Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Burger With a Side of Spies

Check this op-ed out in the New York Times today by Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation” and “Reefer Madness".

As you may have deduced from the title of the piece, the article focuses on recent reveations indicating that today's ubiquitous and all seeing "Big Brother" doesn't just refer to Government, but to big business as well.

Whether its Burger Kind or Walmart, you're being watched, dissected, and categorized like the walking dollar sign you are to them. Or in the case of this piece by Schlosser, there's something even more insidious at play here: the use of spying by Big Business to prevent challenges to their power and profits...even if its just advocating for a decent wage.

Schlosser writes:

WHILE the Patriot Act has raised fears about government spying on ordinary citizens, the growing threat to civil liberties posed by corporate spying has received much less attention. During the late 1990s, a private security firm spied on Greenpeace and other environmental groups, examining activists’ phone records and even sending undercover agents to infiltrate the groups, according to an article in Mother Jones. In 2006 Hewlett-Packard was caught spying on journalists. Last year Wal-Mart apologized for improperly recording conversations with a New York Times reporter.

And now it turns out that the Burger King Corporation, home of the Whopper, hired a private security firm to spy on the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a group of idealistic college students trying to improve the lives of migrants in Florida.


The Bill of Rights was adopted to protect Americans from the abusive power of their government. I’ve come to believe that we now need a similar set of restrictions to defend against irresponsible corporate power. Today companies like Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil have annual revenues larger than the entire budgets of some states, and they employ former agents from the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Secret Service to do security work. Unlike government agencies, whose surveillance activities are supposed to be conducted according to strict guidelines and court orders, these private firms operate with a remarkable degree of freedom. At the moment, federal laws against the practice of “pretexting” — using a false identity to obtain personal information — apply only to financial and telephone records.

As Schlosser advocates, Congressional hearings on corporate espionage would be a a great place to start. When corporations have grown to such power that they dwarf most nations, including many of our states, we need to start holding them to the same standards as we hold one another. If they continue to be given the same rights as human beings, shouldn't they be held to the same standards, with the same responsibilities?

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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