The walls are closing in.

31 August 2010

Every couple of days - usually on the weekends - I force myself to go on a media fast. If I can get away with it, I don't watch television, I don't look at my RSS feed reader, and I don't let myself get wrapped up in the newswires. These days it's about the only thing that lets me get a good night's sleep on the weekends and makes my blood pressure managable. I'm pretty much a desk jockey these days so that's about the only exercise I get, but that's beside the point.

Many years ago, during the early time of the civil rights movement the powers that be didn't know what to make of the events transpiring in the United States of America. Authority, the right to rule over or govern something, really only exists if that which is governed recognizes that authority. To put it simply, if they're fed up and not going to take it anymore, your authority goes right out the window. So when a segment of the population stands up and tells you exactly what they think of what's going on the powers that be take steps to determine just how much of a threat is posed to their power bloc and what, if anything, needs to be done about it. Between the mid-1950's and the mid-1970's the FBI ran a series of operations called COINTELPRO, in which organizations all over the political spectrum were monitored, infiltrated, and disrupted by undercover agents. Some of the groups really did need someone keeping an eye on them, namely, groups that openly espoused violence, destruction, and mayhem, if only because groups interested in blowing things up and killing people stop caring who their targets are after a certain point. However, some of the groups that were affected by COINTELPRO were groups involved in peaceful protest - anti-war activists, religious figures, and others who think that violence is not necessary, even as a last resort.

People still debate the reasons why nonviolent protests groups were monitored: maybe it's because the powers that be weren't certain that these groups were really not interested in violence. Another possibility is a concern that subsets of these groups were using the nonviolent protest angle as cover for something more nefarious. Which makes a certain kind of sense, when you think about it. It's also entirely possible that it came out of a mindset of "We don't quite understand what these weirdos are up to, so we'd better get someone in there just in case." Thus, as we head for the second decade of the twenty-first century us weirdos out there who disagree with how things are going had best take note of the fact that domestic surveillance operations are going nearly as strongly now as they did during the Cold War. While the First Amendment guarantees us the rights to speak out minds and gather in a peaceful manner it also means that if our voices or words catch someone's attention we might then be considered a "person of interest" and worthy of being put under the microscope. Even the act of taking notes or photographs in public has caused people to catch flak from the powers that be.

You have to wonder - if exercising the rights you have can possibly result in your being thrown in jail or followed by MiBs, do you still have your rights?
To give you an idea of how absurd things are getting, fully 10% of the people attending a vegan meetup in Fresno, California were undercover police tasked with infiltrating the gather to surveil it. Doubly absurd is the ruling that it is perfectly legal in nine states for someone to hide a GPS transponder somewhere in your car so that you can be tracked everywhere you go. Apparently, you have no expectation of privacy in your own driveway so it's perfectly legititmate for someone to walk up to your car, slide underneath, and plant something like this in the undercarriage. Maybe it records waypoints every few seconds and has to be recovered later; these are said to be the most common tracking devices out there. A few units transmit the GPS coordinates of whatever they happen to be attached to where ever they may be. These are rare right now because the receiver is a piece of gear that a lot of folks don't have have the skills to use properly. I'm not saying that to be catty, either, my GPS tracking experiments drove me bonkers until I figured out the trick. No warrant is necessary, and to add insult to injury unless you have a fence around your house with an electric gate across the driveway or guards posted you don't have a zone of privacy around your house at all.

I wonder what would happen if someone found one of those trackers under their car and stuck them to a bus. Or a taxi.

Just when you thought i'd run out of WTF to assault you with along comes word from New York state about Customs and Border Protection searching trains, questioning people, and hauling people away when they're not even near the border. Yes, Rochester and Buffalo aren't really near the US/Canada border, especially when you're traveling between just those two cities, but you can still be asked to produce your papers while on US soil. Amazingly, this is actually legal because the Constitution does not apply up to one hundred miles inland of the geographic border. This has been a point of contention for just a few years but thus far nobody's budged one bit. While it's not yet at the level of the "insufficiently white in Arizona" law it should definitely make you stop and take stock of what's going on in your world right now. But don't worry, if CBP forces are spread too thinly in your state you can always look up and wave at the sky because starting tomorrow UAVs watching the southern border of the USA will take to the air. Patrolling a strip of land that encompasses southern California to the Gulf of Mexico a fleet of Predator B UAVs will be keeping sensor packages focused on the ground looking for people who shouldn't be there.

There's a reason that cyberpunk seems so passe' these days: we're living it.