Surveillance Update

What more is there to say on the matter of government surveillance and intrusion into the privacy of people? Plenty.

March 2, 2020

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

surveillance privacy The issue of privacy is an ever-evolving battle. Politicians around the world seek to use the threat of criminality as their way into some backdoor access into your trove of data.

The thing is: encryption came about as a market response to demand for higher security of private data. People were rightly concerned about identity theft. Now the government is “concerned” that encryption is also cloaking the less scrupulous.

While that could be true, I’d rather the state be too cautious with our rights than not cautious enough.

Check out the overreach in Australia, for example.

For several years now, telecommunications companies have been required to store the metadata of Australians’ mobile and online communications. The law “covers data on who called or texted whom and for how long, as well as location, volume of data exchanged, device information and email IP data. It also makes it much easier for authorities to access the records,” notes the BBC.

In 2018, in the name of national security, the country adopted a controversial law that lets law enforcement and intelligence agencies force access to encrypted communications.

Reporters have already been targeted under this guise. One such person was reporting on and warning about the expanding surveillance state in Australia: Annika Smethurst.

They are now looking to do away with cash transactions over $10,000. We talked about Australia about three and a half years ago moving toward a cashless society. Citi Australia was the first bank to go cash-free.

The argument for this policy is to better watch the “black market”. More specifically, they are worried about tax avoidance or evasion, or any activity happening outside the tax and regulatory systems.

This law has already passed the Australian lower house and is now up for a vote in their Senate. Insights such as these are what foster the proponents of this legislation:

“The big problem with paper currency is that a large part of it is used to facilitate tax evasion and a huge spectrum of criminal activities,” insists Harvard University’s Kenneth S. Rogoff, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund and author of The Curse of Cash. “The government’s right to tax, regulate and enforce laws trumps individual privacy considerations.”

This is quite contrary to the assertion that 25% of cash transactions are for buying and selling, another 66% is used as a store of wealth, and the rest used for “off the books” activity… which may or may not be paying the 12 year old to walk your dog for $8 tax-free.

Regardless of the percentage, the mere fact that the government is dictating new terms of commerce and value to suit their agenda is disturbing. The fact is, the Oz government doesn’t just want to investigate would-be black market criminals. It wants to track the digital trail cashlessness reveals, or as they put it: “…[T]he more we move people into the digital payment world, the more visible, traceable and reportable their transactions can be.

I wouldn’t say the US is leading the way in this, but it’s certainly been swept up in the tide. After Edward Snowden blew the lid off the NSA spy programs, the USA Freedom act was introduced and passed in April 2015.

In the four years following the passage of that bill, the US government spent $100 million combing through Americans’ phone and text records only to yield nothing of real importance insofar as national security is concerned.

Not only have they not yielded any results, the NSA abandoned the practice because more harm than good was coming from them.

Like the practices behind FISA, the FBI apparently got a pass for their sloppy work on investigating foreign collusion by the Trump campaign:

Inspector [Michael] General Horowitz found 17 “serious performance failures” relating to warrants obtained by the FBI through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts for the purposes of monitoring Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

National security being the linchpin of every surveillance program down to the TSA, if they don’t deliver on the terrorists, shouldn’t the program go away? Yet, members from both sides of the isle are fighting over this. This isn’t by any means down party lines either.

With a three month extension, the sun will set on the US Freedom Act in a couple weeks if congress does nothing. These are the four items set to expire:

  • Section 215 regarding “tangible things” that are “relevant” to terrorism. The very vague language that allows for secret court orders to be issued to collect records, documents, or other unspecified articles.

  • The collection of call and text records, with very specific scope for the search. This is the program that was already abandoned by the NSA as they couldn’t manage to stay in their lane.

  • The roving wiretap provision of the Patriot Act which allows the government to continue surveillance of FISC approved targets when they try to “thwart” surveillance by switching phone service providers.

  • The “lone wolf” provision which allows surveillance of a foreign person engaging in international terror activities, even if they have no formal connection to terrorist groups or a foreign power.

Rand Paul is saying President Trump has expressed interest in surveillance reform. I hope that is true. I hope after becoming a victim of the overreaching surveillance state himself during the 2016 election that he would appreciate the need for greater restraints on the government when it comes to this stuff.

I sincerely hope that the pressure of public opinion, especially in an election year for the US, will be factored into the considerations of Congress both in Oz and the US.

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