Five years ago, author and Rhodes Scholar Naomi Wolf wrote an article in the Guardian entitled “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps,” outlining the ways in which the United States, the land where the utmost value is the idea of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” could be subverted from the inside. In the piece, Wolf says that the very safeguards—the press, the protestors and the rule of law—that we normally have to keep power in check and to keep a sense of balance, could fall by the wayside.
However, one of the most alarming points that Wolf listed was her fourth: “Set up an internal surveillance system.” Earlier this year, Wired Magazine wrote a piece on the Utah Data Center, a large surveillance center in Bluffdale, Utah. The center will contain large troves of information, detailing every scrap of your internet history—your digital “pocket litter.” The government will have unprecedented access to your life, what you are interested in and what you like. “What’s happening is a violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country,” former National Security Agency official Bill Binney told the Guardian in September.
In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released documents from the Justice Department that revealed law officials were increasingly using electronic surveillance methods, including “pen register” and “trap and trace” maneuvers, and were “doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.” According to the ACLU: “Pen register and trap and trace devices are powerfully invasive surveillance tools that were, twenty years ago, physical devices that attached to telephone lines in order to covertly record the incoming and outgoing numbers dialed. Today, no special equipment is required to record this information, as interception capabilities are built into phone companies’ call-routing hardware.”
And this unconstitutional searching is not just restricted to your phone calls. From 2010 to 2011, the number of live interception requests, or demands for real-time information on individuals’ personal online activity, made by the US Department of Justice to social-networking sites and email providers, jumped 80 percent. Police currently use an outdated 1986 law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, itself designed before the rise of Internet to access the information they want.
This, of course, flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, the very same document designed to protect citizens from the potential tyrannies of government. The Fourth Amendment reads that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” In the 1967 case Katz v. United States, Justice John M. Harlan II set up a “reasonable expectation” test to determine to what extent people had a right to privacy. The two elements that are make up this instruction is if the individual “has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy,” and if “society is prepared to recognize that this expectation is (objectively) reasonable, then there is a right of privacy in the given circumstance.” Given that the government has superseded your privacy, wouldn’t that be the same thing as implying that, nowadays, as a society, there is little or no expectation of privacy?
Your information is now as open as it has ever been, with sites like Facebook and Twitter having access to more than a seventh of the world’s population, and Big Data companies mining your information and selling it off piecemeal. Companies like this use the argument that a restriction on their data-mining activities is a restriction on “commercial free speech.” But should we protect the rights of corporations—now considered people, according to the infallible wisdom of the Supreme Court—over the rights and concerns of actual people?