<H1><B>Big Brother Goes High-Tech</B></H1>
wolf_against_little red riding hood
David Banisar

Subtler and more far-reaching means of invading privacy have become available to the government. Discovery and invention have made it possible for the government, by means far more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is whispered in the closet.

--US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, 1928

Today, Justice Brandeis would be appalled by new surveillance technologies that go far beyond anything he could imagine. Rapid technological advances, in conjunction with the end of the Cold War and the demand for greater bureaucratic efficiency, are promoting a seamless web of surveillance from cradle to grave, from bankbook to bedroom. New technologies developed by the defense industry are spreading into law enforcement, civilian agencies, and private companies. At the same time, outdated laws and regulations are failing to check an expanding pattern of abuses. In Justice Brandeis' time and up to the 1960s,surveillance was mostly tedious manual and clerical labor. Tracing people's activities required physically following them from place to place at close range, interviewing those they came in contact with, typing up the information, and storing it in file cabinets with little possibility for cross-referencing. Only governments willing to go to extremes were able to conduct widespread surveillance.Electronic surveillance was similarly a one-on-one proposition; the East German secret police, for example, employed 500,000 secret informers, 10,000 just to eavesdrop on and transcribe its citizens' conversations. The development of powerful computers able to centrally store and process large amounts of information revolutionized surveillance. In addition to the millions of tax dollars spent developing law enforcement applications, the federal government used the new computer systems to increase the efficiency and reach of its bureaucracies. At the same time, the private sector was exploring the profit-making possibilities. Companies offering telephone, credit card, banking, and other consumer services began using massive computer systems not only to increase efficiency, but to apply to credit, marketing, and other schemes.

Now, information on almost every person in the developed world is computerized in several hundred databases collected, analyzed, and disseminated by governments and corporations.

And increasingly, these computers are linked up and sharing their cyber-gossip.

Using high speed networks with advanced intelligence and single identification numbers, such as the Social Security number, computers can create instant, comprehensive dossiers on millions of

People without the need for a centralized computer system.

Information on almost every person in the developed world is computerized in several hundred databases collected, analyzed, and disseminated by governments and corporations.

New developments in genetic and medical research and care, advanced

transportation systems, and financial transfers have dramaticallyincreased the quantity of detail available. A body of national and international laws and agreements facilitates the transfer of information across state and national borders and frequently prevents local and national communities from regulating against invasions of privacy.

A pending bill, S. 1360, would allow credit information bureaus such as Equifax to compile giant databases of medical records without notifying patients, and would further restrict states from passing laws to protect privacy.

Intelligence, defense, and law enforcement agencies have a long history of stretching and breaking those legal constraints enacted to protect civil liberties. And with the end of the Cold War, defense and intelligence agencies are seeking new missions to justify their budgets and are transferring technologies to civilian applications.

The CIA and National Security Agency, for example,

are emphasizing economic espionage and stressing cooperation with law enforcement agencies on issues such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering.

In 1993, the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Justice (DoJ) signed a memorandum of understanding for Operations Other Than War and Law Enforcement to facilitate joint development and sharing of technology.

The government is also using grants to influence the direction of research and development (R&D).

While many federal grants have been dried up by budget cuts, generous funding still flows to encourage public-private sector cooperation in computer technology. The National Laboratories, such as Rome, Ames, Sandia, and Los Alamos, have active R&D partnerships with the FBI;

the National Institute of Justice is providing grants and support to transfer this technology to local and state police agencies.

The DoD's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) has provided tens of millions of dollars to private companies through its Technology Reinvestment Project to help develop civilian applications for military surveillance technology.

To counteract reductions in military contracts which began in the 1980s, computer and electronics companies are expanding into new markets at home and abroad with equipment originally developed for the military.

Companies such as E-Systems, Electronic Data Systems (founded by Ross Perot), and Texas Instruments are

selling advanced computer and surveillance equipment to state and local governments that use them for law enforcement, border control, and administering state programs such as welfare. The companies are also pushing their products to numerous Third World countries with dismal human rights records.

Not surprisingly, repressive regimes in Thailand, China, and Turkey are using the US-made equipment to crush political dissent.

The authoritarian impulse is not the only motive for the expansion of information technology. The simple need for increased bureaucratic efficiency necessitated by shrinking budgets for social spending is a force behind much of the push for improved identification and monitoring of individuals.

Fingerprints, ID cards, data matching, and other privacy-invasive schemes were originally tried on populations with little political power,

such as welfare recipients, immigrants, criminals, and members of the military, and then applied up the socioeconomic ladder.

Once in place, the policies are difficult to remove and inevitably expand into more general use. Corporations are also quick to adapt these technologies for commercial use to target consumers, to manipulate markets, and to select, monitor, and control employees.

The technologies fit roughly into three broad categories: surveillance, identification, and networking.

Frequently used together as with biometrics and ID cards, or video cameras and face recognition they facilitate the mass and routine surveillance of large segments of the population without the need for warrants and formal investigations. What the East German secret police could only dream of is rapidly becoming reality in the free world.


In a computerized and networked world, a universal unique person identifier allows easy retrieval and consolidation of data. Pressure for a single identifier ostensibly to facilitate information sharing for administrative purposes is increasing and several schemes currently in place are sliding toward a mandatory system of universal identification.

Identification numbers.
In the US, the Social Security Number (SSN) was developed in 1938 to identify workers eligible for government retirement benefits.

In 1961, the IRS began using it as a tax identification number and slowly other agencies followed. Since banks and other non-governmental entities can legally turn away customers who refuse to supply a SSN, its use in the private sector is virtually taken for granted in everything from medical insurance to telephone to credit applications.

Several bills pending in Congress would create new national databases rooted to the SSN for all eligible job holders and for welfare and immigration purposes.

Morpho's PR boasts its Tacoma, Washington facility can "operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can process more than 20,000 tenprint[fingerprint]cards each day."

Identification cards.
Once a system of universal identification is established, it is a short step to requiring people to have and carry ID cards. The history of ID cards is long and ignoble.

The Roman Empire used tiles called tesserae to identify slaves, soldiers, and citizens over 2,000 years ago.The most notorious modern example the South African passbook,

which helped regulate apartheid contained relatively little information compared with today's cards. In addition to name, address, and identification numbers, the modern incarnation of the tesserae can include photograph,

fingerprints and magnetic strips or microchips to automate entering the data into reading devices.

In a process that privacy advocates call function creep, cards originally designed

Two soldiers have sued to keep their DNA out of registry in which the Pentagon plans to store 18 million samples for 75 years.

for a single-use are being
expanded to link multiple databases.

In Thailand, Control Data Systems set up a universal ID card to track all citizens.

"Smart cards," widely used in Europe, have an embedded microchip that can hold several pages of information. Even more advanced optical technology, which can store hundreds of pages of data on a chip, is currently used in the US. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation recently announced that it was providing 50,000 Florida residents with cards that could hold medical records, including X-rays.

Multifunction cards are the next step.
Utah is one of several states considering a single smart card for such diverse services as motor vehicle registration and libraries. Other federal government proposals for reinventing government call for a single card for welfare benefits, food stamps, and other federal government functions. Florida and Maryland have already experimented with the concept.

And the cards are getting smarter all the time. Active badges, already in use in numerous high-tech companies, transmit their location and, of course, that of the wearer.

next page
See also:
Exposing the Global Surveillance System
About "Project Echelon"
Crypto AG: The NSA's Trojan Whore?
about the compromise of trusted ecryption hardware
Networking with Spooks
about control over the internet domain name system
The Secret FISA Court:
Rubberstamping on Rights

about the loss of legal protections from covert surveillance.

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