by Steve Miller
Today the Associated Press released a story saying that the FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government.
The story goes on to say that the planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. The FBI said it uses front companies to protect the safety of the pilots and aircraft. It also shields the identity of the aircraft so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being watched by the FBI.
The story explains that there is a question about whether there should be updated policies protecting civil liberties as new technologies pose intrusive opportunities for government spying.
No kidding? There’s a question about it? Look, if this story doesn’t scare the living hell out of you, then you’re brain dead. Oh, I’ve heard the excuse that if you’re not doing anything wrong, the government literally looking over your shoulder and actually watching your every move, in addition to much of what you say to someone else, shouldn’t bother you. After all, if you’re not a criminal then there’s no need for a warrant, right?
The story reports that even basic aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general. The FBI also has been careful not to reveal its surveillance flights in court documents. If they have nothing to hide and this surveillance is legal, then why hide it from the court? Why not submit it in evidence?
Nothing to hide? It looks like the government is the one with everything to hide.
It’s even acknowledged that the planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecutions.
Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers and gets phones to reveal basic subscriber information, is rare.
Rare? What difference does that make? The fact that someone would actually rob a bank may be rare too, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
The Obama administration had until recently been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.
That sounds a lot like they’re willing to sacrifice justice in order to protect the surveillance program. If the program were legal and constitutional, they wouldn’t have to make that choice.
“Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams,” the FBI said in 2009 when it asked Congress for $5.1 million for the program.
That sounds a lot like the argument that the NSA uses to justify the mass phone surveillance and recording system. If you’re not both frightened and outraged that the government has gone so far out of control that the FBI is now the secret police, then you’re really not concerned at all with civil liberties. Can you imagine how efficient and effective the Third Reich would have been with this kind of technology?
This isn’t some wacko conspiracy theory using half-facts from secret sources. This program is actually acknowledged, and defended, by the government. It’s been authorized and funded by congress. Every American should be frightened and outraged.