A “Panopticon” is a prison where the inmates are always, always, potentially under surveillance. The inmates are never to know when they are being observed, but the observers have access to all inmates at any time. The system is set up so that even the shadows of the observing prison guards are invisible to the inmate. The inmate has no choice but to be obedient all the time or face the consequences.
This prison model was conceived by philosopher Jeremy Bentham. It was written about by Michael Foucault, influential French philosopher, in his book “Discipline and Punishment”.
Knowing that you are always under surveillance makes obedient citizens as well as obedient prisoners.
Yesterday, The Guardian newspaper broke a story revealing how the US government has been secretly recording the phone numbers called and length of conversations as well as incoming call numbers and other information for millions…millions of American Verizon customers suspected of no wrongdoing whatsoever, on a daily basis.
The BBC reported today that “tens of millions” of Americans have had their call information captured by the government as part of this assault.
The Guardian UK issued an editorial today titled “Civil liberties: American freedom on the line”. In the piece, they write
Few Americans believe that they live in a police state; indeed many would be outraged at the suggestion. Yet the everyday fact that the police have the right to monitor the communications of all its citizens – in secret – is a classic hallmark of a state that fears freedom as well as championing it.
The NSA and FBI, sought and obtained, in complete secrecy, a court order from a top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to have access to Verizon’s metadata. The Order had been in place with Verizon for seven years per Diane Feinstein. It is formally unclear at this point whether any other telephone companies are involved. I know where I would put my money on that question.
The FISA Court Judge who issued the order was Roger Vinson, a Reagan-appointed tea partier who overturned Obamacare in Florida. I reprint his name here in the hopes that I can, in a tiny but personally satisfying way, contribute to his eternal historical damnation.
The FISA courts came about in 1978 as a legislative solution to systematic governmental abuse of its eavesdropping powers against civil rights leaders and anti-war groups. The Church Committee was tasked to investigate this intelligence abuse.
By the time the Church Committee hearings began, the NSA was reading a mere 150,000 messages a month involving its own citizens.
Today we read that, even with the “protection” of the FISA courts, millions and millions of communications, per day, are being monitored from only one service provider, Verizon.
Mission creep is inevitable as this sort of unconstitutional contagion is institutionalized.
The FISA courts were meant to provide some oversight to our intelligence communities. Not a terrible idea, of course, in a society that is rumored to be democratic. The legislation creating the Courts made it a criminal offense for government officials to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from the newly created FISA Court.
How effective are the FISA courts at providing oversight?
How much of a hurdle do they provide between our privacy and a total-surveillance police state?
Glenn Greenwald, a ferocious and insightful journalist for The Guardian, writes
From its inception, it [The FISA Court] was the ultimate rubber-stamp court, having rejected a total of zero government applications – zero – in its first 24 years of existence, while approving many thousands. In its total 34 year history – from 1978 through 2012 – the Fisa court has rejected a grand total of 11 government applications, while approving more than 20,000.
…and here we are today, 35 years after the FISA court’s creation. The government is using the same machinery meant to provide oversight to allow unfettered surveillance of Americans.
Read this unbelievable, four page document, the FISA Court Order, released yesterday from The Guardian, that shows what kind of world we really live in.
Note the rich mission-creep in the Order’s language as a “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA)” effortlessly and predictably becomes a tool used for purely internal phone calls from “we-the-people” to”we-the-people”.
The bulk of the four page Fisa Court Order is spent discussing the gag provisions providing that no one should ever know the NSA and FBI have sought and obtained such records.
The government has not stopped with getting Verizon’s records on tens of millions of Americans.
Not by a long shot…
Today, in a separate NSA police state scandal, it was revealed that the NSA has obtained direct access to the customer files of the major internet players. A top-secret NSA document has just been leaked to the Guardian who, today, exposed the “Prism” program. The program is ongoing, and the leaked information includes material from as recently as April 13, 2013.
Ever hear of Prism?
Me either…no one had that did not have top-secret security clearance. The leaked information consists of NSA training materials, a 41 slide presentation.
Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian write
some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program [Prism] since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.
It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.
Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.
The article goes on to inform us as to the breadth of access the NSA has directly, meaning no permission is needed from the providers. The NSA is “…able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.”
The NSA states in the leaked materials that the internet providers gave permission for this, but Google, Facebook, and Apple say no such permission was given. Many corporate officials had not heard of Prism.
The Washington Post also has excellent coverage on the late-breaking PRISM scandal which can be read here.
Our government is spying on us, and there is no meaningful congressional oversight. They watch us perpetually, and we see nothing they are doing.
We live in a thinly veneered police state.
We all need to wake up and realize we live in a house of two-way mirrors…and we need to start looking for metaphorical rocks.
Stand against this privacy-shredding, free-speech chilling, totalitarian behavior in any way you can. As Frederick Douglass said “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Haven’t we had enough of this?