Category Archives: government surveillance

Too political?

My daughter told me that I’ve become too political. That set me thinking. It is true that I pay much more attention now.

I hardly paid any attention in the 70s and 80s. I was too preoccupied with small children in the first of those decades. Graduate studies, two teenagers and an inter-city commute took over in the second decade. In the 90s, Clinton and his impeachment, his relentless pursuit by members of the political establishment who abandoned even the pretense of commonality, riveted my attention.

When an unprecedented, horrific attack on a complacent nation spurred the newly installed triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to curtail our civil liberties with the Patriot Act, I was galvanized. I warned anyone who would listen to me that proud and prosperous German Jews were decimated because they believed “it can’t happen here.” It can happen here. History has taught us that no government, no society, is immutable. I was afraid we were falling down a slippery slope, and indeed, that was when Americans lost not only their privacy but their faith in the impregnable fortress America. The same powerbrokers plunged us into a war we couldn’t win. Surveillance, fear, and torture insinuated themselves into the American experience.

In the Obama years, blind hatred and the corrosive antagonism between Democrats and Republicans further undermined American democracy and paved the way for the clownish but unfunny despot who is doing his best to undermine and sabotage the institutions that made America powerful and just.

How can one not be “political”? How can one ignore Trump’s peevishness, his enthrallment with himself and his desires, his reckless onslaughts on long-established norms, his ignorance, mendacity and deliberate sabotage of arduously wrought pacts to rescue the planet and provide care for the poor and the sick?

American democracy is under siege. Only activists, roused by anger and fear, can sway the politicians who have the power to save the Republic.

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Politics, Trump


Privacy is such a quaint notion. Since 9-11, we have become inured to having our personal belongings searched at theaters, airports and the lobbies of big buildings. Records and recordings of our calls reside in humongous government data warehouses, ready for scrutiny and analysis. We know that if we use the super-convenient transit credit cards like New York City’s Metrocard or drive past tollbooths with EZ Pass, we are leaving an easily followed trail of our comings and goings. Wayward husbands can no longer “hike the Appalachian Trail” in Buenos Aires with impunity. Credit cards, customer loyalty programs, just about anything that makes everything we do easier and faster comes at an unspoken price. We willingly and often unwittingly divulge intimate details that would have been unthought of only a few decades ago. Our faces are recorded by cameras in the street, at building entrances, public spaces and elevators.

One of the many devices we can rely on is a thermostat that can be remotely controlled. The Nest knows when you are home and figures out when to raise or lower the heat. It tracks your energy use and like Santa, sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and it continuously relays all this information and more via the Internet to the company that made it. Amazon, Netflix and Roku know of your predilection for porn and what kinky action turns you on. Or not.

Your smart phone, as you know, is constantly sending out your MAC address, a unique identifier that can be tracked very precisely to determine exactly where you are, how you got there, how often you go there and where you go afterwards. Retailers can track you in their stores. The signals from your phone disclose which displays interest you, based on how long you ponder them and whether you subsequently buy the product. Storekeepers may also use this info to fine-tune the arrangement, positioning and content of their displays. We’re all familiar with the way Google and Facebook analyze what we write and the links we click to profit from that data.

Drilling down, merchants now know who is driving by their billboards and how many of those drivers are buying the advertised merchandise. According to The Boston Globe (May 19, 2016), “the nation’s largest billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., is bringing customized, pop-up ads to the interstate.” Using data gathered from 130 million AT&T subscribers, augmented by phone apps that corral millions more, “Clear Channel knows what kinds of people are driving past one of their billboards at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday— how many are Dunkin’ Donuts regulars, for example, or have been to three Red Sox games so far this year.”

All this information is for sale, and it is probably impossible to control.

Even Trump must have been surveilled. Clearly, not directly by his predecessor. At the very least, the same devices that hover over all Americans will have collected data that can easily be exploited by any of the agencies that spy for the government. Did Trump gut the State Department and cripple Justice to hobble investigations of his Russian connections? He may have anticipated the exposure of some of the tentacles of his Russian deals, corruption and collusion.

Surveillance cameras photo by Quevaal at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.o0

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Trump

Tough choices

The world and our lives are so much more complicated now. Do we want our comings and goings tracked by our credit card, MetroCard and E-ZPass? Do we want to be observed and recorded by the innumerable surveillance cameras indoors and in the streets? Do we want our phone calls, e-mails, Facebook postings, Google searches stored on a server, available for retrieval by powerful programs of the NSA, FBI, DoD and other arms of the government? Must we remove our shoes and submit to body searches at the airport? Are these invasions necessary to make us feel safer?

All this personal data collected and analyzed undoubtedly makes apprehending a terrorist after the fact much easier than it would be otherwise, but we don’t know how many plots have been actually been thwarted before they could be executed as a result of the government’s spying on its citizens.

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Liberty and justice for all?

TatteredFlagIn my last post, I suggested that the money concentrated in the hands of a few was corroding American democracy. Now, after thinking about the torture revelations and listening to Cheney and others defend them, I can no longer turn away from the reality that we are not who we think we are and perhaps never were.

Can the patriots who proclaim American exceptionalism ever see through the myths that we have been comforting ourselves with? The complacency of many regarding what is being accepted as the necessity of torture “to keep us safe,” is akin to denial or ignorance of the crucial role of slavery in creating American wealth and the scars that descendants of slaves still bear today. The scandal of welfare for Wall Street but not for the poor, the stowing of captives in dark holes, the 24/7 surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails, the bias of the Supreme Court, racist police brutality and mass incarceration for private profit are accepted and largely ignored. These belie the proud characterization of the U.S. as the “land of the free.”

In what kind of democracy can corporate interests buy elections and policy? America, Who Are We? Not America the Beautiful.

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Income and Wealth Inequality, Politics

Naughty or nice? the NSA knows …

I am in a quandary. I really don’t know whether to praise or condemn Ed Snowden. Not knowing what’s in the documents he took, I don’t know whether the government’s frenzy is warranted. Was the safety of the U.S. seriously compromised? Or is the government screaming hysterically over losing control of the reins? I’m willing to give up some privacy temporarily, if that will stave off another 9/11. But I fear what can happen if nasty and ruthless people take charge at the NSA or the Justice Dept. or the presidency itself. In a democracy, citizens have a right to know, or at least debate issues like domestic spying on the populace.

There is no question in my mind that the Constitution is being trashed. Continue reading

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Journalism

It’s “only” metadata

nsa_logo_2In one month alone, the NSA swept up 125 billion phone calls around the world, 2.3 billion of which were in the U.S.

Should the public be relieved that the NSA doesn’t record these calls (as we’ve been told), but collects only their metadata? After all, if the metadata consist of only the originating and receiving phone numbers, the length of the call and in the case of cell phones, an approximate location, what’s so revelatory about that?

A lot, it turns out, because these individual facts don’t exist in a vacuum. Continue reading

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