Corporations, police use social justice protests to test new surveillance technologies


An iPhone is seen in this stock photo. New reports show that the NSA has capabilities to listen to phone conversations and store that data for later use. (Credit: Kelvinsong/Creative Commons)
Recently, the Baltimore Sun, Wired and the Intercept publications reported on more ways in which the United States government and the corporations it does business with are using our information for the alleged war against terrorists and hackers.

Wired: Skynet is real (sorta)

Many US citizens were already aware of how the NSA and other intelligence agencies are able to search and store phone records in addition to where Americans call from (and to), but not necessarily the content of those conversations.

Now, as the Intercept reported, the NSA has capabilities to recognize and cache what we talk about on phones through speech recognition. It is unclear however if this technology is being used on American citizens.

The Intercept: The computers are listening

Moreover, all it takes is being put on a terrorist watch list, like one Al-Jazeera journalist was, and intelligence communities have free range to study your cellphone behavior to see if it matches up with what terrorists have done in the past.

On May 7, the Baltimore Sun reported that the FBI had admitted to providing the city’s police with aircraft during the Freddie Gray protests. Though we don’t know much about these aircrafts except for the fact that they’re highly sophisticated, we can extrapolate from what we do know. We do know about “Wide-Area Surveillance” technologies which allow operators to track the movements and journey of an individual (even in a crowd) with surprising accuracy, according to MSNBC.

Baltimore Sun: FBI admits to providing air support to police during protests

“Dirtboxes” also allow for the collection of private cellphone data in just one flight.

This discussion over privacy will inevitably come back to the thought process of “If I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I care?” but the conversation shouldn’t be about if you are or are not doing anything suspicious, but why those who aren’t doing anything criminal have to have their rights trampled in the name of security.

The fact of the matter is that there are people whose privacy is being infringed on despite United States government officials (and corporations) not providing those individuals with probably cause for seizure of property.

Just because you’re not doing anything wrong and are fine with hidden entities digging through your personal information doesn’t mean the rest of law-abiding citizens have to be OK with their information being sold, traded and raided without their awareness and sometimes permission.

It’s easy to understand that terrorists are bad and criminals need to be punished, but that’s not at the heart of this important debate. It comes down to what are we willing to pay in order to capture and punish enemy combatants? What does the collateral damage look like and is it worth what we are allegedly gaining through the loss of some of our freedoms.

Would you be OK with me, a semi-anonymous citizen, perusing your phone right now? If the answer is no (which I hope it is) why are so many of us so nonchalant about the government and corporations doing the same thing? 

Reminder: Corporations and governments are composed of actual human beings that have faults, uncontrollable desires and sometimes don’t do the right thing when in placed in positions of power left largely unchecked.

The worst part about the collection of our data is that people are not even aware if they are being spied on or not.

Whether it be Baltimore law abiders who were grouped in with violent rioters or the millions of Americans not aware that they may have fit a description of a terrorist because some keywords in their phone conversation with their mother fit an algorithm, a better job needs to be done in balancing the pros and cons of fighting an undoubtedly endless war against criminals and terrorists. 

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