Spy on Me, I’m Innocent!

You’ve heard people say they want to be spied on, as long as it means that other people will be spied on too.  I know you’ve heard people say this, and which people it was, and how your face looked when you heard it, and what your next telephone call was.  Or, rather, I could know all of that if I were one of the thousands and thousands of low-level snoops it will take for our government to accomplish its surveillance goals.

The logic is completely flawed, however.  As FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley remarks, if you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, adding more hay doesn’t help.  It makes you less likely to find the needle.  A government that sucks up ever vaster quantities of useless information on innocent people actually hurts its own ability to investigate crimes.  And the imagined intimidating effect of things like surveillance cameras in public spaces doesn’t actually reduce crime; it merely makes us think of each other as potential criminals.

On top of that, the over-investigation leads to all sorts of harm to innocent people that was completely avoidable: wrongful prosecutions and imprisonments, deaths and injuries during unnecessary confrontations, and disastrous cultural and legal changes.  Once everyone has become a suspect, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant.  Once activists are targeted for surveillance and suspicion, many become reluctant to engage in activism — which, believe it or not, leads to corruption and tyranny.

It’s also possible to be wrong about one’s innocence.  There are over 5,000 federal crimes on the books, plus 300,000 regulatory crimes, plus regulations, plus state crimes.  Almost everyone is certainly guilty of something or easily made to appear guilty of something.

All of these points become clearer, I think, when one learns, not just what could happen in the near future, but what is happening right now in the nature of abuses often considered futuristic or dystopian.  A great place — maybe the best place — to start is John Whitehead’s new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

This book captures the stories of slowly growing abuse and suppression, and collects them in sufficient mass to shock readers out of their complacency.  Have police pulled you over and done cavity searches yet?  They have to others.  Have they forcibly drawn your blood to check for alcohol?  Have they stopped you on a sidewalk and patted you down?  Some  things you simply don’t know whether they’ve done: have they scanned your pockets, bags, and clothing as you passed?  Have they filmed you with a drone and stored the information, allowing a retroactive search of where you were when, should the need arise?  Have they tracked you via your cell phone or your license plate?  Do they know your web browsing history and the content of your emails?  Have they entered your home and searched it while you were out?  These actions are all “legal,” even if unconstitutional.

Some abuses you can’t help being aware of when they happen to you or someone you know.  Tens of thousands have been arrested and committed to mental institutions.  Local police have been militarized.  Uniquely in the world, the U.S. military “donates” its weapons to local police forces.  With the weaponry comes a militarization of uniforms, language, training, tactics, and thought.  Over 50,000 no-knock SWAT-team-style police raids are carried out annually in the United States.  Noticing this doesn’t make us paranoid.  It exposes the paranoia of the police, who see an enemy in every member of the public.

“There was a time,” Whitehead notes, “when communities would have been up in arms over a botched SWAT team raid resulting in the loss of innocent lives.  Unfortunately, today, we are increasingly being conditioned by both the media and the government to accept the use of SWAT teams by law enforcement agencies for routine drug policing and the high incidence of error-related casualties that accompanies these raids.”  Whitehead details some of the specific tragedies.

Combine police that have been militarized with a public that has been armed, and you get stories like this one: “[A]n 88-year-old African-American woman was shot and killed in 2006 when policemen barged unannounced into her home, reportedly in search of cocaine.  Police officers broke down Kathryn Johnstone’s door while serving a ‘no-knock’ warrant to search her home on a run-down Atlanta street known for drugs and crime, prompting the woman to fire at what she believed to be the ‘intruders’ in self-defense.  The officers returned fire, killing the octogenarian.  No cocaine was found.”

If only someone had had a gun!

According to Amnesty International, 90% of those killed by police tasers were unarmed when tasered.  But when people are armed, they aren’t just tasered; instead they have dozens of bullets pumped into them.

Drones, in Whitehead’s view, open up a whole new level of militarization.  As tear gas, tasers, sound cannons, assault vehicles, and other military weapons were passed on to police, so too are drones being domesticated.  The reckless killing and blanket spying that will follow pale in relation to some of the suicidal stupidities the military has planned, such as nuclear-powered drones and drones carrying nuclear weapons.

It’s not too late to push back, assuming we come to understand the desirability and necessity of doing so.

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  • gozounlimited

    After committing his ashes to the sea, we left our deceased husband and father to rest in the freezing water of the Pacific, the water that ultimately took his life. The manner in which he was taken was initially caused by the freighter that ran into him off Point Reyes while he was professionally salmon fishing. Because the freighter was negligent, they hit him, and moved on leaving him in the ocean to die of hypothermia and drowning. They did however, alert the Coast Guard right after the incident reporting a possible collision with a fishing vessel.

    The Coast Guard prepared to search and recover, but the freighter told the coast guard to stand down…they decided they hadn’t hit a boat after all. Rather than taking the freighters stand down orders up the chain of command, the Coast Guard followed the freighters orders and aborted the rescue. There were several fishing boats in the area ready to pick him up …. but they were also told to stand down. So there he was bobbing around in the Pacific like a cork waiting for the freighter, fishing boats, Coast Guard, someone to pick him up. Didn’t happen.

    So…. of course, we had to go through years of litigation following our unimaginable loss. The part of the legal process that stood out the most to me, was when my land line was tapped by the government (Homeland Security) several months prior to the hearing establishing the Coast Guards culpability in the death. I could hear the phone tap when I used the phone…. (they aren’t very professional about it) so I decided to plant a bomb. I held discussions on the phone with friends talking trash to see if the misinformation would be presented by the government during the hearing. And it sure did….. it all came up. Proof the gov tapped my land line to improve their position.

    Ultimately the phone tap wasn’t needed….the arbitrator (waiting to be promoted to a federal judgeship) ruled the Coast Guard not culpable because they broke a rule not a regulation.

    • gozounlimited

      Thank You ….. Dramatic Puppy Rescue in San Francisco Bay

      Adam Cohen, who was boating home from San Francisco to Berkeley, saw the group with their sails down and motored over to see if they needed help. That’s when he saw a puppy on one of the boards. “I can’t figure out where she came from,” said Cohen. “She was in the middle of nowhere.” …… http://shine.yahoo.com/pets/dramatic-puppy-rescue-san-francisco-bay-180200971.html