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November 07, 2005


I expect I made my view clear yesterday.

... and the IRS is listening...

I don't like the FBI or CIA doing this -- but I don't think the answer is to add a warrant requirement. It's all public information. A cop doesn't need a judge's approval to create a file, or collect newspaper clippings on someone, or even to interview the subject's friends & neighbors. Why is this different? The real problem, it seems to me, is not that there is no judicial oversight, but that there are no real standards that we know of for who they investigate or how they use the information. And unlike the average police force, these people have a lot of money to waste and a track record of letting their files be used for partisan political purposes. These files sound like the vast majority would be useless except for such purposes.

Which is not to say, by the way, that the whole purpose of having the files, or the power to make them, is to play dirty tricks. Frankly, it sounds more like busywork. As in, we don't have any clue what to do, let's get more data on everything. This looks and feels like doing something, and it can go on forever. It can always justify a bigger budget.

I would very much like to see a Congressional investigation just of the sheer waste of man-hours involved in creating & maintaining these files.

trilobite: my credit history is not public knowledge, nor are various other sorts of records that can be obtained by these means. (Read the article for examples: whether or not you stayed in a given hotel in Vegas on a given night, your phone records, your library history, etc.)

I stand corrected. I thought it was all internet traces & phone company records.

I've been following this fairly closely for a while now for a class. This is way more than just public information, or I suppose one should say that this information is not the type available to the general public. Go to noplacetohide.net for more about the the US government's huge expansion of data mining for managing public safety. From the book excerpt.

On September 16, 2003, Charles McQueary paid a visit to the National Defense Industry Association. McQueary was the homeland undersecretary in charge of the new Directorate of Science and Technology. He was there to cultivate the association's 950 member companies, and to stoke their inclination to cash in on the historic push to create a homeland security infrastructure.

McQueary praised his audience for being so focused on protecting the United States, for protecting their way of life. Then he encouraged them to think big, far-out ideas about the kinds of research and development they can do to create new brands of sensors and other technology to detect and intercept attacks before they occur. Some of what he's aiming for goes into territory that John Poindexter was exploring. His plans include trying to replicate what he called the "sixth sense" that criminal investigators, border agents, and law enforcement authorities develop after years in the field. "It has been well known for years that experienced agents have developed almost a sixth sense - an ability to pick up on ineffable cues from an individual that indicate deception or otherwise 'raise the antennae' of suspicion," he told the contractors. "Today, we are exploring sensors that capture some of these indicators. There are also other indicators that these agents cannot detect, and for which we are developing capabilities to provide that information. We are working on: infrared detectors that register the heat signals around the eyes that are indicative of an autonomic 'fight or flight' response; and remote sensors for heart rate, or skin galvanic response."

It was another case of reality supplanting science fiction. In 2003, McQueary's people also began supporting the study of ways to enable border patrol to examine the protein fragments on a visitor's skin. They would monitor whether a person has been handling chemicals or other materials that might be used in a weapon of mass destruction. Presumably, the test could also be calibrated to show whether an individual has been handling cocaine, marijuana, or other drugs.

None of this will be easy, but it could be lucrative for those who try. "Let me assure you, we will support you as you support us. So what do we want from you?" McQueary asked the contractors.

"We want you to recognize the economic opportunity that homeland security presents. It is important for all Americans to remember that when the terrorists struck on September 11, 2001, one of their goals was to cripple the U.S. economy. We must remember this and change our mindset to make protecting the homeland a mission that moves our economy forward."

Another article that immediately sprang to mind when I saw this article yesterday is the German Law Journal's interview with Giorgio Agamben:

Agamben: At first glance it really does seem that governance through administration, through management, is in the ascendancy, while rule by law appears to be in decline. We are experiencing the triumph of the management, the administration of the absence of order.

The interview slides off into theory land pretty quickly, but Agamben's linkage of the state of exception to systems theory and management, rather than governance seems to fit what is going on pretty well.

We are already have some idea on how this type of stuff can be misused. Cue J. Edgar Hoover, except that his ability to gather such stuff was primitive by today's standards. But what he was able to gather, he was more than happy to misuse for his own personal agendas.

We're now recreating the Hoover era in illegal surveillance of US citizens.

Imagine this -- the FBI goes to pull a warrant for a search based on this improperly gathered inforamtion. In other words, would be be legal to conduct the search based on info gathered in this manner?

This is another example of one of the evils of the Patriot Act. It suspended normal search and seizure rules under the guise of national security, but the logic justifying it was the info was being used for counter-terrorism and not criminal prosecution. How easy it is to then start using the info for other criminal prosecutions. It just becomes routine, and the Fourth Amendment goes with it.

dmb: hey: we have just declared that the poisonous tree is not, in fact, poisonous, and so its fruit can be eaten all day long.

And as I have mentioned before: as someone who was in fact surveilled for political purposes (my Dad, not me, being the political miscreant, according to Nixon), trust me: it is no fun at all to think that (in my case) all my idiotic adolescent thirteen year old phone calls (about all the crushes on all those unfortunate guys that I hardly dared discuss even with my closest friends, lest the earth open up and swallow me) could have been listened to by FBI agents, just because my Dad had the unmitigated gall to oppose, publicly, one of Nixon's SC nominees.

I do not want my country to be like this.

"I do not want my country to be like this."

My mother was still entirely paranoid and as emphatic as can be right through the Seventies that I not mention to anyone anywhere anything about her history with the Communist Party. She was an almost life-long employee of the NYC Board of Education (as was my father, untile he succeeded in getting fired for being crazy; and you have to be extremely crazy to get them to do that), which administered loyalty oaths, until she retired in the early Nineties.

That's spam above, in case anyone hasn't noticed.

Oops -- in deleting the spam, I transformed Gary's last comment into either an inaccuracy or unintentional self-deprecating humor ;)


I'm curious what point you want to make with your 4:46 comment. I get the impression (probably wrongly) that you are suggesting that this sort of thing has gone on for some time, and hilzoy is being naive. I agree that the impulse to monitor and keep tabs on is imbedded in the notion of the state, but with the ability to process huge amounts of data, 'my country like this' takes on a different tenor. If I misinterpreted your anecdote, my apologies.

Not only is someone watching, but they seem to have baseball bats

"I get the impression (probably wrongly)"


The "intention" of my comment was of the "yes, this sort of thing sucks, doesn't it?; here's a small example from the life of me and mine" family of sharing.

For the life of me I don't see what words in that comment led you to read what you read in, but such are my poor communication skills, as well as the usual blind spot about one's self.

For the life of me I don't see what words in that comment led you to read what you read in

Interesting question (assuming that there is the question 'what do you mean?' underlying your comment)

It was the juxtaposition of your comment with hilzoy's that gave me the impression I took away. Generally, (at least in my experience) communication can't be reduced to atomistic predicates. Thus, if I'm barbecuing chicken outside, I come in and find myself distracted by something, and return to find my chicken pieces the color and hardness of charcoal, and my wife says 'if you stay out there and watch it, you chicken might not get burnt', the timing of that comment changes it from an anecdotal piece of information to something else entirely.

Given that you quoted hil saying 'I do not want my country to be like this', the relating of an anecdote about your parents (which sounds extremely interesting, I should add), who, I am guessing from your previous comments, joined the Communist Party in the 30's, sounds (by juxtaposition, not by the actual content of what you wrote) as if your reply is 'you may not want it, but you've already got it'

I would also suggest that this is why I don't understand at all your habit of telling us that you've already blogged about something, because, as a point of information, I have no idea what you are trying to say. If you are simply saying that you read and noted the article first, I'm not sure what use that is, especially when it is not noted if you argree or disagree with the person's take on the article. As always, de gustibus non est disputandum.

The difference between GF's parents' surveillance and today's is that so much information is digital. It is more easily obtained, more easily saved, more easily searched, and more easily linked. This is the degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon game with indefinite detention as the prize. Because the information can be so much more easily tracked, more people can be monitored. The injustice may be the same, but the scale will be different. And I'm getting pretty pessemistic about the American people's capacity to resent this tracking: we've accepted the centralized credit industry, the customer tracking systems of Amazon, GPS monitoring systems in cellphones, thirteen year-olds maintaining blogs, and the list of modern conveniences goes on.

It's considered by my students to be somewhat old-fashioned to pay for a sandwich in cash. Every big chain store wants to sign you up for a member card. They insinuate that you'll get discounts, but if you talk to a clerk in an unguarded mood, they'll admit that they simply want to track what you buy. Hey, it's all good, all in the name of convenience, and why shouldn't the government know what Rite Aid knows?

During the more paranoid moments of my acid years, I used to think that it was alright that I was being videotaped and registered from every angle at every moment because nobody was able to coordinate all the cameras and registries. I think that in one particularly fractured moment, my thinking ran: "the central eye is schizophrenic, man." Now that I'm mostly lucid, I'd really prefer the central eye to be schizophrenic, if we're to be so tracked at all.

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