The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,
and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
persons or things to be seized - Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
When the Bill of Rights was penned, the authors had no idea that an individual's papers would one day be digitized and the government would be able to access electronic files containing the details of a person's life. However, the NSA has contemplated the need to rethink the 4th amendment in light of technological advancements relating to their surveillance of Americans.
The government has apparently concluded that a warrant based on probable cause is no longer needed to require banks to disclose your financial records or to compel libraries to reveal what books you have checked out. The government can even purchase personal data from private corporations such as ChoicePoint.
George Orwell correctly predicted the desire of the modern state to create a surveillance society, but he did not foresee the technology that would make it so easily accomplished. Scott Horton recently described some of the new tools of the American surveillance state in his article Man, Technology and State.
There have been many protests against the PATRIOT Act and privacy advocates are braced to fight against further intrusions. Yet, despite the fact that Americans value privacy, politicians seem to have an unlimted appetite for surveillance of citizens.
In February, the U.S. House passed a bill requiring a National ID under the pretext of immigration reform. Combined with government and private databases, the National ID surpasses anything that Hitler or Stalin ever dreamed of. The government has also created the mandatory American Community Survey - 24 pages of intrusive questions about your personal life.
The government's assault on privacy started long before 9/11. The drug war is responsible for much of the loss of privacy that has taken place in recent decades. Long before 9/11, the government sought to implement the Know Your Customer program to snoop on bank accounts. It has been reported that the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project was planned before 9/11.
The Total Information Awareness (TIA) project is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Information Awareness Office. The office is headed by Admiral (retired) John Poindexter who is responsible for conceiving the project. TIA purports to capture the "information signature" of people so that the government can track potential terrorists and criminals involved in "low-intensity/low-density" forms of warfare and crime. The goal is to track individuals through collecting as much information about them as possible and using computer algorithms and human analysis to detect potential activity.
The project calls for the development of "revolutionary technology for ultra-large all-source information repositories," which would contain information from multiple sources to create a "virtual, centralized, grand database." This database would be populated by transaction data contained in current databases such as financial records, medical records, communication records, and travel records as well as new sources of information. Also fed into the database would be intelligence data.
Say what? Surely this must be some conspiracy theory cooked up by America-hating terrorist sympathizers to discredit the government.
No, the Total Information Awareness program was real. Poindexter made it public in 2002. He had a fancy presentation (pdf file) prepared with plenty of diagrams and arrows. There was even a special logo for TIA that has since been thrown down the memory hole.
The Orwellian TIA program had many critics including Republican and Democrat Senators. Senator Charles Grassley was particularly concerned about possible FBI involvement with TIA. While President Bush was busy opposing funding cuts to TIA, the Senate blocked funding for the program.
Civil libertarians and privacy advocates had hardly begun to celebrate the defunding of TIA, before news reports revealed that "lawmakers left undisturbed a separate but similar $64 million research program run by a little-known US government office called Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA) that has used some of the same researchers as Mr. Poindexter's program".
It should be noted that DARPA's TIA program cost$30 million. Last year, Reuters reported that the government continues to engage in data-mining activities. More recently, the government has enlisted the Bahamas-based Global Information Group to provide a database on travelers.
Meanwhile, back in the private sector, a sinister new database system was being created with private money and government grants. This fascist public/private partnership is called the Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or the Matrix.
Say what? Surely this must be some conspiracy theory cooked up by America-hating terrorist sympathizers to discredit capitalism, the government, and the American way of life.
No, the Matrix is real. According to a September 2003 Associated Press article, the Matrix got started 18 months earlier in Florida. Then, with the participation of over a dozen states and $12 million in federal funds, a new privatized TIA was created by Seisint, a Boca Raton company founded by millionaire Hank Asher, who police say flew planeloads of drugs into the country in the early 1980s.
The article reports that the database project, created so states and local authorities can track would-be terrorists as well as criminal fugitives, will be open to some federal law enforcers and perhaps even U.S. intelligence agencies.
Governor Bush was promoting the Matrix's data-mining capabilities and anti-terrorism potential to Vice President Dick Cheney. The meeting in January 2003 was an attempt to get Cheney's support for more federal funding. Bush has also been a leader in trying to enlist other states to join the Matrix.
It has since been revealed how Seisint sold the Matrix system to the government. Wired News reported:
Before helping to launch the criminal information project known as Matrix, a database contractor gave U.S. and Florida authorities the names of 120,000 people who showed a statistical likelihood of being terrorists - sparking some investigations and arrests.
Seisint, Incorporated, which has since been acquired by LexusNexus, was not prepared for the backlash against the massive invasion of privacy that their Matrix program would inspire. According to The New Standard, sixteen states went through a pilot program, but after negative media coverage and concern from citizens, politicians, and even law enforcement officials, all but Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Ohio have decided to stop using Matrix.
To prevent the last five states from dropping out and to encourage other states to join, the format of Matrix was changed in response to privacy and legal concerns. The new format did not prevent Michigan from dropping out, leaving only four states left in the project.
It should be clear to the government and corporate privacy invaders that the public values privacy. But, this has not stopped government from bankrolling data-mining operations or buying data from private companies. Technological innovations coupled with the growth of private databases may eventually result in the consolidation of private databases with government databases.
It is easy to imagine a future where cash has been replaced by a some sort of super card that combines debit card, biometric National ID, and personal database. Every transaction could be taxed and recorded. The card could contain an RFID chip so that your location and activities could be constantly monitored and recorded. For those who seek convenience and security, an implantable microchip could perform all these functions from under their skin.
We could be just one terrorist attack away from that version of the future. How could Americans decline to take advantage of the security and convenience of a multi-function implantable microchip that would keep them safe and free? Only government agencies with the best of intentions and responsible corporations would have access to your sensitive personal data. Only those with something to hide would object.
Welcome to the information age. Proceed to the counter to obtain your plastic Freedom Card. If you would like a Patriot Chip, simply visit the chipping kiosk.
UPDATE: The Matrix program was dismantled on April 15, 2005 and was replaced with a network of Fusion Centers. In addition, much is now known about NSA spying on Americans thanks to documents leaked to Glenn Greenwald by Edward Snowden.
This article contributed by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia.