From science fiction novel, to outlandish foil-hat conspiracy theory, to public policy: how the government convinced hundreds of millions of people to willingly kill their own privacy.

January 27, 2020

By: Bobby Casey Managing Director GWP

privacy surveillanceA variety of initiatives from the federal government of the US, that once seemed benign, and proving to be part of a larger scheme to destroy the individuals’ right to privacy, among other civil liberties.

I’ve covered a lot about the surveillance state: everything from technological experiments to policies that have Americans happily turning over their information.

Unfortunately, the Edward Snowden revelations fizzled out and nothing came of them except some minor concessions on what amounted to redundancies in surveillance policies.

The thing about surveillance is, it’s a bit like a global essay and everyone is copying everyone else’s paper. China has its programs and at first people balk, but then next thing you know, London and Beijing are tied for most surveiled cities in the world.

While the people are outraged, the politicians are taking notes and trying to find a way to integrate bigger better surveillance.  A cynic might say they are competing!

This is part one of a two-part series of where the surveillance state is headed.

Here’s what is currently stirring:

Real ID

We’ve talked about this one. Back in 2015, not a single state was even close to being in full compliance despite the REAL ID Act passing in 2005. There was not then nor is there now any measurable benefit to compliance; least of all a higher standard of national security.

There’s a preponderance of evidence suggesting that large banks of data and sensitive information is more vulnerable to fraud and theft than decentralized stores of data. Experian recently had a bout with breeches in its systems.

The DMV is literally selling the information you give them for millions per year in each state. In some states, your data has become a side hustle for DMV employees who are easily bought to make fake IDs using your real information.

In fact, about a year ago, the NSA found itself profusely apologizing for losing the surveillance data it swore to protect in connection with 9/11 investigations.

What’s more, the cost of compliance falls entirely on each state. There’s no federal funding for this measure.

It’s now 2020, and many states are sending out notices to people advising they get the new REAL ID compliant driver licenses by year’s end.

It started with some petty request to have people get driver licenses and register their cars. The practicality of such a thing was clear: you want people to know how to drive before getting behind the wheel, and if a car is stolen or involved in a crime, it helps to have it registered.

People willingly went along with it.

Then driver licenses were being leveraged against people behind on child support and student loans.

Then the driver license became a full guise for data collection and a revenue source for state governments.

And soon it will be leveraged against people who wish to simply fly domestically.

The Cato Institute thought it was too far-fetched, if not political suicide, to deny people the ability to fly domestically without a national ID, but that was five years ago.

Maryland is already revoking and denying driver licenses to thousands of their residents because they can’t produce the all documentation required to meet this standard. Maryland in fact tried to be compliant years ago, but fell short. So even those efforts are being recalled and those driver licenses are being revoked.

It’s yet to be determined if license plate scanners can be used to enforce the REAL ID laws. If they can, there are hundreds of them already in circulation in Maryland alone ready to do just that.

If it hasn’t at this point become abundantly clear, REAL ID was never about national security. If it was, they’d have enforced it 10 or 15 years ago. It is about control:

“National ID cards will do far more to control than to protect Americans. The REAL ID Act could enable the feds to demand far more information in the future. If Maryland or other states have the prerogative to cancel driver’s licenses because of federal demands for people to show up with their passports or birth certificates, there is nothing to prevent future cancellations of licenses for people who balk at providing DNA samples or submitting to retina scans. The Justice Department just proposed to begin collecting DNA from anyone (including U.S. citizens) detained at the U.S. border—an estimated 740,000 people a year. If another major terrorist attack occurred within the U.S., politicians would likely again stampede to grant any demands made by the FBI, DHS, and other federal agencies.”

Facial Recognition

Leading out of REAL ID, it’s important to note that federal agencies already use state DMV records to build their facial recognition data bank. This isn’t just for suspects or criminals. Millions of innocents are also being scooped up:

Thousands of facial-recognition requests, internal documents, and e-mails over the past five years, obtained through public-records requests by Georgetown University researchers and provided to The Washington Post, reveal that federal investigators have turned state Department of Motor Vehicles databases into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.

Police have long had access to fingerprints, DNA, and other ‘‘biometric data’’ taken from criminal suspects. But the DMV records contain the photos of the majority of a state’s residents, most of whom have never been charged with a crime.

Why does freedom have so many strings attached to it? Why is it that if people want to do anything, they need to trade away their civil liberties?

If I want to simply travel, I need to add myself to a national database now? That hardly seems like freedom.

You’ll notice that at no point did the government just come right out and say, “We want a database of all your personal information”. That would’ve been creepy. Instead, it fabricated this public need for collecting your data. Then made it mandatory. Then leveraged it. And now, they have their database.

” …[T]he FBI has access to more than 641 million face photos, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO also noted the FBI’s facial recognition software was inaccurate, its databases were loaded with non-criminals, and the DOJ had expressed zero interest in scaling back access or improving the quality of its data haystacks.”

If this has you outraged, wait until next week’s installment. In the meantime, please know: the surveillance train is charging full speed down the rails. It’s not about “if” anymore. It’s happening. It is time to restructure your life and get serious about protecting your privacy.

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