We’re the hunted

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Welcome to the surveillance society.

That was the unifying theme of both the national and local news last week as Americans learned of the far-reaching abilities the government has to infiltrate, record and monitor our lives.

The upshot of all this? We’re no longer free. Even in our own homes.

Last week’s tweet by President Trump, that he was wiretapped during the campaign by Obama’s spies at the CIA, was met by media and liberals as impossible drivel. Obama wouldn’t do that, the media reported en masse, and then turned their back on a huge story average Americans like me want followed up.

Not two days later came WikiLeaks’ trove of CIA documents detailing how the foreign spy agency uses electronic devices such as smart TVs, cell phones and other internet-enabled devices to monitor Americans. The data dump certainly made Trump’s accusation seem plausible.

Then, at the end of the week, we learned that Portland City Hall has installed cameras that record video, as well as audio, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who exactly is listening to you talk at Portland City Hall? That’s a chilling thought, eh?

Those who watched “Hunted,” a startling CBS program that aired during the last two months, got a good look at the surveillance state in action. The show pitted surveillance experts against teams of two “fugitives” who had to elude their “hunters” for a specified amount of time to earn victory. The show was illuminating as to the myriad ways police use to track people. Hint: If you ever find yourself at odds with police, don’t use a cell phone of any kind, don’t travel on any roads and don’t visit ATMs or stores since they’re all filled with cameras.

With so much surveillance performed under the guise of security, my question is this: How long are Americans going to tolerate living in a society where government stalks their every move?

Most people want to believe these tracking measures are meant to catch bad guys, but they create a sense of fear and intimidation, even paranoia, in law-abiding citizens. They make us fear our police, our FBI, our CIA, our NSA. They create an Us vs. Them mentality. They create striations within the society where the governed are intimidated by, not protected by, the governors.

I don’t buy the argument these revelations are detrimental for crime fighters. They’re enlightening, and we needn’t fear the light. The people need to know what their government is doing because its actions impact all of us. How the government treats others, be they detainees at Guantanamo or in Abu Ghraib prison, will come back to haunt all of us if done incorrectly.

Edward Snowden was key in enlightening Americans about the modern surveillance society. He’s an enemy of the government now, but he’s a friend to the American people. Same with Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks. He’s as brave as Snowden, and his mission in life seems to be making people aware of government actions. These whistleblowing watchdogs have taken the place of the media, which used to inform us of government’s waywardness, but have relinquished that role because they believe an all-powerful state can be better trusted than a nation of truly free individuals charting their own courses.

The desire to believe surveillance can be used for good runs deep. Even skeptical Americans want to believe their government is trustworthy. We want to believe FBI Director James Comey when he says that Americans can “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices” and that the government is only targeting the evil-doers. But history proves that government overreach starts out small and snowballs.

But even if you believe policing agencies always act in the citizens’ best interests, they aren’t the only worry. Their data could be hacked by other governments and individuals, and private individuals can be targeted. Imagine the damage that would result if a recording of a political candidate saying or doing something inappropriate were released prior to an election? Oh wait, that’s already happened. No need to imagine.

America is the land of the free. Walking down a camera-lined street in a major city, driving past cameras on highway underpasses or looking up to see a camera in the local town hall are elements of a police surveillance state. And those are just capturing images of our bodies. Government recording of our words and thoughts, as we share them via a smartphone or computer, is much more intrusive.

It’s time we call this what it is: an invasion of privacy and an assault on personal liberty that must stop. Let’s get out in the streets – camera-lined as they are – and march against that.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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  • Bowdoin81

    We gave up our privacy decades ago when we authorized the IRS to have access to all our private financial information, in the interest of making sure we were each paying our “fair share.”
    So, yes, let’s push back against the surveillance state, but while we’re at it, let’s reflect on whether we really have any privacy under the Internal Revenue Code.

  • justanotherfakename

    I generally prefer to ignore the ranting of the right wing conspiracy obsessed folks who spend too much time on lunatic fringe web sites like Prison Planet, InfoWars, Breitbart and such, but this week’s headline did catch my attention. Mister Balentine, get a grip, nobody is spying on you, except maybe identity thief s, most of whom are off shore, many in Russia, trying their best to get what you have in your bank account. You come off as such a victim in your own paranoid mind, that I must point that through Obama Care you would have had access to mental health services to help you back to reality.

    I could go through sentence by sentence in this week’s ‘here’s something’ spin cycle of alternative facts, repeated in hyper gushing hyperbole, but the brainwashed are so sure of their ‘alternative facts’ and Russian originated fake news, that the truth is too many steps in front of them for them to see through the fog of Trump lies. Good luck with your problems John, you’ll need it. The rest of us want to get to the bottom of the Russian infiltration of our election in 2016, with the help of the good folks in our intelligence agencies.

    • Queenie42

      Yes!

    • 101indianscout

      Russian infiltration? And you call him paranoid! Wow, you must be rolling in proof

      • Queenie42

        Just today in the Senate, John McCain ripped into Rand Paul and said Paul was working for Putin by voting against Montenegro joining NATO, which is in the crosshairs of Putin. Rand Paul stalked off the Senate floor without denying anything. I am inserting this fact that was on C-Span, live, just for your information. You might want to read up about it. I am no fan of McCain but he knows what is in that intelligence report. Just saying.

        • 101indianscout

          McCain, a former pow, which I respect, but is now appearing senile. Rand Paul is NOT working for Putin. They disagree, but to suggest that Rand is working for Putin tells me it is you who needs to read up on things. That is just hogwash.

          • Queenie42

            Go back and read what I wrote. I did not suggest Rand Paul is working for Putin, McCain said it to Paul.
            Please try to keep up.

          • 101indianscout

            I did as you asked, and not only did you suggest it, you’ve implied it. Might want to re-read it yourself. Perhaps it needs rephrasing.

  • BearClaw207

    Does anyone really believe, that given the number of “police” in our country, that even with the aid of data-mining equipment or computer software, the police have time to “keep track of” or “spy” on people not suspected or involved with criminal activity?

    The police don’t have the time or resources to devote to the crime already existing, much less spy on you. The resources you mention are used, with judicial authorization, in limited cases where criminal activity is occurring or can be suspected with some sort of justification.

    Also, if you want people to be worried about government spying, tell them to stop posting so much personal info and other nonsense to Facebook and the like. It’s hard to complain about information security while spewing such an enormous amount of personal info on purpose.

    • Chew H Bird

      I know for an absolute fact that certain police departments in Maine devoted resources to utilizing broadband internet (owned by private companies) to actively and aggressively look for personal information pertaining to potential crimes that had not yet occurred. This is firsthand knowledge and I will not divulge the details beyond this general statement because these activities happened years ago and there is no reason to open this very large can of worms. If you care not to believe me that is fine, however I know for a fact this type of activity happened long before it became a media headline.

  • Chew H Bird

    Our government was sampling the emails of citizens and businesses back in the early 1990s, ( I know this first hand). That modern technology has made it common for third parties to listen, read, and extract data is a fact and it has been going on for decades.

    Has anyone ever read their software license agreements with Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others? Apple and Google are by far the worst offenders but Microsoft is pedal to the metal trying to catch up.

    And what about Comcast, Cox,Time Warner, and other content providers? These forms know what you watch on television, where you web surf, and study your habits to maximize their profit potential. Verizon, ATT and other voice providers also know many details of your habits. Credit card companies know your spending habits and financial information.

    Your medical providers regularly share information with supposedly trusted sources, and your medical insurance companies “partner” with third party providers who are not bound by your confidentiality agreement.

    Even banks, who formerly provided on-line financial tools that were created in-house, are now outsourcing to third parties who have different privacy policies.

    Privacy is long gone and will not be returning.

    • 101indianscout

      I sure cant disagree with your assessment. Technology is a blessing and a curse. However I still find it a sad state of affairs.

  • Moishe the Beadle

    “With so much surveillance performed under the guise of security, my question is this: How long are Americans going to tolerate living in a society where government stalks their every move?”

    Who, generally, are more in favor of bigger more intrusive government and cradle to grave security or protection, conservatives or liberals? Look in the mirror. You have no one to blame for the Orwellian dystopia we’re now facing that started with Wilson, FDR & Johnson and more recently with Clinton and Obama, than those of your ilk elected.