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items tagged with surveillance

From Neighborhood Cops to Robocops
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2015-01-22 11:08:13

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” – Aldous Huxley, Ends & Means

If 2014 was the year of militarized police, armored tanks, and stop-and-frisk searches, 2015 may well be the year of technologized police, surveillance blimps, and scan-and-frisk searches.

Just as we witnessed neighborhood cops being transformed into soldier cops, we’re about to see them shapeshift once again, this time into robocops, complete with robotic exoskeletons, super-vision contact lenses, computer-linked visors, and mind-reading helmets.

Similarly, just as military equipment created for the battlefield has been deployed on American soil against American citizens, we’re about to see military technology employed here at home in a manner sure to annihilate what’s left of our privacy and Fourth Amendment rights.

For instance, with the flick of a switch (and often without your even being aware of the interference), police can now shut down your cell phone, scan your body for “suspicious” items as you walk down the street, test the air in your car for alcohol vapors as you drive down the street, identify you at a glance and run a background check on you for outstanding warrants, piggyback on your surveillance devices to listen in on your conversations and “see” what you see on your private cameras, and track your car’s movements via a GPS-enabled dart.

That doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what’s coming down the pike, with law enforcement and military agencies boasting technologies so advanced as to render everything up until now mere child’s play.

Once these technologies, which used to belong exclusively to the realm of futuristic sci-fi films, have been unleashed on an unsuspecting American public, it will completely change the face of American policing and, in the process, transform the landscape of what we used to call our freedoms.

It doesn’t even matter that these technologies can be put to beneficial uses. As we’ve learned the hard way, once the government gets involved, it’s only a matter of time before the harm outweighs the benefits.

Imagine self-guided “smart” bullets that can track their target as it moves, solar-powered airships that provide persistent wide-area surveillance and tracking of ground “targets,” a grenade launcher that can deliver 14 flash-bang rounds, invisible tanks that can blend into their surroundings and masquerade as a snow bank or a soccer mom’s station wagon, and a guided mortar weapon that can target someone up to 12 miles away.

Or what about “less lethal weapons” such as the speech-jammer gun, which can render a target tongue-tied; sticky foam guns, which shoot foam that hardens on contact, immobilizing the victim; and shock-wave generators, which use the shockwaves from a controlled explosion to knock people over.

Now imagine trying to defend yourself against such devices, which are incapable of distinguishing between an enemy combatant and a civilian. For that matter, imagine attempting to defend yourself or your loved ones against police officers made superhuman thanks to technology that renders them bullet-proof, shatter-proof, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

Does rendering a government agent superhuman make them inhuman, as well – unable to relate to the mass of humanity they are sworn to protect and defend?

Pointing out that the clothes people wear can affect how they act, Salon.com reporter Geordie McRuer notes that “when clothing has symbolic meaning – such as a uniform that is worn only by a certain profession – it prepares the mind for the pursuit of goals that are consistent with the symbolic meaning of the clothing.”

McRuer continues: “When we dress our police officers in camouflage before deploying them to a peaceful protest, the result will be police who think more like soldiers. This likely includes heightening their perception of physical threats, and increasing the likelihood that they react to those threats with violence. Simply put, dressing police up like soldiers potentially changes how they see a situation, changing protesters into enemy combatants, rather than what they are: civilians exercising their democratic rights. ...

“When police wear soldiers’ clothing, and hold soldiers’ weapons, it primes them to think and act like soldiers. Furthermore, clothing that conceals their identity – such as the helmets, gas masks, goggles, body armor, and riot shields that are now standard-issue for officers at peaceful protests – will increase the likelihood that officers react aggressively to the situation. As a result of the fact that they are also dressed like soldiers, they are more likely to interpret the situation as hostile and will more readily identify violence as the best solution.”

While robocops are troubling enough, the problem we’re facing is so much greater than technology-enhanced domestic soldiers.

We’re on the cusp of a major paradigm shift from fascism disguised as a democracy into a technocratic surveillance society in which there are no citizens, only targets. We’re all targets now, to be scanned, surveilled, tracked, and treated like blips on a screen.

What’s taking place in Maryland right now is a perfect example of this shift. With Congress’ approval and generous funding (and without the consensus of area residents), the Army has just launched two massive, billion-dollar surveillance airships into the skies over Baltimore, each three times the size of a Goodyear blimp, ostensibly to defend against cruise-missile attacks. Government officials claim the surveillance blimps, which provide highly detailed radar imaging within a 340-mile radius, are not presently being used to track individuals or carry out surveillance against citizens, but it’s only a matter of time before that becomes par for the course.

In New York, police will soon start employing mobile scanners that allow them to scan people on the street to detect any hidden object under their clothes, be it a gun, a knife, or anything else that appears “suspicious.” The scanners will also let them carry out enhanced data collection in the field – fingerprints, iris scans, facial mapping – which will build the government’s biometric database that much faster. These scanners are a more-mobile version of the low-radiation X-ray vans used to scan the contents of passing cars.

Google Glass, being considered for use by officers, would allow police to access computer databases, as well as run background checks on and record anyone in their line of sight.

One program, funded by $160 million in asset-forfeiture funds, would equip police officers and vehicles with biometric smartphones that can scan individuals’ fingerprints and cross-check them against criminal databases. The devices will also contain real-time 911 data; warrant information from federal, state, and city databases; photographs of missing persons, suspects, Crime Stoppers posters, and other persons of interest; and the latest cache of information on terror suspects.

Stand-off lasers can detect alcohol vapors in a moving car: “If alcohol vapors are detected in the car, a message with a photo of the car including its license plate is sent to a police officer waiting down the road. Then, the police officer stops the car and checks for signs of alcohol using conventional tests.”

Ekin Patrol cameras, described as “the first truly intelligent patrol unit in the world,” can not only detect the speed of passing cars but can generate tickets instantaneously; recognize and store the license plates of stopped, moving, or parked vehicles; measure traffic density and violation data; and engage in facial recognition of drivers and passengers.

Collectively, all of these gizmos, gadgets, and surveillance devices render us not just suspects in a surveillance state but also inmates in an electronic concentration camp. As journalist Lynn Stuart Parramore notes: “The Information Age ... has turned out rather differently than many expected. Instead of information made available for us, the key feature seems to be information collected about us. Rather of granting us anonymity and privacy with which to explore a world of facts and data, our own data is relentlessly and continually collected and monitored. The wondrous things that were supposed to make our lives easier – mobile devices, Gmail, Skype, GPS, and Facebook – have become tools to track us, for whatever purposes the trackers decide. We have been happily shopping for the bars to our own prisons, one product at a time.”

Unfortunately, eager for progress and ill-suited to consider the moral and spiritual ramifications of our planned obsolescence, we have yet to truly fathom what it means to live in an environment in which we are always on red alert, always under observation, and always having our actions measured, judged, and found wanting under some law or other intrusive government regulation.

There are those who are not at all worried about this impending future, certain that they have nothing to hide. Rest assured, soon we will all have nowhere to hide from the prying eyes of a government bound and determined to know everything about us – where we go, what we do, what we say, what we read, what we keep in our pockets, how much money we have on us, how we spend that money, who we know, what we eat and drink, and where we are at any given moment. The government is also prepared to use that information against us, whenever it becomes convenient and profitable to do so.

Making the case that we’re being transformed as citizens, neighbors, and human beings, Parramore identifies six factors arising from a society in which surveillance becomes the norm: a shift in power dynamics, in which the “watcher” becomes all-seeing and all-powerful; an incentive to turn citizens into outlaws by criminalizing otherwise lawful activities; diminished citizenship; an environment of suspicion and paranoia; a divided society composed of the watchers and the watched; and “a society of edgy, unhappy beings whose sense of themselves is chronically diminished.”

As Parramore rightly concludes, this is “not exactly a recipe for Utopia.”

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute (Rutherford.org). His award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State is available online at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



Ted Rall: Progress Marches on
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Lifestyle

Category: Ted Rall

2014-12-29 11:26:07



Police Should Be on – Not Behind – Cameras
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2014-12-10 11:43:51

Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to “shut down” Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they’re a way to look both “tough on police violence” and “tough on crime” by spending $263 million on new law-enforcement technology.

When Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter, and the president of the United States agree on anything, my immediate, visceral reaction is extreme skepticism. In this case, the known facts support that skepticism.

(Editor’s note: According to a recent article in the The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus, Hampton, Illinois, recently began using body cameras, and the Davenport, Bettendorf, and East Moline police departments have either tested them or plan to acquire them.)

It’s exceedingly unlikely that widespread use of police body cameras would reduce the incidence or severity of unjustified police violence. We’ve already seen the results of numerous technology “solutions” to that problem.

The introduction of mace and Tasers to police-weapons inventories encouraged a hair-trigger attitude toward encounters with “suspects” (“suspect” being law-enforcement-ese for “anyone who isn’t a cop”). Their supposed non-lethality made it safer to substitute violent action for peaceful talk.

The introduction of military weaponry and vehicles to policing hasn’t produced de-escalation, either. Quite the opposite, in fact: Now we get to watch small-town police departments stage frequent re-enactments of the Nazi occupation of Paris in towns across America.

And police-car “dash cams”? That’s obviously the most direct comparison. But the dash cam often seems to malfunction, or the police department mysteriously loses its output, when a credible claim of abusive police behavior arises.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely certain that widespread use of police body cameras would increase the scope and efficacy of an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.

The White House proposal calls for an initial rollout of 50,000 cameras. Does anyone doubt that the output of those cameras would be kept, copied, cross-referenced, and analyzed against law-enforcement databases (including but not limited to facial-recognition databases) on a continuing basis?

Assuming a camera attaches to a particular officer with an eight-hour shift (rather than being passed around at shift changes for 24-hour use), that’s 400,000 hours per day of random, warrant-less searches to be continuously mined for probable cause to investigate and arrest people. Even George Orwell didn’t go so far as to have 1984’s Thought Police carry portable cameras everywhere they went!

Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. More and more of us every day come into possession of the ability to record video on the spot, while instantly porting it to Internet storage so that it can’t be destroyed at the scene or tampered with after the fact. Cops need to be on cameras they don’t control.

But part of the solution is still just part of the solution. Even when cameras catch violent, abusive, criminal cops in action – as, for example, when business security cameras filmed Fullerton, California, police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli beating homeless man Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 – it’s incredibly hard to get prosecutions and even harder to get convictions.

Ubiquitous video monitoring of state actors by regular people is a start. But the only real way to guarantee and end to police violence is to bring an end to state “law enforcement” – in fact, to the state itself.

Thomas L. Knapp is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org), where this commentary originally appeared.



The FBI: America’s Secret Police
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2014-11-06 16:00:50

Every regime has its own name for its secret police. Mussolini’s OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin’s NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror, and depopulation. Hitler’s Gestapo went door-to-door ferreting out dissidents and other political “enemies” of the state. And in the U.S., it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues, and mosques, is issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records, is using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or is persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.

It’s a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers. The government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.


Read More About The FBI: America’S Secret Police...


Ted Rall: Well in That Case ...
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Lifestyle

Category: Ted Rall

2014-10-27 11:49:23






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