If you thought the federal government’s recently revealed domestic spying apparatus was confined to poking around phone and Internet records ... well, look around.
Many people were shocked to learn over the course of the past several weeks that the Obama Administration had authorized and directed the expansion of a massive domestic surveillance program — ostensibly as a counter-terrorism effort. A series of intelligence leaks revealed U.S. National Security Agency practices many viewed as invasions of privacy, at best, and unconstitutional searches, at worst.
Americans have since been assured by the president, his staff and others in the administration that the information gathered by culling cell phone data about the time, date and place of calls isn’t really being examined closely, and that no one is eavesdropping on conversations. They say they aren’t using the NSA’s “PRISM” program to target citizens and downplay their efforts to collect data from Microsoft (Hotmail), Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Apple and other online sites. They say poking their noses into our emails, social media, video chats, photos, stored data and file transfers really isn’t any big deal. Besides, it’s all for our own good.
The real threat, we’re told, is from those who would leak such sneaky spying practices to the press and public.
Still, we’re suspicious.
On the heels of news stories about the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups and leaking information to opposing political groups, as well as revelations about U.S. Justice Department efforts to access Associated Press phone records and to stalk a reporter who asked too many questions, the NSA spying scandal makes everyone feel more than a little icky.
We didn’t realize Uncle Sam was Big Brother.
But even before any of us had heard of the secret PRISM program, other efforts were under way to help the Obama Administration keep tabs on American citizens. Documents uncovered by the McClatchy News Service detail a developing White House-directed program that orders federal workers to spy on each other.
“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of ‘insider threat’ give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct,” McClatchy reported this week. “Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”
The program echoes the Obama White House’s ongoing and unprecedented practice of targeting and prosecuting whistleblowers and those who attempt to report on government waste and wrongdoing. It also reflects the same Obama Administration paranoia on display in August 2009, when the White House encouraged Americans to report their fellow citizens if they thought their neighbors, coworkers, family members or others were spreading “fishy” information about the then-still-in-the-works health care reform law or were expressing other anti-Obama sentiments.
And we haven’t even mentioned the president’s plans to expand the U.S. military’s controversial drone program to domestic skies ... probably just to hunt terrorists ... not to spy on Americans, right?
Look up. Look around. It’s getting more and more difficult to stay off the grid — and off the government’s increasingly powerful radar. Where will we find prying eyes next?
— Tommy Felts, managing editor