I’m stunned by the extent to which Australia will become a burgeoning surveillance state. In the name of “security”, the liberty of Australian citizens is being eroded, not on a yearly basis, not even on a daily basis, but continuously, around the clock, 24/7.
Telecommunications and internet providers could be forced to retain at least two years of their subscribers' data as part of a federal government push for greater surveillance powers.
A parliamentary inquiry into national security legislation which sits on Wednesday will discuss a request from federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, who wants law enforcement agencies to be able to access the data.
In a letter to the committee, Ms Roxon said greater access was needed to telecommunications data because criminal suspects "now utilise the wide range of telecommunications services available to carry out their activities".
The data includes information about the identity of the sending and receiving parties, but does not include the content of the correspondence.
"The government does not propose that the scheme would apply to the contents of communications," Ms Roxon said (the question is…do you trust them? – Andy)
So how did this all come about? Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, the unparalleled listening ability of the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) – which prior to 9/11 had always been aimed outside the US – was turned inward. No longer was the NSA restricted to tracking foreign spies and terrorists, whose surveillance had to be signed off by a federal judge of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Now, in the name of national security, all American citizens are suspects, and due process has been completely abandoned.
Now the Gillard government is following the NSA’s lead. Every Australian citizen’s electronic traffic will be sorted and sifted by ASIO analysts using specialised software and equipment to search for and flag particular words and phrases. Anyone and everyone could be targeted.
The worse thing about the total surveillance is much of it either is unknown to the population at large or is being deployed in such a fashion as to appear harmless, or better yet, useful.
RFID tags are a perfect example. Radio Frequency Identification tags are used to track just about everything from casino chips, pets, and bottles of shampoo at Woolworths to people. Right now, there are many high-end nightclubs in Europe were encouraging their VIPs to be “tagged”, whereby an RFID tag the size of a grain of rice – exactly to what is implanted in your pet dog or cat in order to ID them if they get lost – is placed under the recipient’s skin to facilitate faster access to the club and an easier way to run a tab and pay for drinks. In return, the nightclub was able to cut down on employee theft and harvest a wealth of useful data about its best customers. Australia is already inserting RFID tags in all of its passports and in the UK is actively considering tagging sex offenders and prisoners. The potential abuses of this technology however are beyond calculation, and I’m reminded of the identification numbers tattooed on Nazi concentration camp victims.
Smartphones and on-board vehicle navigation systems regularly spy on customers, with the data being sold left, right, and centre, as well as being handed over to the government on demand with little or no recourse. Many Australians were either unaware or unconcerned that GPS had been developed and was maintained by the US Department of Defence, the American organisation under which the NSA fell. The NSA’s surveillance baby is called Echelon and it’s an existing network of electronic intercept stations and deep space satellites specifically put in place to capture all microwave, mobile, satellite and fibre-optic communications and was designed literally to monitor all communications around the globe. Echelon, is operated by Australia (Pine Gap), New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States and has come under scrutiny from consumer protection groups, civil librarians’ and non-participating countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia to name but a few.
There wasn’t a single GPS device the NSA couldn’t locate at a moment’s notice if it wanted to. And when the NSA did go searching for a particular GPS device, it didn’t have to report to anyone why it was doing so, what information it was gathering, or for what reason.
And Australia is jumping on the surveillance bandwagon. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the AFP maintained a database in a secure vault somewhere in its headquarters building in Canberra, where they store files on thousands of Australians never accused or suspected of any crimes, but who had simply acted “suspiciously” at some point in their lives in the eyes of local law enforcement (state & federal police, customs & ASIO).
It’s common knowledge that the AFP regularly places GPS tracking devices under suspect’s vehicles without ever appearing in front of a judge and obtaining a warrant. The AFP also field “Stingrays” without warrants (specialist gear developed by the FBI) which are new devices that can track suspect’s mobile phones even when they were not being used to make a call.
And the surveillance tech is just getting better. Inspired by “intelligent” streetlights in the Netherlands and the UK, our law enforcement agencies are very interested to trial these devices here in Australia. The street lights not only provided light but also included tiny, remote controlled functions like audio and video recording and believe it or not, the ability to X-ray anyone who passed by. All of it fair game and none of it done with a warrant.
I’m just stunned that there is no outrage from the day-to-day Australians who will be spied upon. The only people screaming bloody murder are the usual handful of privacy advocates. The vast majority of people seemed to have bought into the fallacy of believing that if they hadn’t done anything wrong, there was nothing for them to worry about.
They had no idea of the likelihood that these technologies would one day be used against them.
Imagine every e-mail, all your Internet activity, the entirety of every single phone conversation, every piece of GPS data, all your social media interactions, every credit card transaction, every single electronic detail about your life, like it or not, is being placed into a “digital safety deposit box” that you have no control over. The government can come in at any point, open the that box, and conduct retroactive surveillance on you. They will be able to create a perfect profile of your behaviour, and they’ll be exceptionally well armed if they deem your behaviour to be in opposition to the best interests of the state.
Like the ATO, the body of laws that governed national security would eventually make everyone a criminal, no matter how honest they were or how hard they tried to abide by the letter of those laws. It was only a matter of having attention turned on you. Those same measures that kept “you and your family safe” today could be used to track down and imprison anyone tomorrow.
Australians it seems are more concerned with having the latest and greatest apps on their smartphones than in fighting how those apps kept track of their every move, their every communication, and even, via their search queries, their every thought.
People’s thoughts, and the invasion of them, are another disturbing development. Algorithm developers employed at Google (and the NSA) are now using data to anticipate customer behaviour. Millions upon millions of Tweets, Facebook entries, Amazon purchases, mobile phone data, GPS information and search engine queries, and other digital bread crumbs generated each and every day to build the most sophisticated artificial intelligence system the world had ever seen.
Code-named – AQUAINT – Advanced Question Answering for Intelligence – the system was not only being taught to think like a human being, but it was being developed to predict the way people think and act.
The technology is terrifying, but there is more. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is funding a program called the Future Attribute Screening Technology program or simply FAST. The DHS device under testing could be secretly deployed at airports, shopping centres, sporting stadiums and other public locations and was designed to “identify terrorist activity before it took place.”
Without permission, the DHS device scanned the physiology of each person who unknowingly passed by its sensor array, recording, storing, and analysing their respiration, pheromone secretion, electrodermal activity and cardiovascular signature, in an attempt to recognise “malintent” and alert authorities. A secondary “tagging” system worked to establish the subject’s identity via the FBI’s new Next Generation Identification or NGI database. It’s Apple iPhoto tagging on steroids.
The FBI’s NGI is an all-encompassing, billion dollar upgrade of the Bureau’s fingerprint database, which contained records for more than hundred million people and is known as the “largest biometric database in the world.”
Instead of just fingerprints and mug shots, NGI contains searchable photos with face-recognition technology, iris scans, fingerprints, palm prints, DNA, voice-print recordings, measures of gait, and detailed analysis of tattoos and scars. It is actually beyond “next generation” and it’s the perfect pairing for the FAST technology. Being tagged by FAST devices, though, didn’t end simply with running unsuspecting passersby through NGI.
With zero concern paid to unreasonable searches, FAST can also scan your person to ascertain whether you were carrying any mobile devices. If you were, the FAST machine would establish a “handshake” with your devices and copy whatever readily available data they contained. FAST also looked for any RFID tags you might be carrying (like in your passport) and copied the information from those as well.
All of it would then be fed into a larger database maintained by the DHS and the NSA, and a file would be created for each person who walked by. If it’s happening now in the USA, it will also happen here in Australia.
It didn’t matter if you were intent on carrying out a criminal activity today. You “might” be at some point in the future and therefore the information collected now could serve as a baseline against which all of your behaviour going forward could be prepared.
Not only would these technologies know exactly where you were at any given moment and what you were doing, they’d be monitoring what you were thinking and calculating what you were about to do next. The same government in charge of funding the ABC and Australia Post would soon be in charge of these technologies. The claim that they would be used only to ensure the safety of Australian citizens seems to me to be far outweighed by the massive potential for their abuse.
In the late eighteenth century, a British social theorist named Jeremy Bentham developed the perfect prison. He called it the Panopticon. The building is like a wheel, with all the cells facing the hub. In the centre of the hub is an enclosed circular guard tower with highly polished windows. The guards could monitor any of the prisoners at any time without their knowing exactly when they were being actively watched.
I characterise what the US and Australian governments are doing as a digital panopticon.
Welcome to Total Surveillance.
Andy is on holidays in a country that will probably never ever introduce a Carbon Dioxide Tax. He returns in early October 2012.