On August 17, 1975, Sen. Frank Church appeared on “Meet the Press” to discuss his investigations into the surveillance capabilities of America’s intelligence agencies.
We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA, in light of its tremendous potential for abuse . . . The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications…
That capacity at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left; such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.
There would be no place to hide. If government ever became a tyranny, if a Dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.
Since the day when Senator Church spoke the words quoted above, there has been a dramatic change in the way Americans and for that matter the world communicates. Thousands of miles of fiber optic cables rest on the sea bottom around the world allowing transmissions of voice, email, graphics and music to travel at the speed of light. Additionally the pervasive use of cell phones has changed the way that the intelligence community has risen to meet the challenges.
Today there is very little that is known about peoples of the world that is not lying in massive global databases under the scrutiny of governments. The expansion of technology since 9/11 has grown tremendously and governments are spending billions annually to spy on their own people.
In a radio interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin made a simple observation that the US surveillance regime has more data on the average American than the Stasi ever did on East Germans.Indeed, the American government has more information on the average American than Stalin had on Russians, Hitler had on German citizens, or any other government has ever had on its people.The American government is collecting and storing virtually every phone call, purchases, email, text message, internet searches, social media communications, health information, employment history, travel and student records, and virtually all other information of every American.Some also claim that the government is also using facial recognition software and surveillance cameras to track where everyone is going.
Moreover, cell towers track where your phone is at any moment, and the major cell carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, responded to at least 1.3 million law enforcement requests for cell phone locations and other data in 2011. And – given that your smart phone routinely sends your location information back to Apple or Google – it would be child’s play for the government to track your location that way.
As the top spy chief at the U.S. National Security Agency explained, the American government is collecting some 100 billion 1,000-character emails per day, and 20 trillion communications of all types per year.
He says that the government has collected all of the communications of congressional leaders, generals and everyone else in the U.S. for the last 10 years.
He further explains that he set up the NSA’s system so that all of the information would automatically be encrypted, so that the government had to obtain a search warrant based upon probably cause before a particular suspect’s communications could be decrypted. But the NSA now collects all data in an unencrypted form, so that no probable cause is needed to view any citizen’s information.
He says that if anyone gets on the government’s “enemies list”, then the stored information will be used to target them. Specifically, he notes that if the government decides it doesn’t like someone, it analyzes all of the data it has collected on that person and his or her associates over the last 10 years to build a case against him.
TechDirt points out:
While the Stasi likely wanted more info and would have loved to have been able to tap into a digitally connected world like we have today, that just wasn’t possible.
But in the world before the internet, smart phones, electronic medical records and digital credit card transactions, much of what happened behind closed doors remained private.
In modern America, a much higher percentage of your communications and transactions are being recorded and stored by the government.
“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge,” Senator Church said. “I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”