our address book.
Tracking you based on your car: License plate readers are mass surveillance tools that can photograph over 1,800 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number and the date, time, and location of the picture in a searchable database, then share the data with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies to track the movements of persons in their cars.
Tracking you based on your mail: Just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people. For instance, the U.S. Postal Service has been photographing the exterior of every piece of paper mail for the past 20 years.
Clearly, Big Tech wedded to Big Government has become Big Brother.
Every second of every day, we are being monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways by a vast network of digital Peeping Toms, electronic eavesdroppers and robotic snoops.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, in the government’s hands, these surveillance weapons add up to a society in which there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence.
In an age of overcriminalization, mass surveillance, and an appalling lack of protections for our privacy rights, we can all be considered guilty of some transgression or other.
So you’d better watch out—you’d better not pout—you’d better not cry—‘cos I’m telling you why: this Christmas, it’s the Surveillance State that’s coming to town, and you’re already on its naughty list.