Thursday, September 26, 2013

NSA spying—The modern Panopticon

A panopticon was a prison design created by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The design was circular and allowed for prisoners to be in view at all times. His design allowed for the eliminations of bars and locks. Bentham saw this form of imprisonment as mind on mind control. New prisons of today sometimes use the panopticon design.

There was an outcry about Bentham's design because the prisoner never had privacy. Today we monitor prisoners 24/7 using CCTV cameras. Some still argue that watching people 24 hours a day is not healthy and possibly abuse. Today's prisons go even farther by placing RFIDs on prisoners so that if one wanders into an area off limits an alarm will activate.

Today we are living in a panopticon world. We have the NSA doing 24/7 surveillance of our communications. This isn't something new. It has come to light the NSA monitored notables such as Martin Luther King and Mohamed Ali. They weren't spied on because it was believed they were potential terrorists – it was simply because they spoke openly about their political beliefs.

It has also come to light that two sitting Senators were also under surveillance – the Idaho Democrat Frank Church and Howard Baker, a Republican from Tennessee who, puzzlingly, was a firm supporter of the war in Vietnam. They also monitored foreign communications of respected journalists, such as Tom Wicker of the New York Times and the popular satirical writer for the Washington Post, Art Buchwald.

After exposure by NSA contractor Joesph Snowden the agency has admitted to an effort which would result in gathering data and phone information on all Americans. At this time they admit the capability is limited to 75% of all citizens.

Almost every American has a cell phone and many of which have cameras. We now also have a growing number of smart televisions, laptops, and tablet computers in homes, many of which have microphones and video cameras. A hacker or the US government can activate any of these devices at any time. They can watch or listen even when the device is thought to be off.

This technology is tempting to law enforcement and government who has proven to be more aggressive than ever. Not long ago a court ruled that police and government couldn't use radar imaging to view Americans through rooftops without a warrant.

The right to privacy was so important to the founders it was mandated in the 4th Amendment:

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

What does this protect? (According to Findlaw)

  • A law enforcement officer's physical apprehension or "seizure" of a person, by way of a stop or arrest; and
  • Police searches of places and items in which an individual has a legitimate expectation of privacy – his or her person, clothing, purse, luggage, vehicle, house, apartment, hotel room, and place of business, to name a few examples.

There are many devices the founders never imagined. We could equate to the modern day smartphone, laptop, or tablet to the notepads of yesteryear. Any place we have an expectation of privacy is protected from search and seizure. If we don't have an expectation of privacy in our homes, on our bodies, our most intimate phone calls, or our most personal writings, then we have none.

The government in every form has been proven it can't be entrusted with the power given though technology. We must find ways to limit the risk of abuse or we shall forever find ourselves living in a panopticon.

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