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Privacy Alert:

It Takes a Village to Snoop

by John Loeffler

Steel on Steel

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The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes the right of the people to be secure in their papers, persons and possessions and to not be deprived of them without due process. There was a reason the Founding Fathers wrote this amendment into the Constitution: they recognized that privacy and property are essential foundations of a free society, and that freedom cannot exist without them. This amendment prevents our government from going on unwarranted "fishing expeditions," trying to find evidence that someone has committed a crime, even though there is no overt indication that a crime has been committed. The prohibition went hand-in-glove with the concept that an accused person must be considered innocent until proven guilty. It also prevents the government from blackmailing its citizens or threatening them with arbitrary deprivation of life, limb or property; all powerful political weapons in the hands of an abusive government.

The colonists understood this first-hand: they had seen what government abuse of privacy and property could do when they were subjects of the British crown. Ironically, it was the Fourth Amendment that the Supreme Court used when it found a "woman's right to privacy" entitled her to have an abortion. If only that High Court had been as diligent in guarding against all the other encroachments of that right.

Citizen Criminals: We Want to Know Who You Are

There has been a subtle shift in law enforcement philosophy from apprehending criminals suspected of having committed a crime to preventing crime by supervising what everyone is doing. Traditionally, it was easy to tell when a crime had been committed. A body with bullet wounds, for example, was a fairly good indication that a homicide had been committed. After an assault, someone was bruised. Missing money was a good indication of theft. But with new technology and modern civilization, a breathtaking panoply of crimes has been added to the books, including white collar and victimless crimes and thousands of regulations that carry criminal and civil penalties. Moreover, new crimes are emerging based on definition, such as new definitions of rape, child or spousal abuse, hate crimes, et al. For crimes such as these, guilt is a matter of whether or not the crime matches the definition, and juries are asked to pick between "he-saids" and "she-saids" with little or no hard evidence.

As laws multiply, people routinely break them every day without even knowing it, and eventually everyone becomes a "citizen criminal," whose activities must be monitored by the government in order to protect the public from itself.

Big Brother and His Elves are Watching You

From TV cameras at intersections to banking reporting requirements, Uncle Sam is on the prowl - and he wants you! Just recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that police cannot use heat-seeking devices to look inside a home without a warrant.1 This involved a case where police had used heat-sensing devices to detect plant growing lamps inside a home where a man was raising marijuana plants. The court ruled "such surveillance is legally a 'search'..." since it allows police to "explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion."2 But, while there was much cheering about this decision, it is only one case out of dozens where law enforcement is skating desperately close to the edge of the Fourth Amendment. A radar gun allows police to "see" through concrete walls by means of radio waves shot through walls with movements being displayed on a graph. Already millimeter wave scanners are in use at some airports, which allow for a clear imaging of the naked human body through clothes.3 An ion sniffer is capable of analyzing chemicals present in the air and detecting trace molecules of illegal drugs or other substances.4

Spy in the Sky

Personal surveillance has skyrocketed as well. Information from NASA spy satellites has been used by state governments in North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona to search for unreported improvements that might increase property taxes, to check for water-use permits, and to find improper timber cutting. 5 At the Super Bowl this year in Tampa, Florida, every single fan attending had his or her face scanned by FBI digital cameras as they passed through the stadium's turnstiles. The faces were compared against the agency's database for matches with known criminals. There were no warnings posted and most of the people in attendance never knew about the security search.

The Echelon Satellite Surveillance System, the existence of which had been emphatically denied, is becoming practically undeniable. Last year, news reports indicated the European Union had discovered that a number of the world's English-speaking countries had used this system to snoop on EU telephone, fax and email transmissions. Currently, a special committee assigned by the EU to investigate Echelon is about to release its report. 6 Already some members of the European parliament are suggesting that emails should be routinely encrypted to avoid being snatched up by Echelon.

In the U.S., a previously secret FBI system called Carnivore was being used to trawl through thousands of email messages looking for criminal activity. Carnivore was finally "outed" when it was revealed that Internet Service Providers were being required to attach the systems to their servers. In addition, cell phone providers will now be required to allow tracking of a cell phone's whereabouts within a few feet when it is turned on.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Snoop

An army of official snoops are at work. The bank teller at your local bank is watching to make sure you don't make any suspicious transactions. He or she won't tell you if you break a federal regulation, but they'll report you. Many banks are under Know Your Customer programs, monitoring all their customers' financial habits and looking for abnormal or suspicious transactions. Postal clerks are also required to formally report out-of-ordinary transactions. Airline ticker counter clerks are looking for people who meet drug profiles or other suspicious activities. Obviously, many innocent citizens are being reported in these screening activities.

An array of computers tracks the data being collected about us. Several years ago President Clinton's Executive Order 13011 mandated the linking of the information systems of the CIA, EPA, FBI, FEMA, the Agency for International Development, the Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, Interior, and the Army. Just prior to leaving office in 2001, he issued a presidential directive establishing a counterintelligence board, called CI-21 (counterintelligence for the 21st century), to formalize information sharing between the FBI and the CIA.

These super-databases make it possible for government agencies to profile within seconds every man, woman, and child in the country. Other countries are capable of doing the same thing to their citizens. These databases track not only criminals or terrorists, but also the financial, education and work records of ordinary citizens. Moreover, to end run legal limitations, countries are spying for each other and turning over the data they collect, or governments are buying information from private sector databasing firms.

The recent debate in Congress over medical privacy was indicative of what is really happening. Despite all of the rhetoric about "protecting privacy," privacy protection is a cruel joke because the laws that are being written are full of loopholes and "weasel words" that allow government to collect what it wants while the politicians assure you that you're being protected. And how is it all tied together? By means of a unique identifying number.

Social Insecurity

In the U.S., the Social Security number has become the de facto key identifier being used to track people's activities. John G. Huse, Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, testified on May 22, 2001 before a House Ways and Means Subcommittee, that the misuse of the Social Security number was "a national crisis."7 SS numbers are being used for "everything from driver's licenses to marriage licenses to water and sewer bills."8

According to subcommittee Chairman Clay Shaw, "more and more people are being told their SSN is required for reasons that just don't make sense, like renting a video, making funeral arrangements, or even picking up Girl Scout cookies."9

With just a few readily obtainable bits of data, such as a person's date of birth, SSN, and mother's maiden name, it is possible for any trained criminal to steal someone's electronic identity and use it to fraudulently create credit accounts in someone else's name. "A thief can buy someone's SSN on the internet for $39.95 and use it within minutes to get a credit card, then buy big-ticket items such as cars and jewelry."10 The issue of identity theft will continue to mount until some method can be established of permanently linking the person to his or her identifying number. Funny the Bible should mention...

The Mark of [Your] Beast

Already, high-tech chips are being implanted in pets and other animals (usually by subcutaneous injections) so lost animals can be scanned when they are brought into shelters. The pet information is kept in a national database. What works for animals obviously works for humans.

Appearing under the dubious title of Digital AngelTM in June, a new implantable digital chip was announced in testing phase among humans. 11 Digital AngelTM combines advanced biosensor technology with "web-enabled wireless telecommunications with Global Positioning Satellite Systems (GPS)."12 Digital AngelTM is capable of monitoring key body functions, such as temperature and pulse, and transmitting that data, along with accurate location information, to a ground station or monitoring facility. Already the technology exists to store a person's entire data on a single chip. The Digital AngelTM chip is powered by muscle action in the host animal or person.

While such technology has great promise - monitoring the location and medical condition of high-risk patients, locating missing pets or people, managing livestock, etc. - the dark side of this technology is immediately clear to anyone who understands what totalitarian governments of the past have attempted to do: protect themselves from their own people by monitoring and controlling everything they do.

Inexorable Trends

The 1970s British television series, The Prisoner, which became popular abroad, featured secret agent Patrick McGoohan, who was called "Number 6." His famous line from the series was, "I am not a number. I am a man!" Likewise, all of the trends we have discussed are progressing and converging (see inset box). We're not quite there yet, but it is no coincidence that John envisioned just a situation in the book of Revelation, where no one can buy or sell without having a unique number permanently affixed to his or her body; one that is directly tied into the political and religious system of the day.


  1. Ramstack, Tom, "Justices Rule Heat-Sensing is 'Search,'" Washington Times, http://www.washtimes.com, June 12, 2001.
  2. "Supreme Court Thermal Imaging Decision Is Just The Start of High-Tech Privacy Battle," Libertarian Party , http://www.lp.org, June 11, 2001.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. "Europe Targets Echelon," Intelligence Digest from Intelligence International, June, 2001.
  7. Schlafley, Phyllis, "Time to Start Over with Social Security Numbers," http://www.eagleforum.org, June 13, 2001.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. "Digital Angel Commences First Production Run," Business Wire , http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/010608/2103_2.html, June 8, 2001.
  12. Ibid.

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