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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One Nation, Under Surveillance

The cell phone has become the instrument of choice for tracking your every move.
If on cell phones,
You rely;
Say hello,
To the FBI.

Does it matter that the federal government can track your cell phone at any moment of the day? That protesting at an event where the Secret Service is present is now a felony? That any American can be jailed indefinitely without charge or trial? That you can suddenly be kept off all airplanes without being given a reason, forever?
Well, yes, those things matter a great deal. They are the stuff of a police state. They usually pose a danger to other nations and impose a great burden on their own citizens. People subjected to such oppression elsewhere have often come to America to escape it.
In terms of surveillance, the cell phone is the instrument of choice in tracking your every move, but even leaving it home is no sure fix. City governments from Hartford, Connecticut, to Oakland, California have pushed (with varying degrees of success) to install cameras at intersections to photograph your vehicle. They say it's in case you run a red light. But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union warn they could empower the authorities to check on where you've been.
And if you happen to march against prominent politicians, particularly on matters like war and peace or bank impunity, heaven help you. No longer are there firm laws to protect such complainers. Police can chase you away, steal your belongings, read your mail, listen to your phone, and lock you up. Their mission is to preserve order, deter terrorists, stifle protest, and protect elected leaders from embarrassment.
Of course if you're Muslim, privacy remains simply a dream. Your mosque is under surveillance, your person is racially profiled, and boarding an airplane can be a tension-filled adventure. Needless to say, it's best not to wear a headscarf.
Most ominous of all these trends is the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which outlines each year how the Pentagon's budget will be divvied up and sets out operational policies. The latest version, with bipartisan support, basically empowers the military to detain anybody it wants, at any time, with no formal charge, for as long as it desires. Nor is this power limited to foreign battlefields — it also covers American soil.
While the corporate-owned media remain docile and rarely report on these issues, the Constitution is shivering in its frame. Alert citizens have filed a lawsuit. A federal judge initially granted an injunction against indefinite detention practices while the suit was in the courts. But on Oct. 2 the government's stay on that injunction, granted earlier this year, was extended, clearing the way for indefinite detentions.
Spying, eavesdropping, seizure, and detention are the new modes of American security. Old-fashioned dissent is apparently far too dangerous. As a new bumper sticker reads: "America, One Nation, Under Surveillance."
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.