Although the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution protects the right "Š to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures Š," our government has, since 911, embarked on a program of domestic surveillance not seen since the Cold War.
The latest threat to our Fourth Amendment right to privacy is titled the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which is now before Congress. While the stated purpose of the bill is to help the government investigate cyber threats and ensure the security of networks against cyber-attack the language contains too few limits on how and when the government may monitor or engage in surveillance of an individual’s Internet activity.
Under the aegis of counterterrorism, cellphones of private individuals in the U.S. are being tracked without warrants by federal, state and local law enforcement. An analysis by the Washington Post of federal, state and local agencies and programs that collect and track information on people reported that there are 3,984 organizations working on domestic counterterrorism. Some of these agencies and programs include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which operates the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR) that collects and analyzes reports by local law enforcement of suspicious activities. It has over 160,000 suspicious activity files containing the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime but who are alleged to have acted suspiciously.
FBI archives also contain federal, state and local government fingerprint files of more than 62 million people in the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) which shares information with 43 state and 5 federal agencies. IAFIS conducts more than 168,000 checks each day and has fingerprints, photographs and biographical information on 126 million people and accessible on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT).
Yet another agency is the National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) which conducts about 250,000 biometric transactions each day and has more than 1.5 billion government and private sector records of U.S. citizens collected from commercial databases, government information, and criminal probes. Also, more than 110 million people have their visas and more than 90 million have their photographs entered into the U.S. Department of State Consular Consolidated Database (CCD), which adds about 35,000 people a day. The CCD serves as a gateway to the Department of State input to the IDENT database.
By far the largest surveillance apparatus in the country is the super-secret National Security Agency. Focused on data mining and code-breaking, NSA has, according to NSA whistle blower, James Bamford, "established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas and has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. The agency has begun building a processing center to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. The information is beyond compare including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails such as parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital pocket litter."
In April, House Republicans passed CISPA by a vote of 248-168 and the Senate will vote on CISPA-like bills (Lieberman-Collins S.2105 or McCain S.2151) very soon. Without obtaining a warrant or congressional oversight, CISPA would give the government virtually unlimited access to our personal information including medical records, private emails and financial information. Call Sen. Leahy (202-224-4242) and Sen. Sanders (202-224-5141) and urge them to block CISPA now!
Andrew Schoerke is a member of Green Mountain Chapter Veterans For Peace and lives in Shaftsbury.