Government surveillance impinges on left and right

By Laurie Bennett

December 30, 2012 at 6:50am

David Petraeus and Occupy Wall Street may seem unlikely bedfellows.

Yet both have been the target of government surveillance that has escalated since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Surveillance societies
Map of surveillance societies. Source: Privacy International
Map key

On Christmas day the New York Times reported that the FBI had used used counterterrorism agents to investigate OWS.

The account, based on documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said FBI agents around the country had exchanged information about the movement. The agency was concerned that OWS might provide “an outlet for a lone offender exploiting the movement for reasons associated with general government dissatisfaction.”

Similarly, the FBI, investigating a Tampa woman’s complaint of cyberstalking, read email exchanges unveiling an extramarital affair by Petraeus, former CIA director and commander of American forces in Afghanistan.

One would be hard pressed to find the national security threat in either case.

Expanded government surveillance, coupled with heightened technological capabilities, clearly has reached a level where it affects citizens across the political spectrum.

As the Times wrote in the wake of the Petraeus scandal:

The events of the last few days have shown how law enforcement investigators who plunge into the private territories of cyberspace looking for one thing can find something else altogether, with astonishingly destructive results.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said at the time: “If the CIA director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.”

And if every protest movement is considered a potential danger to the country, every protester is subject to government intrusion.

We’ve been here before, during the 1950s, when J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy invaded privacy and ruined lives under the guise of protecting Americans against communism.

However, Hoover and McCarthy didn’t have access to email, the internet, DNA databases, facial-recognition software, drones and a national network of video surveillance cameras.

Terrorism is a greater threat in the 21st century, but so is the national security state.

The map above, assembled by Privacy International in 2007, shows the levels of surveillance and privacy by country.

The U.S., you’ll note, ranks right up there with Russia and China.

President Obama is expected to sign legislation by tomorrow, renewing the government’s broad surveillance authority. The measure, enabling warrantless eavesdropping, was approved by the House in September, and by the Senate on Friday.

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