Thursday, July 11, 2013

Extra Special Delivery

Trey Smith

Another horror no one will care about: the government is spying on your snail mail.

The New York Times timed the release of the story so that it would come and go without notice: on the Fourth of July, when no one reads the paper or watches the news. But buried beneath a puffy lede is yet another privacy-killing whopper. After 9/11, the Times reports, the U.S. Postal Service created something called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program, “in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.”

Just a wild guess? How about: forever?

“Together,” the paper continued, “the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.” Any government agency — the FBI, local police, etc. — can request mail cover data. As with the rubber-stamp “FISA court,” the USPS almost always says yes to these outrageous mass violations of privacy.

From George Orwell’s “1984″: “As for sending a letter through the mails, it was out of the question. By a routine that was not even secret, all letters were opened in transit.”

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” the Times quotes former FBI agent James Wedick. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.” Your finances. Your politics. Your friends.

No doubt about it, the dystopian vision laid out by George Orwell in “1984″ is here.
~ from "1984" Is Here. Yawn. by Ted Rall ~
Okay, so here is the point we've arrived at: Almost no form of correspondence is private anymore. The national security state is snagging metadata and/or the content of phone calls, all sorts of internet communications AND letters mailed the old fashioned way. What's left?

Well, you might say, people can still meet in private to talk face-to-face. Unfortunately, even that kind of communication is becoming compromised. Lots of communities and private companies have mounted cameras all around. Add to this the increasing use of domestic drones. Big Brother and his friends are watching us far more than we realize.

And soon, as Rall suggests, Big Brother and friends may soon be able to invade the sanctity of our homes!
The dominant eavesdropping technology in “1984″ was a device called the “telescreen.” Installed in every home and workplace as an outlet for government propaganda, Orwell’s telescreen “received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”

Which sounds a lot like the creepy new two-way TV — you watch it and it watches you — for which Verizon filed a patent application in 2011. This TV would target “ads to viewers based on information collected from infrared cameras and microphones that would be able to detect conversations, people, objects and even animals that are near a TV. If the detection system determines that a couple is arguing, a service provider would be able to send an ad for marriage counseling to a TV or mobile device in the room,” reported the blog Fierce Cable. “If the couple utters words that indicate they are cuddling, they would receive ads for ‘a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers,’ or commercials for romantic movies, Verizon states in the patent application.”

Verizon’s patent was denied. But now Google TV is going for it. The technology exists; it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into our homes. Anti-privacy tech types point out it’s only to make ads more effective — the same way web ads react to your searching and browsing. But that’s just for now. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the NSA, FBI or other crazy spook outfit tapping into America’s telescreens in order to watch us in our living rooms and bedrooms.
In a few years, it may not be safe to make love in a room that features a two-way television because you will never know who might be watching!

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