Bill Quigley
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 10 April 2012
The advanced technology of the war on terrorism, combined with deferential courts and legislators, have endangered both the right to privacy and the right of people to be free from government snooping and tracking.

Thirteen Ways Government Tracks Us

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Privacy is eroding fast as technology offers government increasing ways to track and spy on citizens.  The Washington Post reported there are 3,984 federal, state and local organizations working on domestic counterterrorism.  Most collect information on people in the US.  Here are thirteen examples of how some of the biggest government agencies and programs track people.

One.  The National Security Agency (NSA) collects hundreds of millions of emails, texts and phone calls every day and has the ability to collect and sift through billions more.  WIRED just reported NSA is building an immense new data center which will intercept, analyze and store even more electronic communications from satellites and cables across the nation and the world.  Though NSA is not supposed to focus on US citizens, it does.

Two.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) has more than 1.5 billion government and private sector records about US citizens collected from commercial databases, government information, and criminal probes.

Three.  The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times recently reported that cellphones of private individuals in the US are being tracked without warrants by state and local law enforcement all across the country.  With more than 300 million cellphones in the US connected to more than 200,000 cell phone towers, cellphone tracking software can pinpoint the location of a phone and document the places the cellphone user visits over the course of a day, week, month or longer. 

Four.  More than 62 million people in the US have their fingerprints on file with the FBI, state and local governments.  This system, called the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), shares information with 43 states and 5 federal agencies.   This system conducts more than 168,000 checks each day.

Five.  Over 126 million people have their fingerprints, photographs and biographical information accessible on the US Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT).  This system conducts about 250,000 biometric transactions each day.  The goal of this system is to provide information for national security, law enforcement, immigration, intelligence and other Homeland Security Functions. 

Six.  More than 110 million people have their visas and more than 90 million have their photographs entered into the US Department of State Consular Consolidated Database (CCD).   This system grows by adding about 35,000 people a day.  This system serves as a gateway to the Department of State Facial Recognition system, IDENT and IAFSIS.

Seven.  DNA profiles on more than 10 million people are available in the FBI coordinated Combined DNA index System (CODIS) National DNA Index. 

Eight.  Information on more than 2 million people is kept in the Intelligence Community Security Clearance Repository, commonly known as Scattered Castles.  Most of the people in this database are employees of the Department of Defense (DOD) and other intelligence agencies.  

Nine.  The DOD also has an automated biometric identification system (ABIS) to support military operations overseas.  This database incorporates fingerprint, palm print, face and iris matching on 6 million people and is adding 20,000 more people each day.  

Ten.  Information on over 740,000 people is included in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) of the National Counterterrorism Center.  TIDE is the US government central repository of information on international terrorist identities.  The government says that less than 2 percent of the people on file are US citizens or legal permanent residents.  They were just given permission to keep their non-terrorism information on US citizens for a period of five years, up from 180 days.

Eleven.  Tens of thousands of people are subjects of facial recognition software.  The FBI has been working with North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles and other state and local law enforcement on facial recognition software in a project called “Face Mask.”  For example, the FBI has provided thousands of photos and names to the North Carolina DMV which runs those against their photos of North Carolina drivers.  The Maricopa Arizona County Sheriff’s Office alone records 9,000 biometric mug shots a month.

Twelve.  The FBI operates the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR) that collects and analyzes observations or reports of suspicious activities by local law enforcement.   With over 160,000 suspicious activity files, SAR stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime but who are alleged to have acted suspiciously.

Thirteen.  The FBI admits it has about 3,000 GPS tracking devices on cars of unsuspecting people in the US right now, even after the US Supreme Court decision authorizing these only after a warrant for probable cause has been issued.

The Future

The technology for tracking and identifying people is exploding as is the government appetite for it.

Soon, police everywhere will be equipped with handheld devices to collect fingerprint, face, iris and even DNA information on the spot and have it instantly sent to national databases for comparison and storage.  

Bloomberg News reports the newest surveillance products “can also secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices,” change the contents of written emails mid-transmission, and use voice recognition to scan phone networks.   

The advanced technology of the war on terrorism, combined with deferential courts and legislators, have endangered both the right to privacy and the right of people to be free from government snooping and tracking.  Only the people can stop this. 



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ABOUT Bill Quigley

Bill is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach him at Quigley77@gmail.com

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27 comments on "Thirteen Ways Government Tracks Us"

Anti Monsanto

May 12, 2012 3:02pm

It's bad enough that gangsters inside of government invent lies about anyone they wish. What is worse, is that those lies can amount to, well, "I'm CLAIMING that someone did something of which I am "suspicious." "

That individual may or may not have done something suspicious. And even if it were proven that it was a law abiding thing, that person would end up in a ton of databases, all of which declare them to be "suspicious."

No suspicion of any illegal or even for that matter, legal, activity required. Merely the presence of paranoia or outright lying, in the labeler.

Rich Nau

April 11, 2012 11:52pm

And people are still afraid a National ID card will violate our privacy?

bladtheimpailer

April 11, 2012 10:28pm

Instead let's call them by their real names , the Ministry of Truth, Peace, Love. and Plenty. Remember now -" War is Peace - Freedom is Slavery - Ignorance is Strength." Gotta go "The Hate" is about to start.

I feel both comforted and unnerved by the fact that all technology is ultimately manned by some schmuck who's less educated than me. Smart enough to turn the thing on and probably paid accordingly. OK, I'm more unnerved than comforted.

nanette5
NJ
April 11, 2012 10:34am

freedom ~ what freedom ... thugs are runnin the show

Traveler123

April 11, 2012 6:51am

It is not a war on terrorism. It's a war on democracy. With free speech comes Truth. With Truth comes profit loss. Capitalism cannot survive without deception. The trashy little lying cowards who think that obscene wealth makes them better people live in constant terror that Truth will expose them. It's not security. It's fear.

ChiefWhoopass

April 10, 2012 4:29pm

From a secure top secret location because the Truth ‘may’ set you free, but it will get you killed.
So the moral of this story is: If you are to honor your oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies foreign and domestic, wear gloves and sunglasses.

tgs10

April 10, 2012 3:58pm

The Citizens United ruling was a fiasco that threatens the very nature of our republic. It leads us towards an oligarchy, which in our case will be a plutocracy, a rule by wealthy paper entities with money, controlled by a handful of officers and board members, with some level of foreign ownership influence. The politicians are the wealthy figureheads. We now have the equivalent of a medieval form of government, with Kings, Barons, Earls, and Counts; all determined by their wealth. What to do? Simple. Change your party to Independent and work to get rid of closed primaries (too much party control) and go for a single primary without a party affiliation, where the top two vote getters go to the general election.This reduces the party influence over the voting process, increases the voter influence, and forces both parties away from their extremes. Independents are already 40% of the electorate, more than Democrat or Republican.

SaulT

April 10, 2012 5:02pm

Here's how to "Fix Democracy:"

The simple and easy solution? We hold two quick, back-to-back elections: the first (as usual) to hire the worker's pool of candidates, by district; the second, where everyone, regardless of geographical location/ district, assigns them directly to their cabinet portfolio poisitons - no more divisive, conflict-of-interest "parties" partying at the direct expense of our one government, ever!

Needless to say, we can have easy internet recall elections, prompted by a certain number of disgrunted complainants!

pitch1934

April 10, 2012 2:07pm

The steps can turn icy overnight. Who will cry for you when they come to take you? Who will fight for you when you are disappeared? Every step is step towards a totalitarian state run by either a dictator or a consortium of dictators whether they be of the left strpe or the right stripe.

This is all well and good. It sounds amazing and I don't believe the methods are all so accurate. In Tamps alone, the IRS is giving refunds to people filing false returns and I read it's millions. The IRS can't catch these thieves and can't stop them so I doubt the government
is doing all that is stated in this article.

SaulT

April 10, 2012 5:04pm

So - because some humans in some branches of government are incompetent, you pretend to believe that others are NOT trying all these things?!

Go back to kindergarten at once! There's still a chance you might graduate from it, if you study harder this time!

Jeffrey Hill

April 10, 2012 1:26pm

OBEY or be disappeared Pinochet-style by Big Brother.

NastyHabits

April 10, 2012 1:09pm

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin

NastyHabits

April 10, 2012 1:07pm

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

jon282

April 10, 2012 12:21pm

Incidentally, how many of you actually believe there are no government agencies or insurance companies that are already privy to the movements of every vehicle equiped with OnStar? Whether you're using it or not, it it still there, active, and sending out information about when and where your vehicle has been.

jon282

April 10, 2012 12:03pm

We are already neither free nor safe. The homeland security act and the international domestic policeing agreement between Mexico, the USA, and Canada has put the cap on our freedom. And, the failure of our federal government to protect our borders and repel illegal entries, not to mention the virtually nonexistant security at ports of cargo entry into the United States pretty well guarantees our total lack of safety. The real problem is - our federal government wants things as they are. If they didn't they'd change things.

CASnyd3r

April 10, 2012 11:32am

Thirteen ways the Amish are better off than we are - they have no driver's licenses, and some don't even have birth certificates or social security numbers, I'll bet.

Norman Allen's picture
Norman Allen

April 10, 2012 11:09am

If you are scared of government tracking you, you are doing something against the society and are not rich. If you are poor, do whatever you want because the government and the rich lives off you and they cannot survive the destruction of honest people in a society. If you are intelligent, they will have to go by the rules of the game because you can make them sweat hard. Good luck.

CASnyd3r

April 10, 2012 11:53am

"If you are scared of government tracking you, you are doing something against the society and are not rich" is not a valid conclusion. You don't have to be doing anything wrong anymore for the government to treat you like a criminal. All that is necessary is for a patriotic fellow citizen like yourself to report to the authorities that they think you are "suspicious", and you will be pulled aside and searched with no more probable cause than that hearsay. This happened to me once on a flight back from the US Virgin Isles - we were taken from the flight gate & held for hours while they went through all our possessions and our persons with a fine tooth comb and couldn't find anything because there was nothing to find and we'd done nothing wrong. The last half hour was spent with all our gear packed up ready to rejoin our flight, listening to the airport asking for us to show up at the gate last call before departure and begging for TSA to tell the flight crew that they were detaining us while they waited for word from higher up as to whether we could be released. We finally found out that it wasn't just a random spot check, but an unfounded citizen report of suspicions during the time we were sitting waiting for them to get permission to release us. One experience like that, and you realize that since 9/11/2001 the presumption is no longer innocent until proven guilty, but the reverse. That is reason enough to be concerned about what info the government has about you, even when you've done nothing wrong.

belleville

April 10, 2012 10:51am

Big Brother, Mom, Dad, and the Whole Gang. The Little Rascals. Maybe these Clowns are Hiring. I know a lot of people are out of work.

ayelvington

April 10, 2012 10:50am

I have personally worked on federal information sharing systems, and trusted friends have worked on biometric identification systems for identifying human traffickers. I personally feel comfortable and confident with all of the programs that you mentioned, and I trust the people running them. If I were you, I'd be a lot more peeved about how for-profit companies warehouse your data in the interest of tapping your wallet.

SaulT

April 10, 2012 5:08pm

I've worked in the federal government too and therefore I TRUST EVERYONE!

HUMANITY HAS ABSOLUTELY NO SELFISH NOR CRIMINAL MEMBERS ANYWHERE (especially not in any positiong of power)! WHEE!

Nice try, bozo!

;-)

CASnyd3r

April 10, 2012 1:02pm

It must be nice to have such faith in the system - I certainly did in my youth, too. But subsequent experiences with TSA (see my reply to Norman Allen above) have since given me some healthy skepticism. It is possible for good people to be confined as suspects for indefinite amounts of time and sometimes even convicted of things they aren't guilty of by circumstantial evidence brought forward by good people and given to good people who are just doing their "security" jobs the way they were taught to. Even without malice, it is possible for such information gathering systems to be misused, and it is also possible that their could be malicious intent in the future by powerful people into whose control these systems may fall. I don't think it is good for our courts to be relinquishing rights to privacy and to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty and to due process of the justice system, but that has been the general trend since 9/11 that I've seen. I don't trust the corporations any more than I do the gov't, especially since they will provide everything in their databases to the gov't upon request.

Hank Phillips

April 10, 2012 10:37am

Obviously a comment better be in favor of Govt tracking us or ......

Jamie Clemons

April 10, 2012 10:33am

1984

webtradenow

April 10, 2012 10:31am

When will we stop giving up our freedom in name of "safety." Soon we will neither be safe, nor free!