S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Big Brothers -- U.S. Intelligence/Security

Internal Big Brothers inside government: Homeland Security is implementing a program within the department for all employees to watch each other carefully for signs of being spies or terrorists. To quote a couple of articles:
  • Types of behaviors that could be foreign espionage -- (from the CQ Behind the Lines newsletter, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press’ Eileen Sullivan.) AP: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff . . said employees should suspect espionage if, for one example::
  • "A department employee has a personal relationship with a foreigner that seems suspicious."

  • "Homeland Security setting up counterspy unit" from USA Today (8/12/08) via ProPublica. To quote:
    Concerns about foreign spies and terrorists have prompted the Homeland Security Department to set up its own counterintelligence division and require strict
    reporting from employees about foreign travel, according to a memo obtained by
    The Associated Press.

    The new directive comes as the federal government increases its counterspy efforts across all agencies and raises the awareness of intelligence vulnerabilities in the private industry as well as in protecting government secrets.

    The Homeland Security Department "is vulnerable to adversaries who seek information about our nation's homeland defense programs,classified or unclassified," Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote in the Aug. 4 memo to employees obtained by AP.

Homeland Security AS your Big Brother when you travel -- To quote a recent e-mail from Carolyn Frederickson of ACLU:

Planning a vacation? Thinking about traveling outside the country? If you travel outside the United States, you can kiss your right to privacy, and perhaps your laptop, digital camera and cell phone, goodbye.

With no suspicion and no explanation, the U.S. government can seize your laptop, cell phone, or PDA as you enter the United States and download all your private information -- including your personal and business documents, emails, phone calls, and web history. The Department of Homeland Security confirms that this is the official policy.

What happens if you refuse to let the agents download your personal photos? Or if you have encrypted your private information? Then Border Patrol -- which is now an agency of the Department of Homeland Security -- can simply copy your entire hard drive or even take your device and hang on to it indefinitely.

Unfortunately, seizing laptops and cameras at the border isn’t the only travel security measure that infringes on our civil liberties. Just last month, the U.S. government's "terrorist watch list" surpassed one million names and is growing by over twenty-thousand names per month. The watch list includes the names of prominent people, like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), plus hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans -- many of them with common names like Robert Johnson and James Robinson. Your name might be on the list, but there's no way to know for sure until you are delayed -- or even detained for hours in a back room. If you discover your name is on the list, it's nearly impossible to get off. It actually took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela off the list. No joke. An Act of Congress.

These abuses have something in common: They make all of us into suspects, with no rule of law and no accountability. . . Traveling shouldn’t mean checking your rights when you’re checking your luggage. It’s time for some sanity when it comes to security. Please, speak out now.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

Related to this is a possible travel remedy from my 8/13/08 CQ Behind the Lines newsletter: “Congress needs to set the rules for how border agents can delve into travelers’ laptops,” the Post opines.

State and local Big Brothers -- These items come from my 8/11/08 CQ Behind the Lines newsletter:

  • "Some $4.5 million in federal funding for the Maryland State Police is imperiled by a probe into its use of a criminal database to track peaceful activists, The Washington Times tells. . ." Quoting further:

    The undercover infiltration of the protest groups appears legal under state law, legal analysts said. But entering a Baltimore activist's name in the drug-trafficking and terror suspect database without apparent justification could violate 1970s-era regulations stemming from revelations of domestic spying by national intelligence agencies. It also could breach Maryland privacy laws . .

  • The local Institute for Security Studies has put together a DVD, “The Seven Signs of Terror,” for people such as school police who could help spot terrorist activity, Las Vegas’s CBS 4 News notes. To quote:

    The DVD, which serves the entire state of Nevada, illustrates the “Seven Signs of Terrorism” and explains how to report such signs. The “Seven Signs of Terrorism” are:

    • Surveillance
    • Information Gathering
    • Testing Security
    • Planning
    • Suspicious Behavior
    • Rehearsal
    • Getting Into Position

    According to the DVD, if a potential terrorist act is interrupted during any of the “Seven Signs” the planned act can be stopped. Ordinary citizens reporting suspicious activities they have witnessed is an important tool for law enforcement working to stop terrorist acts

Business Big Brothers -- from The Washington Post (8/12/08) comes this headline, "Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent," by Ellen Nakashima. To quote:

Several Internet and broadband companies have acknowledged using targeted-advertising technology without explicitly informing customers, according to letters released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

. . . The revelations came in response to a bipartisan inquiry of how more than 30 Internet companies might have gathered data to target customers. Some privacy advocates and lawmakers said the disclosures help build a case for an overarching online-privacy law.

. . . Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), [ ] created the Privacy Caucus 12 years ago. "Our responsibility is to make sure that we create a law that, regardless of the technology, includes a set of legal guarantees that consumers have with respect to their information."

Markey said he and his colleagues plan to introduce legislation next year, a sort of online-privacy Bill of Rights, that would require that consumers must opt in to the tracking of their online behavior and the collection and sharing of their personal data.

Previous S/SW posts on this subject:
  1. Like An Ubiquitous Spook (Sept. 2007) Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV
  2. Bigger and Bigger Brothers (Jan. 2008)
  3. Ubiquitous Big Brothers (Feb. 2008)
  4. The State of the Surveillance State (April, 2008)
  5. Understanding Your FBI (May, 2008)

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View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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