Two former members of Congress – both now affiliated with the Project for Privacy and Surveillance – are warning Americans that they need to be protected – from their own government.
Mark Udall, a former Democrat Colorado senator, and Bob Goodlatte, a former GOP congressman from Virginia, have written at Real Clear Politics that the problem is real.
“Our federal government has a limitless appetite for ever more access to our information. A proposal bandied about on Capitol Hill earlier this year would report transactions in Americans’ bank accounts that cumulatively exceed $10,000. This plan would give the government warrantless and ready access regarding whomever we do business, befriend, which causes we support and aspects of our personal lives we’d rather keep to ourselves. If Congress should approve this financial snooping proposal, however, it would merely be one more step in taking away whatever privacy Americans still enjoy,” they said.
“Consider: When you walk down the street, cell-site simulators, known as ‘stingrays,’ permit the police to ‘spoof’ your cellphone to scoop up your most personal data. At the federal level, at least 16 agencies are reported to be involved in such collections. The government at all levels also wields facial recognition technology that allows it to upload your visage to identify you and instantly amass your social media accounts and posts. At a glance, the government can know a great deal about your politics, religion and personal life.”
Further, “When you sit down at a computer, the government can extract your emails, browsing history and social media activities enabled by no law, but by an executive order known as 12333. These activities are justified to combat terrorism, but the broad sweep of personal information from keyword searches goes well beyond the warrants and the need to search for particular facts required by the Fourth Amendment.”
Then, too, when the government wants it, it can “purchase your most sensitive and personal information from data brokers. Even members of Congress are vulnerable to such intrusions,” they warn.
“So for all the lurid – and accurate – stories about how the People’s Republic of China has become an Orwellian surveillance state, we would do well to also focus on threats closer to home,” they warn. “Americans are beginning to wake up to the extent to which technology and U.S. government policies are placing us in fishbowls.”
Their recommendations include adopting the “Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act,” to close the loophole that lets federal agencies buy citizens’ private data, as well as approve a plan by Sens. Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee to subject the FBI’s warrant applications before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to the scrutiny of court-appointed experts in civil liberties.
Finally, Congress should hold hearings to discover the scale of 12333 surveillance, they said.
“We should not deceive ourselves, however, about how tough it will be to restore privacy to the American people. Much is happening because of our government’s limitless appetite for our information. The degradation of our privacy is also being driven by the relentlessly growing power of technology.”
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