As part of my continued interest in philosophically understanding the relationship between autonomy, privacy and surveillance, I offer this page as a look at some of the latest developments on the privacy front. Below are summaries of news stories highlighting surveillance practices that are developing around corporate, government and technology desires to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens.  This summary is offered in support of the Enlightenment ideal that privacy and the space for private thought is our most basic possession in conjunction with our bodies.   Therefore, any attempt to eliminate privacy is viewed as an attempt to limit the space where private thought and challenges to the status quo have the possibility of coming forth.

Privacy News:

January 2010:

  1. If you think your privacy is protected when you engage in online gaming, think again.  Raw Story reports that a fugitive drug dealer and online gamer was located (via IP address) in Canada when he logged in to play the World of Warcraft game.  Click here to learn how the surveillance was easily conducted online. (January 2010).

June 2009:

  1. Thomas Tamm, one of a few brave NSA wiretap whistleblowers, details a retaliatory raid by the FBI. He also discusses a possible indictment as a result of exposing illegal warrantless wiretap practices. Ironic that he could be prosecuted under the “Patriot Act.” (June 2009).

September 2008:

    1. Scientific American has devoted an entire issue to privacy (September 2008).
      1. One article shows how ordinary citizens could be tracked using RFID technology.   Here’s a sample of what we can expect in the future.  This program is fostered by technology developed by a Connecticut -based company (L1 Identity Solutions):

        “China’s national ID cards, for instance, are encoded with what most people would consider a shocking amount of personal information, including health and reproductive history, employment status, religion, ethnicity and even the name and phone number of each cardholder’s landlord. More ominous still, the cards are part of a larger project to blanket Chinese cities with state-of-the-art surveillance technologies. Michael Lin, a vice president for China Public Security Technology, a private company providing the RFID cards for the program, unflinchingly described them to the New York Times as “a way for the government to control the population in the future.” And even if other governments do not take advantage of the surveillance potential inherent in the new ID cards, ample evidence suggests that data-hungry corporations will.”(Albrecht, Scientific American – Sept 2008 )

        “Based in Connecticut, L-1 [Identity Solutions] was created two years ago out of the mergers and buyouts of half a dozen major players in the biometrics field, all of which specialized in the science of identifying people through distinct physical traits: fingerprints, irises, face geometry. The mergers made L-1 a one-stop shop for biometrics. Thanks to board members like former CIA director George Tenet, the company rapidly became a homeland-security heavy hitter. L-1 projects its annual revenues will hit $1 billion by 2011, much of it from U.S. government contracts.” (Klein, Rolling Stone, June 2008; linked below in August listings – “Chians’s All Seeing Eye”)

      2. Another highlights tools of the spy trade. Here’s a link to the actual page from the magazine.
      3. A third article discusses the seeming disregard of privacy concerns by “generation Google” (read those under 25).  Noting that many young people post the details of their private lives on sites like Facebook and MySpace, the article notes that the younger generation does not seem to care about privacy in the least. This analysis may signal a permanent end to privacy and the final triumph of the “I’ve got nothing to hide” fallacy, a scary thought indeed.
    2. From A group of community farmers, some of them Amish, are challenging rules requiring the tagging of livestock with RFID chips, saying the devices are a “mark of the beast.”
    3. As always the Full Disclosure Blog marks several encroachments on individual privacy. This blog focuses on emerging issues in Europe which is farther along the path of ending individual claims to privacy in the name of security.

    August 2008:

    1. The federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all U.S. citizens crossing by land, compiling data that will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations.  Read “Citizens’ U.S. Border Crossings Tracked” here .
    2. AT&T argues that Google is a bigger online surveillance threat to privacy versus ISP monitoring facilitated by technologies such as “deep packet inspection.”  Remember the go-ahead for ISPs to “voluntarily” monitor user data is built into the Homeland Security Act.  It is also required that these records be kept for at least two years in case they are needed to prosecute a subscriber.  Thus, deep packet inspection is a well-rehearsed technology and in use by nearly all American ISPs.  Nevertheless AT&T has a point concerning Google’s surveillance power. If all of your documents, email and search data appears in Google’s data farm, they have an excellent profile of you that any investigative agency could access.
    3. Steel City Surveillance – Big Brother comes to Pittsburgh. No it is not a chance to audition for the insipid CBS series, but rather a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article detailing  the final approval from City Council to install a vast system of video surveillance in some of Pittsburgh’s high crime neighborhoods.  If you read through to the end of this article, there is a massive federal (i.e., national plan) to install video cameras in public places nationwide. We are becoming Alex Jones’ Prison Planet.
    4. Orwell’s Dream Again! Here is yet another article highlighting New York City’s attempts to install a video surveillance system similar to the UK’s CCTV. Every square inch of London is under surveillance and American police are seeking to emulate this Orwellian nightmare.
    5. More controversy over Free Speech Zones: This article from Raw Story details another law suit protesting the employment of so-called Free Speech Zones at the upcoming 2008 Republican Convention.   Remember these same anti-constitutional zones were upheld as legitimate for the 2008 Democratic Convention by an extremely conservative federal court (U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger). You can read the Reuter’s Article covering the earlier opinion here.  So the ethical and legal question is: are free speech zones compatible with First Amendment Protections?  So far legal decisions have worked against freedom of assembly. But you can read John Whitehead’s counterargument here.
      • Here’s a key conclusion from Whitehead’s argument: “Caging people who want to exercise free speech goes against the entire concept of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and what the revolutionary generation stood for. When political protest is caged, it’s not just the rights of a few protesters that are at stake. The very definition of freedom is in danger. Freedom cannot be exercised from within a cage.”
      • For the record Whitehead is a Constitutional Law attorney based at the Rutherford Institute in Virginia.
    6. Check out this video and analysis of First Amendment rights on the Concurring Opinion Blog (August 12, 2008 ).  You have to search the archives for the entry entitled “Video, Civil Rights and Cultural Cognition.” It contains a video clip that clearly shows police officers violating a civilian’s right to attend a public campaign endorsement rally.  This video raises serious questions about First Amendments protections.
    7. Maryland Governor Orders Investigation of Spying by State Troopers: On July 31, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley appointed the former attorney general of the state Stephen Sachs to head up an independent investigation of the spying by state troopers.
    8. China’s All Seeing Eye: A chilling article by Naomi Klein for Rolling Stone Magazine.  Klein usually writes for The Nation but in this article she uncovers a joint U.S. – China technology partnership that is way beyond what Orwell could ever have imagined.  In addition to the UK and U.S., China represents a third practice ground for “the age of surveillance.”
    9. Radar Magazine offers up food for thought in The Last Roundup that describes an NSA surveillance database code named Main Core.  The purpose of the database is to “track those who pose a threat to national stability.” Reportedly the database contains at least 8 million names of persons who might be detained during a “national emergency.” Sounds like a rerun of Stalin’s Siberia exile to me.