Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Surveillance Tech: Fantasies of tin-foil hat crowd coming true

Examining the array of high-tech gadgetry available to law-enforcement to monitor people, Wired magazine identifies "Nine reasons Wired readers should wear tinfoil hats." They are:

• Warrantless Wiretapping
• Warrantless GPS Tracking
• Tracking Devices in Your Pocket
• Fake Cell Phone Towers
• The Border Exception
• The “6 Months and It’s the Government’s” Rule under ECPA
• The Patriot Act
• Government Malware
• Known Unknowns

License plate readers coupled with roadside cameras would've made my Top 9 list, but it's hard to fault these choices. Problem is, Fourth Amendment issues are a political nightmare, with a sturdy bipartisan consensus among  elite circles for gutting its protections like a fish. For those who think voting Democrat will save you from such abuses, please read this paragraph from the Wired story carefully:
The Obama administration claims Americans have no right to privacy in their public movements. The issue surfaced this month in a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if law enforcement agents should be required to obtain a probable-cause warrant in order to place a GPS tracking device on a citizen’s car. The government admitted to the Supreme Court that it thinks it would have the power to track the justices’ cars without a warrant.
As for Republicans, short of a Ron Paul upset victory in the primaries, I doubt any current presidential candidate would be better than Obama on the subject and some would be much worse. So in the near term we're not going to vote our way out of this.

In the government arena, that leaves the courts (which are sharply divided on the subject), or else constructing bipartisan legislative coalitions on narrow, popular elements of a Fourth Amendment reform agenda. Examples that might have legs could be: Rolling back routine TSA frisks at the federal level, requiring warrants to access cell-phone data (which the states could do), or empowering drivers at traffic stops to refuse searches and avoid arrest for fine-only offenses (bills passed by the Texas Lege that Rick Perry vetoed).

Grits also continues to believe that the market may provide better short-medium term preventives than the courts to abuse of such technologies as detection devices become cheaper and more widespread.

The kinds of technologies described by Wired concern me, but such controls can only go so far. Think of a game of chess: Both players can see all of the other player's pieces, but unable to peer into your opponent's mind, it's still easy to be defeated. Besides, all these new technologies are labor intensive: They mainly generate mountains of data that some government employee (or these days, perhaps a private contractor) must sort through then presumably do something with. In an era of government downsizing, there's a limit to the amount of resources which can be applied to such endeavors. So surveillance has practical limits and its wide application is antithetical to popular calls for budget cutting and government efficiency. That's the good news.

The bad news, says Wired: "a tinfoil hat won’t help you at all." Via FourthAmendment.com.

See related Grits posts:


JD said...

Neither party seems to have a grasp on being technologically progressive with few exceptions like Al Franken or Ron Paul. Might be something to look for in the next generation of leaders.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the S.Ct. approving the placement of GPS devices on private citizens' vehicles. Now, it would be different if, e.g., it was a public official driving a public vehicle, or even a commercial vehicle that the govt has obtained consent from the company to monitor (without the driver's consent). Think about it, if you break the invisible plane that is my garage door, you have committed burglary of a habitation and can be sentenced to 20 years in prison in Texas. Yet, they are gonna permit officers to break the plane of the undercarriage of my vehicle and no offense has been committed at all??? Never gonna happen!!! Well, not legally anyway.

Anonymous said...

And now we have this: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Senate-votes-to-deny-U-S-terrorists-legal-rights-2309330.php

I'm ready to join al-qaida because of this. Anyone know the nearest recruiting station?

john said...

Remember, folks, it's now aluminum, not tin---much like the sprinklings from chemtrail clouds.
Also, you would have to electrically ground your metal hat, in order to protect from emissions. So you would need a wire with an alligator clip, and you can link it to water pipes, outdoor railings, etc.
This of course also may make you a lightning target---therefore, never ground your hat during thunderstorms. But at least the electricity in the air will help fight off surveillance transmissions, a bit.
Note the government uses your money to buy its own hats and gizmos, to be used against you. They will do with whatever the people allow them to get away--which is evidently one heck of a lot.

Anonymous said...

Hitler must be smiling on this police state.

The alqaeda comment is funny.