There are two basic reactions people have to the recent revelations by Edward Snowden about widespread surveillance of the American people by its government:
- shock that this could be true in the land of the free and the home of the brave;
- acceptance that such draconian measures are necessary at a time of existential and unconventional threats to national security.
For the life of me, I don't know how informed people could possibly be surprised at the extent of National Security Agency spying. America has been drifting slowly over decades toward becoming the most advance surveillance state in the history of the world – applying advanced technology to accomplishing what the Soviet Union did with low-tech Big Brotherism. (See "Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion and Promoting Terrorism.")
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But even more baffling to me is the reaction of some "conservatives" who deny the scope of spying activities and, at once, minimizing the civil-liberties threat and justifying the activities as absolutely necessary and vital for the protection of the country.
The truth is that the network television show "Person of Interest" is much closer to reality than most people think – except for the fact that no one is actually using the mining of data to protect the lives of innocent American citizens caught in the crossfire.
Let's look at some of the hard, cold facts of today's surveillance state:
- Is it true, as some top intelligence officials have said that only 300 phone numbers are targeted by the NSA at any given time? The truth is that 300 phone numbers are targeted per analyst per month. There are some 10,000 analysts. Multiply 10,000 times 300 times 12 months and you get 36 million per year. That's roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population (316 million), or 0.5 percent of the global population (7 billion).
- All airports, bus, subway and train station terminals have facial recognition scanners and audio listening devices. At some locations, the audio listening devices are even installed in the bathrooms!
- Mobile device telemetry data is passively recorded via WiFi and cell towers from all mobile devices for later use. The government knows your every move.
- GPS and hidden microphones are installed in many national rental fleets such as Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Budget, Enterprise and Alamo and can be remotely "turned on" and monitored at any time. In many cases, the government has no out-of-pocket costs. They simply compromise the existing, factory-installed system, namely, GM's OnStar, Toyota's Safety Connect, Lexus' Enform, Ford's Sync, BMW's Assist and Mercedes Benz's Mbrace. Each of these systems uses a cellular connection embedded in the vehicle to provide a variety of automated and call center support services for the driver andgovernment officials. The alternate? Rent-A-Wreck.
- The same is true for listening devices in many national chain hotel rooms, particularly for dignitaries and special guests, e.g. Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Wyndham, Intercontinental.
- RFID nanotechnology is embedded in all Federal Reserve banknotes (paper money) and has been since the mid-2000s. This is done both to track where the money goes and what percentage in circulation is fake at any given time.
- New vehicle electronic control units (ECUs), or "black boxes," mandated by the federal government not only record "event data" to reconstruct vehicle accidents (speed, braking, airbag deployment), but contain storage devices capable of recording vehicle location throughout the life of the vehicle, even if your battery goes dead! And, the black boxes can be pinged remotely to extract their data including vehicle identification number, vehicle location history and more.
- Those license plate recorders at toll booths, traffic cameras and on police patrol cars don't just selectively record some vehicles. They persistently record all vehicles, including vehicle occupants, time and location. Then, all of that data, including occupant pictures, are fed into local, regional and national fusion centers. Equally important, there are other, unmarked license plate readers located in cell towers, along major highways, including some installed in fast food restaurant drive-throughs, gas stations and convenience stores along major highways and near high value and strategic national assets that collect data as well.
- Google's Street View project captures both panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world AND local WiFi network data including the SSID (the network's name), MAC address (a unique number given to each WiFi router), configuration and payload data so they can catalog, co-mingle, map and personally identify the owner and vulnerabilities of each network connected to the Internet.
- Encryption is no escape from the NSA. If you use encryption, the NSA "takes the gloves off" and pays special attention to you, i.e. they keep your data forever and farm out pieces of the data set to special groups to see if they can code break it. Besides, many (but not all) programs that encrypt and decrypt data have been compromised, and the cryptographic landscape continues to rapidly evolve – so what is secure today may not be tomorrow.
- If you have a home alarm system that is remotely monitored by a central station and comes with "break glass" sensors, the audio portion of those sensors can be remotely "turned on" and recorded, in your own home. The government doesn't need to plant bugs. You did it yourself.
- Even if you disconnect your computer from the Internet, the government can access your computer using "power line communication" (PLC) or "broadband over powerlines" (BPL). The only way to prevent this is an off-grid power source.
- The bad guys – terrorist organizations like al-Qaida already know about most, if not all, of these NSA surveillance and sensor networks. These systems generally catch the "bad actors" or untrained professionals who make stupid mistakes.
- The government, including government contractors, are not the biggest recruiters of hacker talent in the country. The biggest recruiters are competing nation states that set up "cut outs" or "shell" corporations to recruit top talent, followed by international crime syndicates who pay top dollar for the best. Their preferred recruitment venue? The annual hacker convention in Las Vegas called DEF CON.
- To ensure continuity of government (COG), one or more buildings in the nation's capital are linked to an underground railway network over a mile below ground using magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, interconnected to over a dozen military installations in the U.S.
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Only a fool could believe that this kind of surveillance state would only be used to protect the citizenry and vital national security infrastructure of the U.S.