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ACLU: Big Brother a fact, not fiction

“Big Brother is watching you.”

You’ve heard the saying before, but a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union warns you’re about to be watched by Big Brother like never before.

The report, Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The Growth of an American Surveillance Society, claims the U.S. has now reached the point where a total surveillance society has not only become a realistic possibility, but a likelihood unless the public fights back.

“From government watch lists to secret wiretaps, Americans are unknowingly becoming targets of government surveillance,” said Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California. “It is dangerous for a democracy that government power goes unchecked and for this reason it is imperative that our government be made accountable.”

The report cites two developments making the march toward an Orwellian society a quick journey:

“Many people still do not grasp that Big Brother surveillance is no longer the stuff of books and movies,” said Barry Steinhardt, co-author of the ACLU report. “Given the capabilities of today’s technology, the only thing protecting us from a full-fledged surveillance society are the legal and political institutions we have inherited as Americans. Unfortunately, the Sept. 11 attacks have led some to embrace the fallacy that weakening the Constitution will strengthen America.”

A recent illustration of the danger, according to the report, is the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, which seeks to sift through a vast array of databases full of personal information in the hunt for terrorism.

“Even if TIA never materializes in its current form,” Steinhardt said, “what this report shows is that the underlying trends are much bigger than any one program or any one controversial figure like John Poindexter.”

An overview of the ACLU report provides information on a wide variety of surveillance issues, some of which is excerpted here:

“If we do not take steps to control and regulate surveillance to bring it into conformity with our values,” the report states, “we will find ourselves being tracked, analyzed, profiled, and flagged in our daily lives to a degree we can scarcely imagine today.”

The ACLU suggests a new push for enacting laws bolstering privacy protections and limiting the invasive reach of new technologies. It also seeks a revival of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, what it calls the primary bulwark against government invasion of privacy.

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