Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Napolitano Seeks Expanded Wiretapping Program and Increased Use of Body Scanners

Wow…it’s been a bad few days on the privacy front. And no, today I’m not talking about Facebook OR Google. The bad news I speak of is coming straight out of the White House and Congress (though I’ll leave Joe Lieberman’s “President should have dictatorial, China like control over the Internet" bill for another time).

Before I get to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s full throated endorsement of Whole Body Imaging machines (“digital strip search), I want to first hone in on her advocacy for expanding the government's wiretapping and internet monitoring capabilities.

Since I’m going to provide a lot of my own analysis on the “digital strip search” issue, I’m going to leave the heavy lifting on this latest Obama Administration betrayal to Elliot D. Cohen, who’s op-ed on Buzzflash entitled Are Napolitano's Mass Spying Powers a Greater Threat to Civil Liberties Than Under Bush?” is particularly frightening…and enlightening.

Cohen writes:

According to a June 18 AP article, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano has defended monitoring Internet communications as a “civil liberties trade-off the US must make to beef up national security.” In addition, she said “it is wrong to believe that if security is embraced, liberty is sacrificed.” Unfortunately, it is incomprehensible how “beefing up” national security can be both a civil liberties trade-off and not a sacrifice of liberty. This contradiction betrays the sad reality that the Obama administration has followed the lead of the Bush administration in escalating the abridgment of civil liberties in the US to protect “national security.”

It should be emphasized that the Internet monitoring that Napolitano is defending is mass warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans. This is significantly different from the FBI’s obtaining a warrant to spy on the conversations of specific individuals where probable cause exists to suggest that they are planning a terrorist attack.

During the Bush administration, the justification for such mass warrantless surveillance had been to gather foreign intelligence. This meant that the government would not intentionally attempt to spy on American citizens. In fact, so-called minimization standards of the FISA Act, including the amendments to it passed in 2008 require the government to make all reasonable accommodations so as not to target American citizens. What Napolitano is saying is therefore illegal because it directly advocates mass surveillance sweeps for the specific purpose of targeting American citizens who may be involved or contemplating involvement in terrorist activities.

This is a chilling expansion of the Bush warrantless surveillance program that was exposed in 2005. It suggests that the Obama administration, far from being more interested than the Bush administration in preserving the civil liberties of Americans, is actually more vigilant in undermining these rights.

For the entire article click here.

Its astonishing how little people on the left have come to grips with the fact that on issues ranging from indefinite detention to rendition to wiretapping to ASSASSINATION OF AMERICAN citizens to use of state secrets to defend Bush Administration civil liberties assaults (something Obama rightly criticized as a candidate) to now OPPOSING whistleblower protections (which he advocated in support of as candidate) to his embrace of all the key Patriot Act provisions he so adamantly criticized as a candidate (and recently even fought behind the scenes to ensure NO REFORMS were added that might protect civil liberties).

Yes, that's right...the DEMOCRATIC Senate, with the impassioned backing of the President (certainly more than he ever was for say a public option), not only voted to renew one of the most egregious legislative assaults (i.e. Patriot Act) on the Constitution ever enacted - a law Democrats promised to reform if not outright end - but what few privacy protections that had recently been added were stripped at the last minute.

Instead, the Senate voted to reauthorize three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act adopted just after the September 11th attacks.

It approved allowing broad warrants to be issued by a secretive court for any type of record, from financial to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

The Senate also renewed the so-called “roving wiretap” provision, allowing the FBI to obtain wiretaps from the secret court, known as the FISA court, without identifying the target or what method of communication is to be tapped.

Finally, the so-called “lone wolf” measure that allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person for whatever reason — even without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist was also approved.

Whole Body Imaging

Now that we’ve had that little stroll down nightmare lane, let’s get to Janet Napolitano’s claim that whole-body imaging technology is necessary to combat terrorists who continue to target airliners. She stated:

"The reality is simple: Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation," Napolitano said in a speech to the American Constitution Society. She added that the groups have sought to use explosives that do not contain metal and, therefore, do not set off alarms at metal detectors. Weapons and explosives have become harder to detect."

Now let me give a little rebuttal. As I wrote in my article "The Politics of Fear and "Whole-Body-Imaging", these full-body scanners use one of two technologies - millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays - to see through clothing, producing images of naked passengers.

As I also lay out in detail, there are MANY reasons to oppose the widespread use of these scanners, from the obvious, privacy, to the less so, they won't make us any safer. In fact, if you define the word "safe" as also including the concept of "safe" from government intrusiveness and corporate profiteering off fear peddling, than I would argue these machines make us less safe, not more.

A Review: Why Airport Body Scanners Should be Opposed

Before embracing this latest "terror fix", we should consider the larger context at work here: for every specific tactic we target with a new, expensive, and often burdensome security apparatus, the terrorist's tactics themselves will change.

Risks can be reduced for a given target, but not eliminated. If we strip searched every single passenger at every airport in the country, terrorists would try to bomb shopping malls or movie theaters.

Before we willfully give up our civil liberties and freedoms, support wars on countries that did nothing to us, and sign off on wasting HUGE amounts of money on ineffectual security systems, consider this: Your chances of getting hit by lightning in one year is 500,000 to 1 while the odds you'll be killed by a terrorist on a plane over 10 years is 10 million to 1.

Does this sound like a threat worthy of increasing the already long list of airline passenger indignities? Isn't suffering through long lines while being shoeless, beltless, waterless, and nail clipper-less enough? Now we've got to be digitally strip searched too?

Then there are the privacy concerns regarding how images could be stored...and just the basic guttural reaction of "screw you I'm not letting you see me naked for no reason!" argument.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research group, published documents in January revealing that the machines can record, store and transmit passenger scans.

Are we really to believe the government won't allow these devices to record any data when the easy "go to" excuse for doing so will be the need to gather and store evidence? What about the ability of some hacker in an airport lounge capturing the data using his wi-fi capable PC - and then filing it to a Flickr album, and then telling of its whereabouts on Twitter?

For these reasons, privacy advocates continue to argue for increased oversight, full disclosure for air travelers, and legal language to protect passengers and keep the TSA from changing policy down the road. Again, what's to stop the TSA from using clearer images or different technology later?

As the ACLU pointed out, "A choice between being groped and being stripped, I don't think we should pretend those are the only choices. People shouldn't be humiliated by their government" in the name of security, nor should they trust that the images will always be kept private. Screeners at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) could make a fortune off naked virtual images of celebrities...The Bill of Rights extends beyond curbside check-in and if the government insists on using these invasive search techniques, it is imperative that there be vigorous oversight and regulation to protect our privacy. Before these body scanners become the status quo at America's airports, we need to ensure new security technologies are genuinely effective, rather than merely creating a false sense of security."

Number of Airports Using Scanners Increases as Customer Complaints Rise

These Advanced Imaging Technologies will be installed in 18 more airports sometime this year. The machines are already in place in 32 other airports. The TSA plans to install close to 900 body scanners at airports around the U.S. by 2014. About 200 AIT scanners are expected to be deployed by the end of this year at a cost of $130,000 to $170,000 per device.

Is the loss of freedom, privacy, and quality of life a worthwhile trade-off for unproven protections from a terrorist threat that has a 1 in 10 million chance of killing someone over a ten year time period? To me this represents a line that I'd prefer not to cross. What's next? Cavity searches?

Could all this hype be just another way to sell more security technologies? Whether its the BP oil disaster, the Wall Street meltdown, the killing off of the public option, or the mining collapse, there remains a constant in each case: corporate money subverting the public interest. Could that be at play here too? Of course. Though I think overriding even the profit motive in this case is the fear motive (though they fit nicely together)...and the control that gives to those in power.

Walking through a whole-body scanner or taking a pat-down shouldn't be the only two options for citizens living in a free society to travel.


Steve said...

Let me see if I have this right.

2 million passengers per day (in the US only) for the past 9 years (since 9/11) equals about 6.5 BILLION passengers.

One nut tries to blow up a plane with explosives in his underwear which failed. (BTW: You can’t put enough explosives in your underwear to down a plane) and now OUR GOVERNMENT wants to strip search or physically pat down all AMERICAN travelers at a cost of BILLIONS of dollars.

Non-metallic weapons are bullsh**. Nobody can get in the cockpit anymore. Maybe they could harm another passenger? Is this a realistic threat?

Nobody has been killed by terrorists on an American aircraft since 9/11!

Also - TSA (or DfT in UK) has never caught a terrorist - ever!

Odds: 1 in 6.5 billion ? or less? the bombs didn't work!
Powerball 1 in 40 million?
State lottery 1 in 14 million.

I'm 465 times more likely to win the state lottery, than to be killed by terrorists on a plane!


Billions to strip search Air Travellers?
Teachers all over the country out of work?
Cities & Towns going bankrupt?
HUGE problems in the Gulf States?
What about the 300,000 killed in car crashes in the same period?

What's wrong with this picture?

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall said...

Great post. Every time I go to the airport, I'm amazed at how compliantly red blooded Americans remove their belts, shoes and submit to everything else TSA wants them to submit to. I believe it's a deliberate psychological ploy - you keep pushing people to do something more degrading, stripping away their humanity until they willingly follow you to the gas chambers. It makes me physically sick to my stomach, and I try to find some alternative form of transportation wherever possible. I absolutely refuse to go through LAX - it's the absolute worse - they automatically assume everyone in line is a criminal. I write about the life events that earned me a spot on the FBI's No Fly List in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE. (I currently live in exile in New Zealand).

CFC said...

I of course wholeheartedly agree with both of you...fear is a helluva means of control.