Americans’ personal privacy is being crushed by the rise of a four-headed corporate-state surveillance system. The four “heads” are: federal government agencies; state and local law enforcement entities; telecoms, web sites & Internet “apps” companies; and private data aggregators (sometimes referred to as commercial data warehouses).
Conventional analysis treats these four domains of data gathering as separate and distinct; government agencies focus on security issues and corporate entities are concerned with commerce. Some overlap can be expected as, for example, in case of a terrorist attack or an online banking fraud. In both cases, an actual crime occurred.
But what happens when the boundary separating or restricting corporate-state collaboration, e.g., an exceptional crime-fighting incident, erodes and becomes the taken-for-granted operating environment, the new normal? Perhaps most troubling, what happens when the traditional safeguards offered by “watchdog” courts or regulatory organizations no longer seem to matter? What does it say that the entities designed to protect personal privacy rights seem to have either been effectively “captured” or become toothless tigers?
In President Eisenhower’s legendary 1960 farewell address, he warned of the potential power of the military-industrial complex. Ike’s 20th century formulation represented the intertwining of the U.S. military and private contractors to achieve two complementary goals. First, it sought to help corporations make guaranteed, cost-plus profits and to provide glide-path retirement programs for the military brass. Second, it sought to influence Congress and thus shape foreign policy, helping fulfill the then just-emerging global imperialist strategy.
Today’s corporate-state surveillance complex demonstrates a comparable intertwining of U.S. policing forces and private companies in the monitoring of domestic life. It is being implemented thanks to the technology fruits of a half-century of the military-industrial complex. The Defense Department created the Internet and what it can do in Yemen it can do in Oakland. The global war on terrorism is coming home!
In the wake of the Great Recession, we are living through a great economic and social restructuring. The global world order is shifting and, accordingly, America’s class and social relations are being reordered. Occupy Wall Street’s formulation of the social crisis, the 1% vs. the 99%, has become the shorthand descriptor of this restructuring of American economic relations. No time is better to impose high-tech social disciple then one marked by economic and social crisis. The unanswered question is obvious: Are we witnessing the formation of the high-tech police state?
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To reiterate, the four-headed corporate-state surveillance hydra consists of (i) federal agencies; (ii) state and local law enforcement entities; (iii) telecoms, web sites & Internet “apps” companies; and (iv) private data aggregators. The following overview sketches out the parameters of the ever-growing domestic spy state, how it’s being implemented and some of the more egregious examples of abuse of public trust if not the law.
#1 — Federal Surveillance
The attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent (and endless) “war on terror” continue to provide the rationale for an ever-expanding domestic security state. The leading agencies gathering data on Americans (and others) include the National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) as well as the FBI and IRS. In the wake of 9/11, the NSA took the lead in federal domestic cyber surveillance, but in 2010 the NSA ceded this authority to the DHS.
Personal information is gathered from a host of both public and private sources. One source is “public records” that can range from birth, marriage and death records; court filings, arrest records, driver’s license information, property ownership registrations (e.g., car or house), tax records, professional licenses and even Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Another source is “private” records from ChoicePoint and LexisNexis as well as credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian Information Solutions and Trans Union LLC.