Privacy Fears Grow as Cities Increase Surveillance / NY Times

The NY Times details how (borrowed) federal money spares no expense to equip US cities to achieve a level of surveillance of citizens thought only possible in science fiction, i.e., George Orwell’s dystopic 1949 novel, titled 1984.  Here.  Now.  In America.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Federal grants of $7 million awarded to this city were meant largely to help thwart terror attacks at its bustling port. But instead, the money is going to a police initiative that will collect and analyze reams of surveillance data from around town — from gunshot-detection sensors in the barrios of East Oakland to license plate readers mounted on police cars patrolling the city’s upscale hills.

The new system, scheduled to begin next summer, is the latest example of how cities are compiling and processing large amounts of information, known as big data, for routine law enforcement. And the system underscores how technology has enabled the tracking of people in many aspects of life.

The police can monitor a fire hose of social media posts to look for evidence of criminal activities; transportation agencies can track commuters’ toll payments when drivers use an electronic pass; and the National Security Agency, as news reports this summer revealed, scooped up telephone records of millions of cellphone customers in the United States. 

Like the Oakland effort, other pushes to use new surveillance tools in law enforcement are supported with federal dollars. The New York Police Department, aided by federal financing, has a big data system that links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists. Police in Massachusetts have used federal money to buy automated license plate scanners. And police in Texas have bought a drone with homeland security money, something that Alameda County, which Oakland is part of, also tried but shelved after public protest.

… Microsoft built the technology for the New York City program. I.B.M. has sold data-mining tools for Las Vegas and Memphis.  

For Oakland, CA:

The new center will be far more ambitious. From a central location, it will electronically gather data around the clock from a variety of sensors and databases, analyze that data and display some of the information on a bank of giant monitors… The center will collect feeds from cameras at the port, traffic cameras, license plate readers and gunshot sensors. The center will also be integrated next summer with a database that allows police to tap into reports of 911 calls. Renee Domingo, the city’s emergency services coordinator, said school surveillance cameras, as well as video data from the regional commuter rail system and state highways, may be added later… 

UPDATE:  The NY Times also had an interesting piece about how NYC created its own intelligence operation, its officers spying on Occupy Sandy, a relief operation for storm victims, bicycle rallies, and other minor public events, sometimes directed by former CIA officers.  Titled “Undercover Police, Just About Anywhere” the article notes:

The unrestrained surveillance in New York public life is the physical embodiment of what has been taking place online over the last decade under operations of the National Security Agency revealed by Edward J. Snowden…

One of the large, undiscussed questions of such surveillance is how civic dialogue can be influenced or distorted by police agents — perhaps as provocateurs…

The city has maintained that the expanded surveillance is necessary to keep society safe. No one in the Bloomberg administration has discussed the limits on their participation in public dialogue. Or, for that matter, why they ought to be standing alongside people handing out bags of groceries.

USA Today points out that in one day, the NSA amassed over 400,000 email address books from yahoo customers.  Nothing personal, you understand.  I guess NSA just wants to know everyone you know, because they can.  By now, it should be obvious that everything you send electronically is being scooped up, and probably connected with many other bits of information about you, including your whereabouts, your car, your banking, your friends, and your purchases.    What’s left?  Think those skeletons in the closet are still secret?

Russell Tice, a 20 year NSA veterans, says they scoop up every word of your phone calls, faxes, texts, etc. in a PBS interview. NSA wiretapped many major politicians, of which he had personal knowledge and evidence.  This included Supreme Court judges, Senators and Representatives, especially those who were responsible for intelligence oversight, like Senator Feinstein.  Full text information is being digitized, recorded and archived, according to Tice.  However, the NSA general counsel says NSA does not do a “Hoover-like” collection. Who do you believe?

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