THE BLOG

Surveillance: It's Worse Than You Think

06/26/2014 10:07 am ET | Updated Aug 26, 2014
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When it comes to spying, surveillance, and privacy, a simple rule applies to our world: However bad you think it is, it's worse. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we've learned an enormous amount about the global surveillance regime that one of America's 17 intelligence outfits has created to suck into its maw (and its storage facilities) all communications on the planet, no matter their form. We certainly know a lot more than we did a year ago about what the government is capable of knowing about us. We've also recently learned a good deal about "big data" and what corporations can now know about us, as well as how much more they may know once your house is filled with "smart" technology.

Less is understood about how corporate surveillance is coming to the workplace, but sooner or later -- count on it -- the company or business you work for will be capable, via intelligent software, of monitoring every move you make, not to speak of everyone you may be in touch with while on the clock. The truth is, whatever the euphemisms, just about every imaginable way of knowing and surveilling you is here or on its way. In Oakland, California, for instance, you could mistake the anodyne name of "the Domain Awareness Center" for the latest in New Age spiritualism. In fact, as CNN recently reported, it's a "proposed central surveillance facility where authorities can monitor the Port of Oakland and the city's airport to protect against potential terrorism." Someday, it may integrate "live, 24/7 data streams from closed circuit traffic cameras, police license plate readers, gunshot detectors, and other sources from all over the entire city of Oakland." This means that, despite theoretically being on the lookout for terrorists (how many of those are there in Oakland?), it will be able to track you anywhere in the area.

It's no exaggeration to say that in our developing brave new world of surveillance, inside or outside your house, there will be nowhere that you aren't potentially trackable and surveillable, no space that is just yours and no one else's. This also means that, however bad you think it is, government and corporate employees somewhere are already creating the next set of processes, technologies, and facilities to monitor you in yet more vivid detail.

Now, let's add rule two: However bad you think it is, you don't know the half of it. Yes, you've been following the Snowden NSA revelations, but no Snowden has stepped forward (yet) to reveal what the CIA or FBI or Defense Intelligence Agency or Department of Homeland Security or National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is doing. And as far as the national security state is concerned, the less you know, the better. Take, for example, a recent Associated Press story with this revelation: citing "security reasons" (as always), the Obama administration "has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods."

It might even be your neighborhood. In such a situation, it will be easy enough perhaps to forget the value of the sense of privacy in your life, whether you feel you have something to hide or not. Just yesterday, the Supreme Court put a rare brake on the loss of privacy, ruling that the police must have a warrant to search your cell phone after your arrest. In the second of a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights (amendment by amendment), State Department whistleblower takes on the destruction of the protections for American privacy in the Fourth Amendment -- destruction that, if we're not careful, could soon seem as American as apple pie.