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Dave Lindorff
Published: Wednesday 1 August 2012
“America has been so degraded as a free society that such intrusive violations of our privacy by a police agency or a librarian are now accepted by most people as normal and to be expected.”

Where’s the Outrage: Nobody Seems to Care as America Becomes a Police State

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Back in 1976, I co-founded, with some Los Angeles colleagues, a feisty little alternative weekly called the L.A. Vanguard. About two months after we launched it, I got tipped off about a program by the local phone companies, Pacific Telephone and GTE, in which they had so-called “Security Departments,” composed of banks of operators, whose sole job was to provide unlisted phone numbers to inquiring government agencies, all without a warrant. As I delved into this story I learned more: these special operators (led in each case by retired FBI officials) were also providing credit information on phone customers on request, and the agencies who had instant access to all this data ranged from local police to the public library.

When we broke the story, it exploded on the Los Angeles media scene. There was a banner headline across the whole top of the Los Angeles Times front page screaming “Unlisted Numbers Given Out.” We at the L.A. Vanguard, to promote our little paper and being guerrilla journalists, announced that we were holding a protest and press conference on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance of the Pacific Telephone building in L.A., at which we’d be handing out copies of our newspaper. We were mobbed by reporters and camera crews from every media organization in the city. It was huge. Pacific Tel’s PR people realized they had to respond and invited everyone inside for an impromptu news conference at which they tried to quell the furor, but they only made it worse by having to admit the scale of the program.

Now I understand that Los Angeles, which is home to more celebrities per square foot than any other place in the world, has a thing about privacy, but this story even went national. It was simply shocking at the time to learn that the phone company would provide police and other government agencies -- even the over-due books department of the library! -- information about a customer’s sacred unlisted number without even requiring that they first obtain a warrant from a judge.

My investigative exposé led to hearings by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), at which the various government agencies were compelled to explain how they used the information they were obtaining from the phone companies and to justify their need for it, and the phone companies were forced to explain why they were so casually releasing the information, and why they were using ratepayers’ money to pay for a special group of operators to provide it. In the end there were restrictions placed by the PUC on the companies and on the number of agencies able to get access to unlisted numbers.

Today, such a story would be seen as quaint. It probably would not even be published in a major newspaper, and I doubt it would even make the first page of the Hollywood Reporter, trade publication for the film industry. Certainly no regulatory agency like the state PUC would bother to hold hearings on it.

America has been so degraded as a free society that such intrusive violations of our privacy by a police agency or a librarian are now accepted by most people as normal and to be expected. (Actually, in fairness to librarians, they have emerged lately as some of the last remaining defenders of privacy, often refusing to let nosy police find out what books and videos patrons have been checking out unless served with a warrant.)

I was driving home to Philadelphia from the Catskills yesterday, on I-476, the northern leg of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and saw a sign warning that speeders were being monitored from the air, and I immediately thought about drones. When I saw such signs in the past on a highway, I would immediately look up at the sky to see if it was cloudy or clear. If it was blue sky, I’d look for a spotter plane, which you could sometimes find. Cloudy meant that the police would not be up there, as they wouldn’t be able to see us drivers. Today it could easily be a small drone that I wouldn’t even notice doing the monitoring, and it would be using radar to tag speeders, so you’d be vulnerable day or night, rain or shine.

In fact, I’ve noticed that on the 10-mile southernmost stretch of Rt. 309, a local controlled-access highway that runs from past my house and on down to the outskirts of Philadelphia, the state has installed video cams and radar devices that film and monitor the speed of all traffic going into and out of the city on a round-the-clock basis. We are being monitored at all times. So far the state cops or Department of Transportation have not been issuing speeding tickets with these cameras, but it’s only a matter of time. They already have cameras at major intersections all over Philadelphia and are mailing out automated $100 tickets to people alleged to have run red lights.

How far away are we from the day that local authorities in suburbia will be flying drones around the neighborhood tallying up the number of dandelions in people’s yards, and issuing warnings that they need to apply toxic herbicides to kill them or face a fine? You’re laughing? There are already laws in many communities that can compel people to mow their lawns or to clear out their dandelions or face a stiff fine. What they don’t have yet is a cheap way of monitoring people’s lawn-care proclivities. But it’s coming.

What strikes me as I think back to my big scoop about the California phone companies’ unlisted numbers racket (for which I won a major award from the Los Angeles Press Club!), is how much American citizens, over the intervening 36 years, have come to accept all this spying and invasion of privacy as normal, and perhaps even as desirable.

Of course 9-11 is a big part of this. The trumped up “War” on Terror launched in September 2001 has become a justification for all kinds of spying and other police activity, and not just by federal agencies. Even my little town of Upper Dublin has now has got its own SWAT van stuffed with Pentagon-provided military gear; there’s also a “major incident response unit” van, even bigger, which is also stuffed with military weaponry. Meanwhile, every police car in the village is equipped with an M-16, and we have 40 cops to police a quiet town of 26,000. That’s one cop for each 650 people in a town that hasn’t had a homicide in at least five years, that averages three robberies, 400 property offenses, one arson and 90 “alcohol offenses” a year! I don’t know how much surveillance and monitoring our local police do, but I do know that just driving and walking around town here, I see local cops on patrol more often than I used to when I lived in China, a certified police state.

Last fall, during the height of the Occupy Movement, I spent a little time at the Zuccotti Park encampment in lower Manhattan’s financial district. There were more police there than there were demonstrators on two of my visits. That’s how it looked too in the videos and news reports I saw of some of the OWS street actions. That should be as much of a scandal as was the brutish behavior of those cops, with their clubs, their pepper spray, and their other weapons, all deployed against avowedly non-violent political protesters.

But where is the public outrage at all of this?

I’ll admit that our corporate media have really given up being real sources of news. (Just consider that the lead story on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday was “Romney Strongly Defends Israel,” which surely ranks right up there as the ultimate example of dog-bites-man non-news one can imagine! With that sorry level of news judgement it’s no wonder important stories are going unreported) But how can there have been such public and media outrage back in 1976 simply over a news report that the phone company was providing unlisted number information to police on request, and then today, there is almost no concern even at the prospect of police spy drones hovering over our neighborhoods 24/7 taking photos of our every move, and at reports from agency whistleblowers that the National Security Agency is already monitoring the electronic communications of all Americans?

What has happened to the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”?

ABOUT Dave Lindorff

Dave Lindorff is an investigative reporter, a columnist for CounterPunch, and a contributor to Businessweek, The Nation, Extra! and He received a Project Censored award in 2004. Dave is also a founding member of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening! at

"I’ll admit that our

"I’ll admit that our corporate media have really given up being real sources of news."

In a nutshell, you have described why there is no outcry, no outrage. The corporate media are the voice of society. That voice has been muted.

You heave a sigh of relief

You heave a sigh of relief and I draw a shudder. They are not ticketing us yet with these cameras? Then why did they install them (I'm sure they were not free) if it was not to ticket us? The truth is likely much worse than the possibilities you obviously came to and which most others would come to as well.

There was an article where government officials can place a tracking device on anybody's car if they parked on a public road. Think about that. And with RFID, all you need is a reader to pick up all those radio signals. Put an RFID tag in our shoes (something most people dont share) and you know where that person is and who he comes in close proximity to. We are in the midst of an Orwellian society and if we just fan away the smoke they are blowing we can clearly see this. I for one miss the days when we were innocent until proven guilty. Now we have to prove we don't have a shoe bomb before we are allowed on an airplane.

If people knew that Homeland

If people knew that Homeland Security Watch Lists were being used for surveillance, search and burglary operations on targeted individuals they would be very outraged.

I have been targeted and repeatedly burglarized, and I believe one of my politically incorrect friends has been targeted also. She has been burglarized, her car was stolen, and the very day a large check was to be delivered to her home mailbox -- her whole mailbox, lock and all was stolen. Out of all the possible days in her life that her mailbox would have been stolen, I believe someone using surveillance or phone / house bugging data must have used the information to target her also.

In my case the people burglarizing my home used covert, non-forced entries and even have the arrogance to return used items, as well as leave items that don't belong to me. The local police will not even take fingerprints here in Ferry County, Washington. My storage unit has also been illegally entered and some items from the residence were put there and the unit was ransacked also. I believe that they used police/fire /FEMA access codes to bypass standard public computer security entry.

"Nobody cares until anything

"Nobody cares until anything happens to them "-- It is like they say about Americans around the world: greedy & self-interested, hypnotized by the medias & technologies.

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me."
--- Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Outrage......the new outrage

Outrage......the new outrage is apathy. The American public has been frightened into submission by the efficient programs of the Bush-Cheyney Fear and Paranoia Express following 9/11. This effective conditioning process, which was instituted by Messrs Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Bolton, Rove, et al., has produced a generation of sheep-like creatures who believe with unquestioning loyalty (some call it a new-found patriotism) in the Dept. of Homeland Security and its enforcing branches. Such was the beginning of past regimes like the very recent Nazis movement of Hitler which consolidated their massive power by first coercing sectors of the population into following their rules using a fabricated threat to their existence. Remember those well-written words issued by George W Bush...You're either with US, or you're with the terrorist....which divided the country into two distinct camps....Americans and Terrorists. What choice did dissenters with their policies have? The conditioning worked then and continues to work to this day. And Osama Bin Laden continues to win even in death! Apathy is a powerful element of the human psyche which, if harnessed in the right way, will give a relative few immense powers over many.

It's amazing how much truth

It's amazing how much truth there is in just the title of this article alone. People really don't seem to care about the state of the nation anymore, or at the very least, they certainly are not doing anything about it. One law that seems to go particularly unnoticed is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006. The AETA is overly broad, effectively punishing traditional forms of picketing, boycotting, and leafletting by using vague and undefined terms such as "interfering with" or "damaging" an animal enterprise. The AETA also makes innocent individuals responsible for the illegal acts of third parties, even in the absence of conspiracy. Yet, despite these frightening implications, few people are even aware of its existence. Of course, the AETA is just a small part of a broader national security agenda. For example:
Military Commissions Act 2006 – allows the President to designate an American as an enemy combatant, take them out of the constitutional system and place them in military tribunals.
John Warner Defense Authorization Act 2007 – allows Pres to place US troops on US soil; effectively overturning the Posse Comitatus Act that prohibits the use of US troops against Americans.
NDAA 2012 – allows for the indefinite detention of Americans w/o charges – there goes habeas corpus.

Some of us are outraged. But

Some of us are outraged. But the United Sheeple of America aren't.

And this isn't a partisan issue. The two sides of the one-party system in this country are equally guilty, as are their adherents.

Both Dems and Repubs have sold us down the river. And alphabet voters, whose entire political consciousness rests on whether there's a "D" or an "R" after a candidate's name, are complicit.

The Land of the Free and The

The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave is about to have a Second American (Peaceful) Revolution. Tell all your friends to register to vote. We shake Police State Washington to its core on Election Day, November 6, when we send them the message - THE PEOPLE ARE BACK. And if they don't hear us we do it again and again and again - on each Election Day until they do. JOIN THE 2ND AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND TELL ALL INCUMBENTS ON ELECTION DAY - YOU'RE FIRED!

Consider this… 1. Video

Consider this…

1. Video cameras on buildings, city streets & intersections.
2. Facial recognition technology that can identify you walking or driving.
3. Stop & frisk searches in NYC, San Francisco & other cities without provocation.
4. Threatening arrest for video recording police on the street.
5. Phone and Internet providers supplying police & FBI with personal info w/o warrants.
6. Cars equipped with computer chips to record your speed & every move while driving.
7. ALPR, Automatic License Plate Readers mounted at intersections & in cop cars.
8. Prisons being operated by big business at huge profits.
9. FBI & police agencies clamoring for domestic surveillance Drone Aircraft.

We should all be screaming bloody murder and taking to the streets. Why aren’t we? It's time we all revisit the 1960s.



Thomas Jefferson desired for

Thomas Jefferson desired for all manufacturing to remain in Europe and for America to be agrarian. Each man (will not sugar coat that he was speaking of Euro-white males) would be able to own a farm that would support him and a family. There are many reasons why he felt this way that we can speculate on. Some are good and others not. He was clear that corporations (manufacturing) brought corruption the lands around them. Conservatives that support human rights for corporations claim they know the US Constitution and know what our "founding fathers" meant, but they don't even have a clue.

I barely remember the phone number fuss and it seemed to die out rather quickly. I fussed when I found out that all my banking transactions and phone calls would be monitored (after 11 Sept 2001) once I moved to Europe, not by the Socialist Europeans, but by the US. Europe was actually fighting to keep my rights. The (un)Patriot Act(s) are treasonous and need to be repealed immediately and those that voted for them, need to be brought up on treason charges.

I am so thankful that my grandparens who ran from the KGB, are not alive to see this. My grandfather had great distain for many Americans as they did not give a fig about their rights and many did not know what rights they were supposed to have. Few if any would fight to their death for them. Grandpa said our country would be taken over and our rights taken away all without a shot being fired. Looks like he was right.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin: Those willing to give up liberty for a feeling of security deserve neither liberty nor security. Look at the Teabaggers signs and flags that shout 'Give me Liberty', and note they leave out 'or Give Me Death'. We know where they really stand and it is not on the side of Liberty and Rights.

When asked about government

When asked about government surveillance and whether they like or dislike most will reply " if you haven't done anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about". I wasn't brought up to believe this way but then I can remember when you could trust your local police officer.

Having grown up when driving

Having grown up when driving whilst black and drinking from the wrong water fountain was something cops would pick you up for, I cannot say that I had a similar level of trust for the local police. I will not go to NYC because of their Stop, Frisk, Arrest policy and have told my son to stay far away too.

I am in no way safer today than I was on 10 Sept 2001. I can be detained without charges for as long as "they" want to hold me and I don't get to speak with a lawyer. I no longer have the right to see evidence against me, cannot freely travel, have had to show papers (passport) when travelling on the interstate highways within the state where I was living. Trust the local police today, not a chance and not any further than I can throw them.

It's such a naive thing to

It's such a naive thing to say, isn't it?

I would love to see Romney's

I would love to see Romney's past 12 or 15 years of tax returns.

What do you think that

What do you think that massive "new cars for old" was actually all about??? To "save" the auto companies?? NO - it was to get as many cars off the road as possible that were too old to have a GPS tracking system in them and replace them with cars that do. GPS systems in cars work even when we think they are "turned off" or we aren't subscribing to them.

We can no longer run, no longer hide. It is time to decide what you will speak out for, what you will stand up for, stand by and stand behind. If you're not willing to die for it - keep your mouth shut!

Need I say more than to point

Need I say more than to point out that in order to respond I can simply log in using Facebook? Unfortunately, we're all being monitored everywhere....even here.

Nobody seems to care? I'll

Nobody seems to care? I'll tell you when this all started. On 9/11. When I came in to work that day and saw live images of the twin towers burning and collapsing, I said to the people in the conference room where the TV was, "That's it for our free society. The next thing will be the entire populace of the country screaming for our rights to be taken away to make us safer." That's precisely what happened, and the administration was only too happy to oblige. The excesses of the Patriot Act soon followed, and even our supposedly-liberal current administration is unwilling to declare it's too much. That's why we "don't care" as America becomes a police state. We WANT it that way. We think it will make us safe. But, as always, who watches the watchers?

You beat me to the

You beat me to the realization by a day, maybe the shock of it had to subside. But it was next to no time to thinking the terrorists already won, you could hear how people inside of government and out were eager to turn on their own country for this false sense of security. What a chill down the spine seeing posters urging us all to spy on everyone around us, hearing dumb suggestions like -the meter readers and workmen should be peering into windows. What signs of subversion would they even have been likely to see?
It made me think of Soviet Russia, much to my sorrow. The "PATRIOT" act cemented it. Russ Feingold, where are you now? Still, sites like this and BORDC and people like Glenn Greenwald and Shahid Buttar give me a thread of hope, however tenuous.

The public is sown with a

The public is sown with a plethora of phantom issues to keep it preoccupied as the elites go about their business, like implementing their newest "trade/ corporate rights agreement." Not that these issues are not without importance to the public, but that these issues are of no importance to the elites and their agenda. The issue of marriage equality being a topic of hot discussion as opposed to monetary reform as being of ultimate relevance to the people of America and the rest of the world is a prime example. The elites exalt in the twin populous groups of the Tea Party and Occupy, and the fabrications of their political servants in both the Republican and Democrat parties.

"Keep'em worked up over the inconsequential " to our agenda could be the elites slogan for their modus operandi, until eventually they come for you and there is no one left to help oppose. Strongly united we may make a stand. otherwise we loose. The next presidential term can seen as a time of the elite's agenda being furthered. We must be ready by 2016 as time is running out....Gore Vidal, in interview, said it had already run out for the American experiment in Democracy...but not without a fight I hope.

Cali-Lefty's picture

Gore Vidal. RIP Oct. 3, 1925-

Gore Vidal. RIP
Oct. 3, 1925- July 31, 2012

The so-called police state is

The so-called police state is a result of the powerful plutocrats' intimidating powers over Federal State and Local governments.

There are several passages in the Federalist Papers, the most authoritative commentary on the Constitution and powers of federal government which I am sure no extreme conservative has read nor even knew about. Neither has Romney.
In arguing for the ratification of the Constitution, James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton identify republics throughout history that failed because of various factions destructive of these political societies:
• The Federalist No. 10 in part, “But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.”
• The Federalist  No. 15 in part, “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.”
• The Federalist  No. 26 in part, “And I am much mistaken, if experience has not wrought a deep and solemn conviction in the public mind, that greater energy of government is essential to the welfare and prosperity of the community.”
• The Federalist  No. 36 in part, “Happy it is when the interest which the government has in the preservation of its own power, coincides with a proper distribution of the public burdens, and tends to guard the least wealthy part of the community from oppression!”
Our Founding Fathers knew that strong power to regulate taxes, trade, commerce and finance as essential to the survival of the republic. Clearly, government is instituted with the intention to protect the poor and middle classes from the excesses of private business.

The Founders were very aware

The Founders were very aware of the need for the people to counter tyranny. A big part of that is jury nullification, probably the people's most powerful weapon against tyranny:

Abraham Lincoln saw this all coming:

"I see in the future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of the war."

- Abraham Lincoln

Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)
Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)

Falsely attributed: While

Falsely attributed: While Lincoln did express similar sentiments, the paragraph was composed twenty years after his death:

Cali-Lefty's picture

Twice cometh. Soon after his

Twice cometh. Soon after his death, The Gilded Age, and the last 30 years.

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