Saturday, March 02, 2013

The drone at home

From Epic, the Electronic Privacy Information Center:
New records obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is operating drones in the United States capable of intercepting electronic communications. The records also suggest that the ten Predator B drones operated by the agency have the capacity to recognize and identify a person on the ground. Approximately, 2/3 of the US population is subject to surveillance by the CBP drones. The documents were provided in response to a request from EPIC for information about the Bureau's use of drones across the country. The agency has made the Predator drones available to other federal, state, and local agencies. The records obtained by EPIC raise questions abut the agency's compliance with federal privacy laws and the scope of domestic surveillance. For more information, see EPIC: Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Drones.
This one of those issues that tends to get framed in a misleading fashion. The American people are told: Yes, drones are being used in the U.S. -- but only for border patrol. You're in favor of border patrols, aren't you?

And then we learn that those same drones can read the emails of two thirds of the population. You know damned well that all of that info is going straight into the NSA's supercomputers.

Last December, Naomi Wolf (writing in the Guardian) filed an excellent report on the droning of America:
30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won't necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs.
In other words, the Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations, on your way, say, to protest or vote or talk to your representative, if you are not "specifically identified", a determination that is so vague as to be meaningless.

What happens to those images, that audio? "Distribution of domestic imagery" can go to various other government agencies without your consent, and that imagery can, in that case, be distributed to various government agencies; it may also include your most private moments and most personal activities.
"I don't think it's crazy to worry about weaponized drones. There is a real consensus that has emerged against allowing weaponized drones domestically. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended against it," warns Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU, noting that there is already political pressure in favor of weaponization:
"At the same time, it is inevitable that we will see [increased] pressure to allow weaponized drones. The way that it will unfold is probably this: somebody will want to put a relatively 'soft' nonlethal weapon on a drone for crowd control. And then things will ratchet up from there."
Perhaps this is one of those issues that can serve as a meeting ground between left-wing activists and right-wing conspiraholics. The Guardian and the Alex Jones websites do not have a terribly different attitude toward our growing fleet of spies-in-the-sky.

Alas, to judge from the comments below Wolf's article, the right remains fixated on gun ownership -- as though that's the solution. I doubt that a semi-automatic will somehow prevent a hummingbird drone from reading your email.

Lots of people in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan own Big Damn Guns. Even though Yemenites in rural areas can barely feed themselves, they all possess AK47s and cognate weaponry. And to what end? Their armaments have proven useless when the "death-from-above" machines go a-hunting.

Last year, Charles Krauthammer said "The first guy who uses a weapon to bring down a drone that's hovering over his house is going to become a folk hero in this country." I agree. But realistically speaking, a domestic drone war cannot be fought and won on that level.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: We need strong privacy legislation. That's the real answer. We must not buy into the argument that the threats posed by terrorists and pedophiles justify our ever-more-oppressive surveillance state. And we must ruthlessly denigrate the fools who bray those infamous words: "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."
Full Spectrum Dominance. I used to talk about that and got nothing but ridicule, or blank stares.
What we need is a return to the rule of law and the Constitution. On that, I believe we all, left and right, can agree.
We have forgotten, been steered away from, the truth expressed below in a time before Party Patriot Supreme Court Judges and Presidential Counsels tried to convince us that our system of Justice was lacking and insufficient to deal with a so-called new reality. That is BS.
Guns, Armies, Cops, Enhanced Interrogations, Torture, Military Tribunals, et al do not protect our freedoms - Laws do.
Good Laws based on the Constitution* are what maintain our freedoms. (*no Scalia think allowed, authoritarian motherfucker.)

"It is fundamental that the great powers of Congress to conduct
war and to regulate the Nation's foreign relations are subject
to the constitutional requirements of due process. The
imperative necessity for safeguarding these rights to
procedural due process under the gravest of emergencies has
existed throughout our constitutional history, for it is then,
under the pressing exigencies of crisis, that there is the
greatest temptation to dispense with fundamental constitutional
guarantees which, it is feared, will inhibit governmental action."
Justice Arthur Goldberg
US Supreme Court Justice
Source: Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 1963

Meant to add this:

"The Constitution of the United States is a law
for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace,
and covers with the shield of its protection
all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.
No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences,
was ever invented by the wit of man than
that any of its provisions can be suspended
during any of the great exigencies of government.
Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism,
but the theory of necessity on which it is based is false;
for the government, within the Constitution,
has all the powers granted to it,
which are necessary to preserve its existence;
as has been happily proved by the result
of the great effort to throw off its just authority."
Justice David Davis
(1815-1886) U.S. Supreme Court Justice 1862-1877
Source: Ex parte Milligan 71 U.S. 2 (1866) DAVIS, J., Opinion of the Court
I agree STRONGLY with your comment on valuing and fighting for privacy. But I would be that folk hero in a second.
The Molly Maguires could operate in secrecy, huddled in their (company owned) homes or in the dark of night. Barack Obama's drone program makes that all but impossible. The logical conclusion is that Obama and Wall Street will be turning America back to a time when the Molly's were needed for justice.
Everything Dan quoted or said regarding the Constitution is absolutely pertinent. Without the Constitution there is no law, and without that the government can do anything they wish. That's the way it is now. But I don't understand why people make such a big issue about privacy. If you have no right to life, and you don't, then obviously you have no right to privacy.

The police in your town or any federal agency can kick down your door, burst into your home and shoot your dog, shove guns into the faces of your children, and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Nothing. If it turns out they're at the wrong address, they don't even bother to say "We're sorry" because they don't have to.

The techniques that have been perfected in Iraq and Afghanistan have now come home to roost. This may be a form of instant karma. We are all sand ni--ers now, and will be treated accordingly. All your communications can and will be monitored, and armed thugs can break into your house whenever they wish. In Afghanistan US forces kill children, rape women, and beat, torture, and kill men with complete freedom of action. Not many Americans have been particularly upset about any of that for the last eleven years or for any of it that went on in Iraq.
Now it has come to their own neighborhoods.

Congress provided the legislation that allows your president to kill anyone he wants to and is providing funds to create an ever larger and more encompassing police state. And the Supreme Court says it's all good. You think they will do anything to protect your privacy?
First off. I love your blog. Where the hell have I been? Oh right....asleep at the wheel. Phew. Awake now.

So, obviously we need stronger privacy laws. Or perhaps we need the ones we have outlined by the Constitution enforced?

We don't need new laws. We have laws out the ying yang. We need respect for the laws we presently have on the books.

And I agree the first person to shoot down a drone will be a folk hero. That person will also be dead within 48 hours, either eliminated by another drone of a less subtle Blackhawk helicopter.

It will not be tolerated. That poor slob will be declared a Domestic Terrorist quicker than you can say Officer Dorner.

I predict that the first American person killed by a "drone" on U.S. soil will be someone who will be declared an illegal immigrant crossing a border somewhere. That will be B.S. But it will all be part of the pre-programming that conditions Americans to keep their heads down and behave.

In the word's of our famously transparent President," Let Me Be Clear. " There is no privacy. There has not been for while.

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