The information world has been an explosion of drama as of late: A letter to Twitter eliciting information on 635,561 users, Facebook going public and Tunisia in shambles, proving that what goes on the Internet has weight in the real world.
We have a surveillance problem
The information world has been an explosion of drama as of late: A letter to Twitter eliciting information on 635,561 users, Facebook going public and Tunisia in shambles, proving that what goes on the Internet has weight in the real world. Vice versa, too, as the Patriot Act faces yet another renewal, marking a decade of the FBI spying on the telecommunications of American citizens.
A renewal of the Patriot Act has not yet been voted on, but it is expected to easily pass. Perhaps you don’t remember what the Patriot Act does. National Security Letters (NSLs) are by far the most powerful part of the act, allowing the Bureau to demand information in secret and without court order, such as they did recently to Twitter on all followers of Wikileaks.
That’s quite the wiggle room they’ve got, being able to bypass constitutional law regularly and without consequence. Considering that the more relevant parts of my youth have been encompassed by this timeframe, I imagine that many of us, young and old alike, have learned to simply accept it as I have: The federal government has overstepped its power in the name of security, and there is not much we can do about.
The Patriot Act is a startling force. It allows the FBI to perform surveillance on innocent individuals involved in legal activities, whether they are religious, political or other.
In Oregon, we have laws against this, provided that the individual in question is not directly related to suspicion in a case.
In Portland, there is a buzz about reinstating a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with the city. The program ceased in 2005 due to the illegality of the JTTF officers’ being both under Oregon law and given top-secret clearance with the FBI. Because of this, the chief of police was unable to enforce the guidelines set by city and gubernatorial legislature.
The effort to revitalize the JTTF came with convincing timing, around the time of the attempted Pioneer Square bombing. Evidently, whatever they were doing between 2001 and now has worked well enough. No bomb went off downtown, so what is the reason for getting the FBI more involved in Portland? They should continue working together, but only on a case-by-case basis. Especially if they want to avoid another ill revelation, such as in 2002 when the Portland Tribune reported that the Portland police bureau had been compiling information on persons in a similar style as the “red squad” files, from 1965 to 1985 that we know of.
Above all, reason and a desire for peace on the part of the people averts catastrophe. Yet keeping yourself active in a community and holding hands in a circle aren’t the best defenses against a singular terrorist attack. In fact, you’d be more likely to be under surveillance, as the report in 2002 clearly spells out. How can we expect much to have changed, especially in light of federally approved measures such as the Patriot Act?
The common misconception about keeping tabs on people is that it is only the bad guys, when in reality, even being vaguely linked to relevant political activity could make persons regularly followed—as the Quakers, social-justice organizations, communists, minority ethnic groups all were. Nowadays, information gathering is as simple as a Google search and Twitter feeds. Let’s not make it any easier.
For anyone interested in the subject, there will be a public hearing and vote regarding this issue on Feb. 24. ?