Friday, November 15, 2013

Tightening Down

Yes, you are being watched...and followed...and recorded:

  • In downtown Seattle, the authorities have installed a system that can allegedly monitor the movements of any personal electronic device (and, therefore, its user) and keep track of their location. After public outrage at the disclosure, it's since been deactivated . . . but it hasn't been removed. It can be reactivated at any time. I'm willing to bet that as soon as the authorities think that the public has forgotten about it, and the system's antennae have become just another part of the urban skyline, they'll do just that.
  • Public buses across the USA are installing microphones to record passenger conversations.
  • Las Vegas is installing streetlights that can monitor conversations, record sound and video, and generally monitor everything (and everyone) in their vicinity. The system is called Intellistreets. The manufacturer says of it that "RFID equipped staff can be identified and tracked". If it can track a 'staff member' carrying an RFID chip, it can do the same with almost any RFID chip attached to almost anything, including your cellphone, computer - even your chip-implanted pet or the goods you've just bought at the supermarket. The supplier also claims that the system "provides a platform and many developed applications to assist DHS in protecting its citizens and natural resources"....
  • DHS is seeking vendors to provide DNA testing of "samples collected from various individuals". It appears that these samples will not necessarily have been obtained through normal criminal investigations or by court order, because the report goes on to speak of identifying individuals "when fingerprints are not available". Given DHS's cavalier disregard for our privacy, I can't regard this development with anything but suspicion.
  • IARPA is seeking to "improve face recognition performance using representations developed from real-world video and images instead of from calibrated and constrained collections...." [T]his software will use any available video camera footage to identify individuals, whether or not they are aware of being under surveillance....
  • Motor vehicle computers (so-called 'black boxes) are being programmed to record more and more information about their activities, and how their drivers manage them. There are efforts to expand the amount of data recorded, but there are no legal restrictions on how such data may be used.
  • Late last year the Electronic Frontier Foundation analyzed information on unmanned aerial vehicle activity over the USA, and found a lot of evidence about the growing scale of such operations. It observed that "law enforcement agencies want to use drones to support a whole host of police work", and gave details of several agencies' activities in that regard.
  • It's just been revealed that the personal information of thousands of American citizens was compromised by a Federal agency without their knowledge or permission, by sharing it with other Federal agencies who could then use it in ways never intended or authorized by those concerned.

[Thank you, Bayou Renaissance Man.]

The representations of a few cranky types aside, there is no right to privacy in the inclusive sense of having a right to forbid others to know who and where you are and what you're doing. Once you step beyond the bounds of your private property, others may observe you to their heart's content, and may record and use the information as they please, as long as they don't use it to commit fraud. As I wrote at The Palace of Reason some time ago:

What is privacy? An informal definition would be the privilege of "keeping yourself to yourself": that is, restricting others' access to you, to your property, and to information about those things to only those whom you approved. But access to you and your property is covered by another, better grounded right: the right of a legitimate owner to the control and disposition of his property. It's the informational component of the privacy claim that causes the problems.

If there's something about you that you don't want known, and you have a "right" to control the dissemination of that information, how do you exercise your "right" once someone has learned the critical fact? Murder? Lobotomy? Hypnosis? A voodoo curse? If you elect to have an interaction with some other person, and he refuses to agree to keep silent about it, how would you enforce your "right" to privacy and still have the interaction?

As your Curmudgeon has previously written, rights are those claims that can be simultaneously asserted without generating clashes that can only be resolved by a recourse to force (the "test of arms"). As we can see, privacy claims don't satisfy that criterion....

All privacy, of whatever degree, derives from the right of property. Your privacy in your home, or your car, or your place of business exists because these are things access to which you, by the right of a legitimate owner, can deny to others. If you were to claim privacy rights on someone else's property, what would he say to you? What would he have the right to do, in the maintenance of his own rights? How could he do that if you truly possessed "privacy rights" distinct from your rights to your own property?

Granted that it would be highly desirable that governments be forbidden to do such monitoring and recording, we haven't yet seen to that niggling little detail. And governments, even when chartered in terms most specific, can be very hard to control.

But of course, the drive of every government is to attain total control over its subjects. In pursuit of that end, complete information about where each of them is and what he's doing is absolutely invaluable.

One of the opening rationales for federal surveillance over all persons and things is the War on Drugs: that massively destructive, internally contradictory, anti-Constitutional boondoggle that all too many Americans continue to believe is right and necessary. The "reasoning" runs that drug transactions being "underground," the pursuit of drug dealers requires that we watch constantly for suspicious activity, such as large bank deposits that arrive in cash. Thus, the Orwellian Bank Secrecy Act was enacted to compel financial institutions to report all transactions over $10,000, with particular emphasis on cash deposits. That Act was later enhanced with legal prohibitions on "structuring," which made it a crime to deposit amounts less than $10,000, if such deposits could be suspected of having been divided up to avoid the federales' watchful eye.

Which brings us to the following atrocity:

The Economist reports on yet another case of “civil forfeiture” by the corrupt and diseased IRS – a Michigan grocery store owned by the Dehkos family:
Fairly often, someone takes cash from the till and puts it in the bank across the street. Deposits are nearly always less than $10,000, because the insurance covers the theft of cash only up to that sum.

In January, without warning, the government seized all the money in the shop account: more than $35,000. The charge was that the Dehkos had violated federal money-laundering rules, which forbid people to “structure” their bank deposits so as to avoid the $10,000 threshold that triggers banks to report a transaction to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

This is a quintessentially Washingtonian form of shakedown. First, they pass a stupid law that has the effect of making millions of routine, law-abiding transactions appear suspicious (in this case, deposits over $10,000). Then, the vast bloated support state of the Republic of Hyper-Regulation adjusts accordingly (in this case, insurers who’ll cover a mugging of $9,975 decline to cover one of $10,037). But by then, just to cover themselves coming and going, Washington has passed another stupid law making it an additional crime to avoid committing the original crime (thus, “structuring” your deposits to avoid the $10,000 threshold).

Meanwhile, no one has prosecuted or even convicted the Dehkos family — or even charged them with anything. Because these days, unlike in King John’s, the state doesn’t need to:

Prosecutors offered no evidence that the Dehkos were laundering money or dodging tax. Indeed, the IRS gave their business a clean bill of health last year. But still, the Dehkos cannot get their cash back. “They offered us 20%,” says Ms Thomas, “But if we settle, it looks like we’re guilty of something, which we’re not.”

Oh, yeah, the coup de grĂ¢ce: The grand old federal tradition of “settling.” In the shakedown state, nobody’s guilty or innocent, it’s all about the settling.

That's just one of a legion of similar incidents. In all such cases, the mulcted private citizen has to fight like a regiment of Gurkhas to get even a fraction of his money back -- and in the usual case, he'll spend most of what he'll recover on lawyer's fees, if not even more.

'Fess up now, Gentle Reader: Do you really think the feds perform such seizures out of a sincere suspicion of drug activity or terrorist linkages?

So here we are: The Omnipotent State wants to track each and every one of us at all times, know what we're saying and doing and with whom. More, it claims the power to take what it wants on any pretext it likes -- "civil asset forfeiture" ain't just about cash -- and then force us to plead for its return with no guarantee of success. Meanwhile, ObamaCare solicits the credulous to enter their most personal details into its wholly unsecured website, where persons who have undergone no background check whatsoever will do unspecified things with it. Whatever is done with the information, those credulous types have no legal recourse, as the site says in the "small print" that the user has no expectation of privacy.

Got a "smart phone?" I'd get rid of it if I were you.
Got an EZ-Pass? Pull it off the windshield and leave it home.
Like to use public WiFi "hot spots?" You're taking a big chance, Bucko.
Say what? You plan to go to your local "public library" later today? For God's sake, man!
Those Federal Reserve Notes you've been carrying around? Buy some gold or silver with them.

The Omnipotent State is tightening down. If you don't want to be squeezed to death, learn not to feed it with your routine behavior.


YIH said...

The manufacturer says of it that "RFID equipped staff can be identified and tracked". If it can track a 'staff member' carrying an RFID chip, it can do the same with almost any RFID chip attached to almost anything, including your cellphone, computer - even your chip-implanted pet or the goods you've just bought at the supermarket.
While I see your point (and generally agree) I'm not so paranoid about RFID. At a former employer I had an RFID 'key card', though I kept the card in my wallet, I had to remove the wallet from my pants and nearly touch the 'reader' for it to beep and register.
There are generally two types of RFID, unpowered (takes its power from the reader signal, not unlike the old 'crystal radio' that turned AM broadcasts directly into audio impulses) which is the kind used in pet 'chips' and key cards. Those have under very best conditions a range of a few feet.
''Battery powered tags may operate at hundreds of meters.'' (Wikipedia).
Mind you I would not want a chip implanted in me for the same reason I would not want a bar code tattooed on me: 'mark of the beast' and all.

Russell said...

And people keep looking at me weird when I say the US is ruled like an empire, where Washington DC is the seat of the Imperial power and the States mere vassals.

I'm still shocked just how fast the machinery of oppression was assembled.

Gads, I can't imagine which lists I'm going to be on after this comment!

pdwalker said...

The governments are steadily increasing their power over the proles and serfs. After all, you wouldn't want them to start thinking they can get uppity and string a few of their betters from the nearest convenient trees.

So quickly is freedom lost.

Groman said...

If someone had come before us ten years ago and told us what America would be like in 2013, most of us would have laughed in their, face called them crazy and gone on with our lives. Who's laughing now ?

Anonymous said...

Ha! I knew there was a good reason to avoid sojourns to Seattle (aka North Santa Monica). I already 1) do not have a smart phone; 2) Do not have a Smart pass; 3)Do not use public WiFi smart spots (whatever they are). Oh, and FRNs are probably better spent on other precious metals like lead and brass.

Backwoods Engineer said...

There's another side to this, Fran. The Feds and other commies are lazy, damned lazy. This explains the replacement of real HUMINT with gadgetry.

A corollary of their laziness is that the smartphone can be used as an 'alibi'. As in, they are so used to tracking every citizen with it, they now assume that Citizen THX-1138 is exactly where his iPhone says he is. Even when Citizen THX-1138 is, shall we say, off the reservation :-)

The tradecraft term is "cover for action."

Anonymous said...