Every Move You Make, Every Call You Take...

Democratic Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden are raising a red flag about abuses of the Patriot Act:
Ten years after 9/11, new questions are being raised about what the US government is secretly doing on the internet and through satellites, using the Patriot Act and other national security law as justification.

Two American senators with access to top-secret intelligence raised the alarm in May, suggesting that the invasion of law-abiding Americans' privacy was being carried out clandestinely - and that people would be shocked if they knew the extent.

"I want to deliver a warning this afternoon," Senator Ron Wyden said on May 26 during a Senate debate. "When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry."

Exactly what activities US agencies are carrying out remains unclear. Senator Wyden and Senator Mark Udall - also on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - have been unable to elaborate on their accusations because of official secrecy law.

...As debate took place in May on a vote to extend the Patriot Act for another four years, Senators Wyden and Udall warned that the executive branch had come up with a secret legal theory about what personal information it could collect, which didn't dovetail with a plain reading of the text.

Wyden and Udall continued to press for transparency after the Patriot Act extension was passed in late May. They sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence, James R Clapper, who oversees 16 spy agencies, including the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency. The senators asked whether legal safeguards were in place to protect the electronic communications of law-abiding Americans under another security law, the Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA).

"It is a matter of public record that there have been incidents in which intelligence agencies have failed to comply with the FISA Amendments Act, and that certain types of compliance violations have continued to recur," Wyden and Udall wrote. "We believe it is particularly important to gain an understanding of how many Americans may have had their communications reviewed as a result of these violations."

Kathleen Turner, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the senators that it was not "reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed."
It is not "reasonably possible" to know how many people have been tracked by the US government. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes.

Michael German, however, who worked for the FBI in counterterrorism operations for 16 years and quit to join the ACLU, tells Al Jazeera: "It's clear the government is broadly collecting information regarding innocent Americans. It appears officials no longer need individualised suspicion, and a person's good conduct does not protect them from scrutiny." Which gives us a pretty good picture of the scope of the surveillance.

Every time some evidence of a government breach of trust (i.e. illegal spying) is made public, there raises a chorus of "it doesn't matter if you've got nothing to hide." Sure. Except for how innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit in the US justice system with alarming frequency, often using cooked evidence, coerced confessions, coached witness testimony, or some combination thereof. That is, evidence formed to fit the crime, to close a case.

It's no coincidence that it tends to be straight white cis middle- or upper-class men who toss out the old "nothing to hide" chestnut, when they are the least likely population to be railroaded and framed for a crime they did not commit.

The rest of us (and even they, frankly) should be very concerned about "the government surreptitiously tracking an individual's movements using a mobile electronic device," when it's entirely predictable that being (provably, irrefutably) in the area of a crime at the time of commission will axiomatically make one a suspect, without even the benefit of a witness ID.

"Nothing to hide" implicitly assumes that the people doing the tracking are always, invariably more interested in protecting the innocent than in closing cases. That is a particularly bad assumption in an era of elected law enforcement, job performance (i.e. closed-case) incentives, and 24/7 media pressure.
German said that it is "official culture" to collect as much data on people as possible. The attitude is "while this person may not being doing something wrong today, what if they do something bad a year from now?"
And then there's this: What if something you're doing isn't illegal today, but is a year from now?

Yesterday: "The newly enacted Idaho law banning late-term abortions was not yet in effect when McCormack terminated her own pregnancy using abortion pills she obtained from an online distributor."

The problem with "nothing to hide" is that what isn't worth hiding today may be worth hiding tomorrow.

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