Privacy Protection and the Secret State’s Surveillance Powers
by Tom Burghardt
April 17, 2011
Call it another virtual “defense” of privacy rights by U.S. lawmakers.
In the week of April 11, senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate, the “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011,” they claimed would “establish a framework to protect the personal information of all Americans.”
During a D.C. press conference, McCain told reporters that the proposed law would protect a “fundamental right of American citizens, that is the right to privacy.”
While Kerry and McCain correctly state that “The ease of gathering and compiling personal information on the Internet and off, both overtly and surreptitiously, is becoming increasingly efficient and effortless due to advances in technology which have provided information gatherers the ability to compile seamlessly highly detailed personal histories of individuals” (p. 4), there’s one small catch.
CNET’s Declan McCullagh reported that the bill “doesn’t apply to data mining, surveillance, or any other forms of activities that governments use to collect and collate Americans’ personal information.”
While the measure would apply to “companies and some nonprofit groups,” CNET disclosed that “federal, state, and local police agencies that have adopted high-tech surveillance technologies including cell phone tracking, GPS bugs, and requests to Internet companies for users’ personal information–in many cases without obtaining a search warrant from a judge” would be exempt.
As we know, a gaggle of privacy-killing agencies inside the secret state, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as offices and subunits sprinkled throughout the Pentagon’s sprawling bureaucracy, including U.S. Cyber Command, all claim authority to extract personal information on individuals from still-secret Office of Legal Counsel memoranda and National Security Presidential Directives.
As the American Civil Liberties Union reported in March, what little has been extracted from the Executive Branch through Freedom of Information Act litigation is heavily-redacted, rendering such disclosures meaningless exercises.