Somebody’s Watching Us

January 14, 2014

By:  Rob Jones

If you pay even a passing bit of attention to the news, then you have heard of the NSA (National Security Agency) and their domestic spying program. All of which is under the ever watchful eye of the supreme leader, Barack Obama. It seems that the president may have been absent on the day that one of his colleges taught the United States Constitution. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again… We need to get back to following the Constitution to the letter. Regardless of your party, your political beliefs, or your personal beliefs. Following our Constitution to the letter will strengthen us, both as a people and as a nation. The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution applies here and it says:

Amendment IV

“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.”

I bring this up, because the NSA isn’t the only organization keeping tabs on us. There are four more and I’ll bet you had no idea of just how much data they collect on each of us. What they’re doing may seem innocent enough, until you really take a good look at exactly what they’re doing.

1. The Post Office photographs all your mail.

For about 12 years, the United States Postal Service has been photographing every piece of mail that comes through their doors to determine how mail moves around the country. It’s called the “Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program” and it’s been in use since 2001, when anthrax was sent to politicians and news organizations through the USPS, resulting in five deaths. On average, MICT records around 160 billion images of your letters and packages a year, which the Post Office can keep around for as long as they want. It’s important to note though that the Post Office doesn’t open your mail, and just like the NSA, is merely collecting your mail’s “metadata,” i.e. names, addresses, etc. Although, that’s a little bit like saying that your stalker isn’t so bad because, yeah, he follows you around but doesn’t peek through your window while you’re changing.

So, what does the Post Office do with all those images they take? For the most part, they hang on to them until a law enforcement agency asks for access to them, which the USPS grants independently, with no judicial review whatsoever. Isn’t it comforting to know that the only thing standing between you and a gross invasion of privacy is a group of people famous for wearing silly hats and delivering a bunch of catalogues you never asked for in the first place? It is actually, a pretty damn big invasion of privacy, as the metadata from your mail tells a lot about you, like your location, the people you associate with, your movement patterns, etc. because, well, of course it does. Not one organization would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to spy on you without good cause.

There have been times when the program has proven its value. The MICT helped identify the person who mailed ricin to President Barack Obama and assisted in targeting prostitution and drug smuggling operations. So, the system has had its discrete successes, but the question we’re all left to ask is, are we really okay with our fine men and women of the post office surveilling us without our knowledge, on the off chance that we might one day try to poison the president?

2. Equifax collects salary and other sensitive employment information — and sells it.

In this day and age, employment and credit information has become way more valuable. It’s what’s allowed consumer credit reporting agencies, like Equifax, to become huge, billion dollar enterprises, which apparently allows them to blatantly wriggle their way around the law by sharing other people’s personal information with all sorts of companies. Take “The Work Number”, an Equifax-operated service established to provide companies with your employment record. So far, nothing wrong with that, right?. It might actually be better for potential employers to confirm your work history without having to talk to a real person who knows exactly what you did to the punch during the office Christmas party. However, with over 20,000 companies signing up for The Work Number, it’d be a nightmare, logistically speaking, if all of them had to constantly update your employment history. So, most places just give Equifax direct access to parts of their HR files, to include a week-by-week breakdown of your salary. Equifax knows, and at least one researcher claims that they can resell that information (including your home address, email and phone number) to other companies!!

Depending on where you work, Equifax might also have access to the details of your health insurance, according to author Bob Sullivan, who’s discovered that The Work Number database may contain up to 190,000,000 employment and salary records, including one-third of the adult population of the United States. How the hell are they getting away with it? Equifax is quick to point out that buying an intimate look into the financials of anyone with an employment record in the U.S. is totally legal under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and even in instances where Equifax has taken it upon itself to tattle to mortgage companies if someone in their records has recently been laid off (which may delay payments), it’s because people have agreed to it in the fine print of their original mortgage agreements, as if you’ve needed any more reasons to pay attention to those things.

3. The MPAA employs online undercover agents.

Regardless of what you think of online piracy, most of us probably agree that the organization that’s set out to fight it, the “Motion Picture Association of America”, can go eat an expired turd sandwich. Somewhere between suing the compression pants off retirees and dead people while engaging in intellectual property theft itself, the MPAA (and its kissing cousin, the Recording Industry Association of America) has seemingly done all it can do to transform themselves into a cartoon like super-villain. Their next logical step: hiring people to spy on your posts to internet message boards. Earlier this year, the MPAA announced an opening at the company for an “Internet Analyst”, an otherwise real job, which in this case is actually code for “online snitch.” As an MPAA Internet Analyst, your job might include, “monitoring social networks, communities and forums” and reporting on the trends you’d observe there. In other words, you’d sign up for message boards and torrent sites and try to sniff out who, exactly, is uploading all those pirated copies of movies, presumably so that his family can get that poor soul the help he so desperately needs. But mainly, it’d be your job to identify individual people who produce or access copyrighted material, and then report those findings to the MPAA.

This type of job has traditionally been done by automated software called “sniffers”, but as pirates became better and better, the MPAA and RIAA found the need to introduce humans into their monitoring. If you’ve never done anything illegal online, you probably have nothing to worry about, but you have to admit there is something really unsettling about a legitimate job position that’s barely above crying to the teacher because some kids in class were entering “80085” into their calculators. The position specifically requires that the MPAA’s “Internet Analyst” has a bachelor’s degree in Economics, Computer Science or Engineering, all to potentially target individual people and present evidence that piracy is harming the movie industry. The fact that the position shares basically the same title with the army of 2,000,000 government employees monitoring the Chinese internet shouldn’t surprise anyone this point.

4. The Air Force takes aerial photos of you.

As far as military institutions go, it’s hard not to love the Air Force, what with them getting to tear open the sky at supersonic speeds and blast America’s enemies in what is essentially an oversized Iron Man armor. However, other than computerized flying tanks, the Air Force also makes frequent use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as “drones”. The use of drones in combat areas is understood, but probably won’t be helped by the fact that the machines often take off from the continental United States, with their recording equipment turned on. This means that whenever the Air Force deploys one of these drones to Iraq or Afghanistan, it often first flies it for hundreds of miles over private properties, all the while free to record the movements of ordinary U.S. civilians

What’s really scary about this, is that this wholly illegal monitoring is only being sanctioned because each time it happens, the Air Force simply “promises” that the recording equipment was turned on unintentionally. No one has a clue what these drones flying over the U.S. could be recording, but remember that we are talking about 21st century technology specifically designed for gathering information. All of this “accidental” spying data captured without consent doesn’t merely get streamed to a bored operative in real-time. It gets recorded and reviewed by Air Force analysts because they already have it (“by accident”), it would be such a waste if they didn’t first make sure that you weren’t in fact a communist-sympathizing al-Qaeda operative with an unpaid parking ticket. In accordance with “Air Force Instruction 14-104″, which covers oversight of its intelligence activities, the department also has the right to hold and analyze their captured drone footage for up to three months. The Air Force certainly didn’t mean to go Orwellan, when they incidentally recorded you, while you were sunbathing naked, in what you thought was the privacy of your own fenced backyard. It would be like “accidentally” walking in on your sister’s friend in the shower while holding a camera, and then examining that footage for 90 days under the excuse that you’re checking her for skin cancer.

To give you an idea of what is really going on with our basic rights, think about it like a square cake, two feet by two feet. If someone takes an inch, it doesn’t seem like anything, so you say go ahead. A short time later, they say, “I need another inch”. You say go ahead. Before long, you can see how your 2×2 foot cake, is now next to nothing, and you really didn’t see it until it was too late. That’s what is happening right now, in America, with our rights. The federal government (some state governments also) continue to take little pieces of our Constitutional rights. It may seem like nothing today, but what about a year from now? What about five years from now? Let me leave you with a quote:

“There is no provision by a bill of rights to guard against the dangerous encroachments of power in too many instances to be named: but I cannot pass over in silence the insecurity in which we are left with regard to warrants unsupported by evidence—the daring experiment of granting writs of assistance in a former arbitrary administration is not yet forgotten in the Massachusetts; nor can we be so ungrateful to the memory of the patriots who counteracted their operation, as so soon after their manly exertions to save us from such a detestable instrument of arbitrary power, to subject ourselves to the insolence of any petty revenue officer to enter our houses, search, insult, and seize at pleasure. We are told by a gentleman of too much virtue and real probity to suspect he has a design to deceive—’that the whole constitution is a declaration of rights,’—but mankind must think for themselves, and to many very judicious and discerning characters, the whole constitution with very few exceptions appears a perversion of the rights of particular states, and of private citizens.”

                    Elbridge Gerry
Observations on the New Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions
Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, published during its Discussion by the People
                    Online Library of Liberty
Think about our rights and how far government has encroached on them. If we continue to sit idle and stay quiet, we will soon have no voice to speak out. Can we really afford to go backwards with our Constitutional rights? They’re watching, they’re collecting, and they’re storing our lives. President Obama has said it’s for “our own good”, “we have to give up a little of our rights for the added security”. No, I Don’t believe that we do, nor should you. Our basic core is our United States Constitution. Our founding fathers were great men. Not for what they knew, but for what they didn’t know. They were great men because they knew that they didn’t know everything. They knew that mistakes were going to be made. The genius of the Constitution is that they left a way to fix any mistakes. That’s by a vote of the people to amend the Constitution. The people to decide, not for a president to decide. God Bless You! God Bless West Virginia! God Bless America!



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