Tag Archives: Wiretapping

SYNDICATED COLUMN: “1984” Is Here. Yawn.

Orwell’s Nightmares Come True — But Who Cares?

Another horror no one will care about: the government is spying on your snail mail.

The New York Times timed the release of the story so that it would come and go without notice: on the Fourth of July, when no one reads the paper or watches the news. But buried beneath a puffy lede is yet another privacy-killing whopper. After 9/11, the Times reports, the U.S. Postal Service created something called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program, “in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.”

Just a wild guess? How about: forever?

“Together,” the paper continued, “the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.” Any government agency — the FBI, local police, etc. — can request mail cover data. As with the rubber-stamp “FISA court,” the USPS almost always says yes to these outrageous mass violations of privacy.

From George Orwell’s “1984”: “As for sending a letter through the mails, it was out of the question. By a routine that was not even secret, all letters were opened in transit.”

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” the Times quotes former FBI agent James Wedick. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.” Your finances. Your politics. Your friends.

No doubt about it, the dystopian vision laid out by George Orwell in “1984” is here.

Thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, we’ve learned about the previously top-secret PRISM program, in which the U.S. government “collects the e-mail, voice, text and video chats” of every American to be stored in a $2 billion data farm in Utah, as well as sweeping telephone surveillance by Verizon and other telecommunications companies on behalf of the NSA. According to NBC News and other sources, “every single phone call made in the U.S. has been monitored by the U.S. government.” And not, merely, as President Obama and his media shills keep saying, “just” (!) the metadata. Under ECHELON, they listen in to “all telephone, fax and data traffic,” record it, and store it.

From “1984”: “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

Yes they can.

The dominant eavesdropping technology in “1984” was a device called the “telescreen.” Installed in every home and workplace as an outlet for government propaganda, Orwell’s telescreen “received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”

Which sounds a lot like the creepy new two-way TV — you watch it and it watches you — for which Verizon filed a patent application in 2011.  This TV would target “ads to viewers based on information collected from infrared cameras and microphones that would be able to detect conversations, people, objects and even animals that are near a TV. If the detection system determines that a couple is arguing, a service provider would be able to send an ad for marriage counseling to a TV or mobile device in the room,” reported the blog Fierce Cable. “If the couple utters words that indicate they are cuddling, they would receive ads for ‘a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers,’ or commercials for romantic movies, Verizon states in the patent application.”

Verizon’s patent was denied. But now Google TV is going for it. The technology exists; it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into our homes. Anti-privacy tech types point out it’s only to make ads more effective — the same way web ads react to your searching and browsing. But that’s just for now. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the NSA, FBI or other crazy spook outfit tapping into America’s telescreens in order to watch us in our living rooms and bedrooms.

Gotta stop the terrorists! Whatever it takes.

Ah, the terrorists. The enemies of the state. Bush had his Osama; Obama has Snowden. Bugaboos keep us distracted, fearful, compliant. “The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again,” the government official goon O’Brien lectures Winston Smith in “1984.” “The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease.”

They can’t.

Governments rule over the governed either by obtaining their tacit consent, or by crushing potential opponents by making them afraid to speak up. Option two is where we are now.

One horror follows another. At Guantánamo concentration camp, where les misérables of America’s War of Terror languish for year after year, uncharged with any crime, U.S. government goons announced that they will continue to force-feed more than 100 hunger strikers during Ramadan, a month-long holiday when devout Muslims are required to fast. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he fears extradition to and execution by the U.S.; Ecuador has discovered that some Western intelligence agency planted a bug to watch him. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden has been de facto stripped of his U.S. citizenship, his passport canceled, rendering him effectively stateless. Meanwhile, the megacriminals he exposed — Obama and his cronies — are living large.

Assange and Snowden are no longer important. They’ve done all the damage they can do. But the U.S. will never leave them, or any other enemy of the state, alone. It’s about terrifying potential political opponents into submission.

“Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared,” O’Brien tells Winston. “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

Enjoy your barbecue.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Every Policeman Is A Licensed Rapist

This week, you can read my column, or watch it!

Strip-Searching is Legal and Democracy is Dead

The text of Justice Kennedy’s majority is cold and bureaucratic. “Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” he writes for the five right-wingers in the majority of the Supreme Court.

There’s no looking back now. The United States is officially a police state.

Here are the basics, as reported by The New York Times: “The case decided Monday, Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945, arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant for Mr. Florence’s arrest based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.) Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in Burlington and Essex Counties, and he was strip-searched in each. There is some dispute about the details, but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.”

“Turn around,” Florence later recalled his jailers ordering him. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

A court motivated by fairness would have declared this conduct unconstitutional. Fair-minded people would have ordered the New Jersey municipality to empty its bank accounts and turn them over to the man it humiliated. Everyone involved—the police, county officials—ought to have been fired and charged with torture.

Not this court, the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Roberts. Besotted by the sick logic of paranoia and preemption that has poisoned us since 9/11, it ruled that what happened to Albert Florence was perfectly OK. The cops’ conduct was legal.

Now “officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor.”

If you get arrested at an antiwar protest, the police can strip-search you. If you’re pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, as was the plaintiff in this case. For setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Humiliation is the law of the land.

The Court heard examples of people who were strip-searched “after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.” They considered amicus briefs by nuns and other “women who were strip-searched during periods of lactation or menstruation.”

Body-cavity searches are now legal for anyone arrested for any crime, no matter how minor. As of April 2, 2012, finger-rape is the law of the land.

Think it won’t happen to you? 14 million Americans are arrested annually. One in three Americans under age 23 has been arrested. It happened to me a couple of years ago, for a suspended drivers license. Except that it wasn’t really suspended. I was lucky. My cops weren’t perverts. They didn’t want a lookie-loo at my private parts.

How did we get here? Preemptive logic.

Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He hates the United States. What if he has weapons of mass destruction? What if he used them against us, or gave them to terrorists who would? Can’t take that chance.

We don’t need evidence in order to justify bombing and invading Iraq. We have fear and the logic of preemption.

The logic of preemption flails, targeting anyone and everyone. A single plane passenger sets his shoes on fire. He never came close to causing real damage, but now everyone has to take off their shoes before boarding a plane. Infants. Old people. Veterans whose limbs got blown off in Iraq. Everyone.

Can’t take chances. What if your toddler is a member of Al Kidda?

The logic of preemption is indiscriminate. What if terrorists are stupid enough to use phones and emails to plot their dastardly schemes? We’d want to know, right? In the old days before 9/11, officials who suspected a person of criminal conduct went to a judge to obtain a wiretapping warrant.

Now we’re paranoid. And the government is power-hungry. So government officials and their media lapdogs are exploiting our fear and paranoia, openly admitting that they listen to everyone‘s phone calls and read everyone‘s emails. Can’t take chances. Gotta cover all the bases.

What about the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures? Quaint relics of a time before the police state. Like the Geneva Conventions.

Here comes Justice Kennedy, amping up the perverse logic of preemption. Responding to the nasty cases of the finger-raped nun and the humiliated women on their period, Kennedy pointed out that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was pulled over for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” he wrote, continuing with the observation that San Francisco cops “have discovered contraband hidden in body cavities of people arrested for trespassing, public nuisance and shoplifting.”

No doubt about it: If you search every car and frisk every pedestrian and break down the door of every house and apartment in America, you will find lots of people up to no good. You will discover meth labs and bombs and maybe even terrorists plotting to blow up things. But who is the bigger danger: a drug dealer, a terrorist, or a terrorist government?

This summer will be ugly. Cops will arrest thousands of protesters who belong to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is fighting corruption and greed and trying to improve our lives. Now that police have the right to strip and molest demonstrators, you can count on horrible abuses. Cops always go too far.

Note to people about to be arrested: pop a laxative before they slip on the flexicuffs.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a country that respects rights and freedoms more than the paranoid madness of preemption. In the old America where I grew up, we lived with the possibility that some individuals were evil. Now we face the absolute certainty that every policeman is a fully licensed finger-rapist.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

Liberal Projection

In all the ways that matter to liberals, Barack Obama is the second coming of George W. Bush. But in the same way that Republicans project their values of small government and low taxes on a party that doesn’t adhere to them, liberal Democrats project values of being antiwar and pro-civil liberties that they don’t make the slightest pretense of following.

New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

This came out of a conversation with fellow editorial cartoonist Matt Bors. What if Obama were succeeding Hitler? Would he let him off the hook for his crimes too? The parallels are eerie.