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article imageOp-Ed: Is the US an authoritarian national surveillance state?

By Ken Hanly     Jun 13, 2013 in Politics
New Haven - An article by Jack Balkin a Yale law professor discusses what he calls the new national surveillance state that is being created in many countries including the US.
Balkin describes the national surveillance state as follows: "In the National Surveillance State, the government uses surveillance, data collection, collation and analysis to identify problems, to head off potential threats, to govern populations, and to deliver valuable social services. The National Surveillance State is a special case of the Information State - a state that tries to identify and solve problems of governance through the collection, collation, analysis and production of information."
Balkin suggests that the War on Terror is a familiar justification for the national surveillance state but there are other causes most notably the fast and accelerating developments in information technology that make more surveillance possible. The data is useful not just for government but for private corporations. For example, social media is constantly being monitored and mined so as to enable ads to be tailored to individual users through collection of data about users. Much data collection and mining is done by for-profit corporate entities not just governments.
The question for Barkin is not whether we should have a surveillance state since the surveillance state is certainly here but what type of surveillance state we will have. He notes that there are a number of dangers posed by the surveillance state. With all the data collected there may be a move towards a parallel track of preventative law enforcement that may be contrary to guarantees of a bill of rights.
Traditional law enforcement may begin also to follow this parallel track. With the vast data base of information collected by the government, local police forces will want to access and mine this information not just intelligence agents. Similarly social service providers will want access to information to serve clients better but also no doubt to weed out "undeserving" clients. Finally, Barkin claims that the government may use more and more private agencies to collect information for it, in order to circumvent constitutional guarantees. I am not sure that the government worries that much about such constitutional issues. James Clapper. National Intelligence Director, claims that the snooping is all perfectly legal under the Patriot Act and has been authorized by Congress: "Clapper said the data collection under the program, first unveiled by the newspapers The Washington Post and The Guardian in Britain, was conducted with the approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and with the knowledge of Internet service providers."
The obvious reason to have the work done by private entities is that they can make a profit from this activity and then donate to election campaigns of politicians who helped privatize the data collection.
Balkin claims that there can be a democratic surveillance state or an authoritarian surveillance state. A democratic surveillance state collects as little data as possible and tells the public as much as possible about what it is being collected and what is being done with information. An authoritarian surveillance state will collect as much information as possible about its citizens and tell them as little as possible. Paul Krugman claims that the US should be classified as an authoritarian surveillance state. His position is stated in the appended video clip.
The Obama administration has a tendency to classify any information that it thinks might be the least damaging to it, and is reluctant to release information to the public. As recent revelations show, it is collecting massive amounts of data through surveillance of citizens. The appended video clip shows the extent to which data on phone records was collected recently.
This passage from an article in the Washington Post more or less sums it up: "The information that the National Security Agency has been seeking, from phone metadata to server access, is about as expansive as one could imagine. Meanwhile, the administration’s war on whistleblowers, which received public attention after revelations about the surveillance of AP reporters, shows a lack of interest in measures of transparency and accountability. "
The Obama government does fit the description of an authoritarian surveillance state. However, all this surveillance is said to be in the interests of security, keeping the citizens safe. The surveillance is in the service of security as is the secrecy and lack of sharing of information. The US might be better termed an authoritarian security state.
The mantra of the security state is that all this surveillance is for your safety. The video below with Al Franken sets out this line.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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