GOVERNMENT AGENCY NOW HOLDS "THE LARGEST DATABASE IN THE WORLD" OF INFORMATION ON ITS CITIZENS
IN AUSTRALIA, AS IN THE US, THE UK AND THE EU, YOU ARE NOW PRESUMED GUILTY, UNTIL YOUR DIGITAL LIFE REVEALS YOU ARE INNOCENT
"The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime.
"'It's the largest database ever assembled in the world....'
The National Security Agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the United States."As long suspected, and theorized in depth by conspiracists, the NSA launched this controversial program shortly after September 11, 20001, though there are many who believe the plans were in place months, or even years, before the terrorists attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
The revelations of the USA Today article are only shocking to those who have not read previously about the extreme depth and breadth of these surveillance programs.
For millions who have already been exposed to this information, simply by taking notice of the buried-on-page-10-articles in newspapers over the past few years, the USA Today story is simply confirmation of the long suspected truth.
The US now spies on the private lives of Americans like few other countries in the world do, but the UK, the EU and Australia are not far behind.
The USA Today story is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the man who headed up the NSA from 1999 to early 2005 was one Air Force General Michael Hayden, the same man now nominated by President Bush to head the CIA.
From USA Today : "The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged.
"Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database."
Bush had previously defended the NSA program by claiming the only 'spying', as such, was done on international calls.
"'In other words,' Bush said, 'one end of the communication must be outside the United States.'"
Believing this to be true, millions of Americans presumed that calls made and recieved within the United States did not fall under the auspices of this unprecedented invasion of privacy. They were wrong.
"With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program....the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information."
This is called data-mining, and it is one of the biggest growth industries in the Digital America today, already employing hundreds of thousands of Americans either directly, or in a related capacity.
USA Today seemed unable to find anyone from the White House, the FBI or the CIA to confirm or deny their sources comments. No doubt, the numerous phone calls made during the course of putting the story together are now logged and data-labelled as well.
So much for innocent until proven guilty.
Exactly how the US phone companies are involved in the NSA program is even more troubling.
USA Today reveals : "Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T are the nation's three biggest telecommunications companies; they provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers.
"The three carriers control vast networks with the latest communications technologies. They provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband, including video. Their direct access to millions of homes and businesses has them uniquely positioned to help the government keep tabs on the calling habits of Americans."
There is a fascinating, and disturbing, history of the NSA included in the second half of the article, which you can read in full here.
Few Australians realise that very similar programs are now available for activation by ASIO, and other intelligence agencies, when they deem it necessary to do so, if they haven't done so already.
The point is, you won't know when it begins, or if it already has.
Anybody thinking of going into politics who's had a period of obsession with some phone sex worker may need to think twice.
Anybody who's ever conducted a one day campaign of phone harrassment against a despised ex-lover, or annoying ex-friend, and then regretted it, may come to regret it again, sometime between now and the last day of their life.
Think for a moment about all the phone calls you've made in the past ten or so years, the web sites you've visited, the drunken nights of withdrawing $200 cash at 3am for reasons you can't even remember anymore.....now imagine having to explain those actions at some point between now and the day you die, because someone you called, or a site you visited, or the money you withdrew somehow was, or became, connected with suspected terrorists or alleged terrorist activities.
The point is, the digital record of your life has a better memory than you do.
Are you bothered by the fact that there might be dozens of people who know you once ate home delivered pizza every night for three weeks straight?
Would it bother you if a government-contracted digital detective has flagged your name because you had direct-debit accounts with Greenpeace, PETA and two or three other environmental and animal rights groups sometime in the past five years? Or that you donated money by credit card to a Palestinian children's charity that has now been banned for funnelling money to terrorists?
What about having strangers know that you talk to your mother every single day for half an hour at least, and that is you who calls her?
What about if people knew that you were so lonely that you held hour long conversations with people who cold-called to try and sell you new guttering, and you still didn't buy any?
And would you bothered at all to know that you are now flagged as 'a person of extreme interest' because you were once obsessed with rubbing back old furniture using double-use chemicals and, at the same time, killed boring TV nights by reading books about Osama Bin Laden and the War On Terror that you brought from Dymocks with a credit card?Credit card companies, book shops, libraries, video stores, grocery stores, telephone companies, internet providers, they will all tell you now that your information is secure and cannot be accessed by the government, or by private data-mining companies.
But what happens when someone you once knew gets picked up for hanging out at a coffee shop frequented by people who go on to be busted for terrorist-related activities?
What do you think happens to all those private files about you if that weird freak in the apartment below decides to explode himself on the steps of Town Hall one Friday night?
All the United States' National Security Agency had to do to get the phone companies to break their legal, and moral, promises to their customers was to mention a few words, "This is in the interest of national security."
Do you really believe that Australian companies would fold any less slow than some of the biggest telecommunications companies in the world?
You do realise that Telstra, the major Australian phone services provider, is half-owned by the government, right?
The digital six degrees of seperation that unite us all now are networks of data and information that are recorded, collected, collated and stored, and they will all be opened up and accessed when the right people ask for that data to be handed over.
Privacy, as it was known up until the late 1980s, is an anachronism today. A nostalgic fantasy.
The irony is, of course, that many of today's youth have no problem with leaving digital trails of personal information all over the internet. You only have to look at a handful of the profiles on MySpace to see that many young people want strangers to know mind-melting details about their secret lives, or the private lives they have imagined for themselves.
Their concept of privacy is ten worlds away from that of their parents. Parents will soon be able to watch their children at day care via the screen on their telephone. The same telephone that reveals the location of their 14 year old daughter, who said she was going to the mall, but is now on the other side of town.
Privacy is obsolete.
The cracking of the digital record of your life, by government agencies, by data-miners, by private investigators, has already happened in the US, the UK, across the EU, Indonesia, the Middle East, and it's been going on for years.
And as the suspected terrorists now on trial in Melbourne and Sydney will soon find out, it's been happening in Australia for almost as long. Or even longer.
That's the point.
Nobody really knows. Least of all the people who's private lives have been digitally excavated.
The announcement of the complete loss of privacy, as to who you call and when, and how often, barely rated news time on Australian television when it occurred earlier this year, and the details of the new program initiated and made legal by the Attorney General, were buried deep within most of Australia's daily newspapers.
It seems unecessary now to worry about such records being kept.
After all, phone companies routinely log such information to prepare your bills and they don't share that info with anyone, the government included.
Or so you might think.
But it is in this new age of legal-sharing of such information with government agencies, with other private data collection companies, that the problems begin.
Data-mining technology allows private companies and government agencies to look deep into your digital life, pulling together information on the phone calls you make, when, to whom, for how long; your internet activity, the sites you visit, how often and for how long; the food you buy from stores utilising loyalty cards and programs, even if you use cash; the items you purchase with credit cards; the amounts of money you withdraw from banks, where and when; and even the amount of petrol you put into your vehicle.All this information, data-mined correctly, builds up a digital profile of your life, your interests, your diet, your heath, your wealth, even your desires and passions.
Now, it may be essential for intelligence-related government agencies to watch for terrorists in our midsts, or it may not be. We are unlikely to know the full truth of all that for decades, if we ever know at all.
But for any politician to say that such a wealth of digital information is secure, that you can function in society today and still have a private life, is to tell a complete and utter lie.
Privacy as we once knew it is now gone forever.
It has, in fact, been gone for years.
We just didn't realise before just how far it had faded into the distance of history. But we are learnig now, more and more every week.
It is no longer the case that you are innocent until proven guilty.
Not in the Age of Terror.
We grow ever closer to the day when you are presumed guilty until your data-mined digital life reveals that you are innocent.
For tens of millions of Americans, this reality is already well and truly upon them.