[camera]When every blinking light in the sky isn’t exactly a star, when little black domes beep meticulously at your every step, when the clicking on your phone conversation becomes overbearing, when you feel an ever-growing warm spot on the back of your neck…
You may be under surveillance.
Welcome to the future
We are living on the cusp of a new era in surveillance technology. An army of robotic eyes and ears hovers over a nation that fears the invisible. Overhauled advancements in nosey contraptions such as wiretapping, directional microphones, powerful security cameras, reconnaissance satellites and a mass of minimalistic nano-spy gadgets unknown to public knowledge are being designed to spy, on you.
This is nothing entirely new – in fact, surveillance has been an inherent part of human history. However, it hasn’t been until recently that the modernization of spy technology and the ongoing paranoia from recent terror attacks have culminated into what some are calling surveillance saturation.
“I think that surveillance should have a sense of justification, or otherwise shouldn’t be done,” communication junior Joshua Clark said of continuing surveillance of civilians. “No one likes to know they are being watched.”
Is it right for surveillance to be administered so publicly under political order? Or are governmental liberties being fundamentally abused? Students at MSU and political authority figures struggle with the debate.
From public information software, like Facebook and Myspace, to incognito street cameras and serious adjustments in surveillance regulation, the nation seems to be uncontrollably shifting into its own looking glass. However, is this necessarily a bad thing?
“Well there are always going to be people who agree with the president and will feel that whatever liberties they need to give up to fight ‘terrorism,’ they are going to,” said hospitality business junior Jeff Rosenfeld. “I believe, however, that there are many people who haven’t really given it much thought in the past, and I do believe that it has affected the trust of many Americans to now hear of what exactly is going on.”
If you can remember a time before national safety was interpreted in the form of a color or going through an airport checkpoint was a procedure and not a complex dance, then you may be aware that 9/11 changed the nation and world as we know it. Taking this unforgettable tragedy into consideration, some have come to believe government surveillance is needed.
[lukequote]“In the world we live in today I feel surveillance is necessary,” said environmental science sophomore Luke Tomczak. “It has helped in many ways. I feel safer. I think it is very helpful to cut down on crime and such. If something does happen, we have tapes to go back and look at to see the truth.”
The “Act” that spoke louder
Discussion that was once mere casual debate among political wingers is now heating up. Security requirements have been raised to astronomical levels, resulting in an increase in the routine surveillance of citizens and giving the government additional prying power. While many Americans look to this as a welcome increase in the safety of our country, others are beginning to fear 2008 could become another 1984, bringing a second surveillance revolution.
Passed on October 26, 2001, swiftly after 9/11, the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act amplified the authority of U.S. law enforcement for the announced purpose of “fighting terrorist acts” in the United States and abroad. According to advocates of the Act, this “expanded” legal authority is also used to detect and prosecute other alleged potential crimes.
The Act is, of course, met with a landslide of credible opposition, mostly from the highly critical left wing. The biggest claim is that some portions of the Act are unnecessary and allow U.S. law enforcement to intrude upon rights embedded in the first amendment, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Issues concerning the right to privacy also arise with the Act.
The leading critic of the PATRIOT Act has undoubtedly been the American Civil Liberties Union. Priding itself on being the foremost authority on maintaining civil rights, the ACLU fights anything that may threaten this concept; and if it’s one thing the ACLU now readily fights on a consistent basis, it’s the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism plan.
Communications director for the ACLU of Michigan, Wendy Wagenheim, commented on the organization’s view of the Act. “There are 15 or 16 provisions of a 150-provision act that we find problematic,” Wagenheim said. “Is the ACLU asking that the PATRIOT Act be removed? No. We are asking that these specific provisions either be removed or changed in order to restore the checks and balances instilled in this nation.”
Central arguments are nestled in section 215 of the Act. This section allows judges to grant specific divisions of government the ability to look into private accounts including financial, medical, Internet, library and phone records, which might display vital personal information.
The argument is that surveillance granted steps over “probable cause” outlined in the fourth amendment and can easily target innocent citizens. “Well, since it has been seen that they have used the powers given under the PATRIOT Act for things other than \’fighting terrorism,’ I can’t really trust them to keep to their word about only using these powers for what they claim they are for,” Rosenfeld said. “The PATRIOT Act was used in busting Tommy Chong for selling a bong online leading to jail time. Yeah…that’s not what that was passed for.” However, it is important to note that the Act was passed through congress by a landslide vote and is reported by the administration to be the direct cause of nearly 200 arrests related to terrorism. Also, while the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found 26 percent of Americans think the PATRIOT Act is going too far, 43 percent agreed with the extra coverage of the government. But the poll was taken in February 2004, a time before recent controversy stirred a new debate.
“Maybe it would make me feel better if they have concrete evidence that these people are legitimate suspects,” said Clark. “This totally feels like an invasion of privacy, and the federal government keeps moving further and further into seeing what they can get away with.”
[joshuaquote]“The PATRIOT act has blown things out of proportion with the recent scandal over wire-tapping ‘could be’ suspects,” Clark continued. “Its like people just know whatever they do, they are being watched.”
Through the wire
Surveillance didn’t stop there. In December 2005, President Bush admitted to ordering secret authorizations for electronic eavesdropping, phone line wiretapping and physical searches carried out by the National Security Administration.
Given the nation’s new surveillance policies and movements in spy administration, an order of this sort would normally pass without question. However, this situation is fundamentally different with the discovery of one detail: the president did not have a warrant.
The Bush Administration claimed that maneuvering around this issue was necessary in order to speed up the surveillance process.
“Without the arduous steps needed in order to finally obtain a warrant, the process of apprehension can move much faster,” said packaging junior Sean Chao. “Yeah, it was probably a bad move, but that’s all it really was.\”
The ACLU said it was more than just a bad move. In January, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency. Filed in an eastern district court of Michigan, the lawsuit claims that President Bush is now unlawfully spying on citizens and that “the president is not above the law.”
“This is breaking the law,” said Wagenheim. “There absolutely must be a search warrant present before a wiretap can be included in any way. There are no exceptions.”
“We now want this program stopped,” Wagenheim continued. “We shouldn’t have to live in a country where this is allowed to happen.”
Outrage over these recent events has only deepened a wound that for many began over four years ago with the onset of the PATRIOT Act. Many non-profit activist organizations throughout Michigan shared their distrust of the current administration.
The Rev. Peter Dougherty, a member of the Michigan Peace Team, was particularly disgusted by the news. “This is truly frightening,” said Dougherty. “The government is now creating new categories in order to actively go around the law. When a disaster like September 11 happens, the tendency is to abuse the oversight…control to the point of being out of control. It seems like the people in Washington are beginning to feel like they can do whatever they want. Citizens need to rise up and do something.”
Margaret Nielsen of the Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice shares a similar viewpoint. “I see risks to our nation\’s constitutional freedoms and to the courts\’ protection of our civil liberties,” she said. “The domestic spying that the Bush administration pursues secretly is unworthy of a free society. This warrant-less spying threatens to shred the constitution the president has sworn to protect. Congress and the courts must find a way to stop this dangerous assault on our freedom as a society.”
Yeah, we’re ‘friends,’ but I would never actually talk to you
So what are your impressions of current surveillance?
Given five minutes, anyone could find out, along with your favorite music, movies, hobbies, who you’re dating and who your friends are, who your friend’s friends are and what their favorite quotes are.
Web sites like Myspace and Facebook have become population goliaths nearly to the point that if you don\’t have a profile on one of these sites, you are thought of as some sort of recluse or rebel. Are these sites intrusive, helpful or a little of both?
“Something like this is usually helpful,” said Tomczak. “People have the choice on whether or not they want to participate on these Web sites and what information they put on them. I think these Web sites are usually harmless.”
Facebook was founded in December 2004 as a self-proclaimed “social networking service.” One year later, the site had exploded, containing the largest number of registered users among college-focused sites, with over 6 million student accounts.
“Sites like Facebook are a ridiculous waste of time,” said political science sophomore Rachel Balik. “It’s in no way intrusive…in fact, in many ways I would call it self-indulgent or exhibitionist. Yeah, you do a little electronic stalking but that’s what people want you to do…that’s why you register. It’s disgusting, and I personally can’t get enough of it.”
Coping with inevitability?
We are under surveillance.
And while that may make people wince or form a paranoid twitch, there is really not much we can do about it. The federal government provides its citizens protection in exchange for productivity. As part of that agreement, our government has recently decided to use surveillance as one of its primary policies.
Beyond this concept, there probably always will be privately owned security cameras and mass government surveillance in our future. Closer to home, highly popular stalker Web sites will continue their reign as long as we love to watch and be watched. It’s our job as citizens to make sure our surveillance culture doesn’t get out of control. It’s our job to stay informed.
Beyond that, it might ultimately boil down to how comfortable you feel in your own skin. After all, they are watching.

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