Let me tell you my modest post-9/11 dream. One morning, I'll wake up and see a newspaper article that begins something like this: "The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement in order to curtail the agency's significant powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers." Now, wouldn't that be amazing? Unfortunately, as you've undoubtedly already guessed, that day didn't come last week. To create that sentence I had to fiddle with the odd word or two in the lead sentence of an article about the FBI's attempt to gain "significant new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers throughout the U.S. and around the world."
When it comes to the expansion of our national security-cum-surveillance state, last week was just another humdrum seven days of news. There were revelations about the widespread monitoring of the snail mail of Americans. ("[T]he United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.") There was the news that a "sneak and peek" provision in the Patriot Act that "allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search" was now being used remarkably regularly. Back in 2001, supporters of the Act had sworn that the provision would only be applied in rare cases involving terrorism. Last week we learned that it is being used thousands of times a year as a common law enforcement tool in drug cases. Oh, and on our list should go the FBI's new push to get access to your encrypted iPhones!
And don't forget the reports on the Bureau's remarkably creative attempts to cross various previously forbidden search and surveillance lines. Last week, for instance, we learned that FBI agents impersonated a media outfit, creating a fake Associated Press article in 2007 in order to implant malware on the computer of a 15-year-old suspected of making bomb threats. ("The AP said the plan undermined the independence of the press. The story also compromised its credibility to gather news safely and effectively, especially in parts of the world where its credibility relies on its independence.") Similarly, news tumbled out about a recent investigation into illegal gambling in which the FBI turned off the Internet in three Las Vegas luxury "villas" that belonged to the Caesar's Palace Hotel and Casino and then sent in its agents without warrants as "repairmen," in the process secretly making videos that led to arrests.
Call it just another week of ho-hum news about American intelligence and law enforcement outfits running roughshod over American rights and the Constitution. And then, of course, there are those ever-expanding watchlists meant to keep you safe from "terrorism." As Hina Shamsi and Matthew Harwood of the ACLU point out in "Uncle Sam's Databases of Suspicion," the web of watchlists on which Americans might now find their names circulating is staggeringly, redundantly vast and still expanding. It essentially adds up to a post-9/11 secret system of identification, they write, that once would have boggled the American imagination but is now just an accepted part of the American way of life.