blank.gif (51 bytes) John Q. Suspect
The Federal Techno-Assault on Our Liberties
by Lisa S. Dean

he Left has dominated the intellectual debates and governmental policy agendas throughout most of the 20th Century. In this country, the so-called Progressive Movement gave rise to a new order of elitists who were admirers of the Soviet model and whose power emanated from a burgeoning federal government. This elitist Left, enraptured by the propaganda being pushed by the Soviet Union, conveniently ignored the system’s brutal totalitarianism. Now, confronted with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the damaging effects of social and fiscal liberalism in this country, the American Left is developing new ways to retain power over people. As a result, the freedoms and rights all too many Americans take for granted are under a greater threat than ever due to the very technological changes that so far have been beneficial to our lives.

Computers have given individuals greater autonomy and access to power than ever before. Literally, a world of information can be obtained by people living anywhere in our country, enabling them to bypass the gate-keeping bureaucratic elites that once exerted a monopolistic control over people’s lives.

The Progressive Movement taught the elites, not only in the United States but around the world, that central planning and management by "experts" were the wave of the future. Socialism as an ideal, however, began collapsing by the second half of the 20th Century. Still, many people looked admiringly upon the Soviet model, viewing it as a society in which people were "free" because they had achieved minimal economic security. Once it became unmistakably clear that the very absence of freedom in the Soviet Empire had allowed the government to commit horrible abuses of every sort against its citizens, the glittering utopian vision of a new society became forever tarnished.

Behind the Rhetoric: Cronyism

s a result, the Left in our country was thrown into a state of confusion, because it actually believed that history was on its side. Instead, nations would now respect some degree of individual freedom and would abandon centralized planning. Even so, a fossilized secular humanist welfare state lingers on in the United States. Its remains can be seen in the massive, crime-ridden housing projects that line the streets of depressed inner-city neighborhoods, and outmoded federal agencies such as the Rural Utilities Service. It is a socialist order cloaked in noble-sounding rhetoric, but whose true nature is at odds with our country’s Constitution and the freedom it guarantees.

The Soviet order’s demise foreshadowed the potential fall of our nation’s secular humanist welfare state due to somewhat similar reasons. Here as there, the bureaucratic state has begotten a "new class" comprised of elitists living off the labor of average people. This "new class" has three basic characteristics. It is hostile to the forces of traditional culture including religion. It disdains a society where achievement is based on merit and entrepreneurialism, preferring one based on cronyism and careerism. But when a majority of the people discover the elitist underpinnings of this order, its position is threatened.

Failed Elites Fear Your Freedom

hat to do? For the American Left’s bureaucratic elites who now fear being turned out the way the Communist Party leaders were in the Soviet empire, they must neutralize the new technology that threatens their power. If government could use technology to harness its citizenry, then the failed elites would be able to retain their power at the expense of our liberties. While advances in computer technology have benefited us in many ways, the same technology has the potential to stealthily erode our liberties. Already, massive databases are now keeping track of our phone numbers, addresses, medical records, income, credit histories and purchases. States are being ordered to do this by the Clinton administration through executive order.

"Smart" cards are being tested on government employees with the intention of later, more widespread use in the private sector. These cards contain information detailing in what department or division employees work, their hours, what information files they are permitted to see, etc. Every time the employee enters or leaves a particular area, it is recorded by the central system, along with any particular files or equipment they procure. That is, these employees’ whereabouts or actions are constantly monitored.

Another example of Big Brother’s technological intrusion into our lives is the federal wiretapping law, which would greatly help the FBI wiretap our phones and use our cell phones to track us. This law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), was passed by Congress in 1994 but, because of disagreements between the FBI and the telecommunications industry over its interpretation, has yet to be implemented.

Last year, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, under Vice President Al Gore, called for greater scrutiny of airline passengers. Of course, smart terrorists would do everything possible to evade detection, while average citizens’ liberties are more endangered by meddlesome bureaucrats than terrorists.

First, the commission proposed that airlines be required to establish a nationwide computer profiling system to keep personal data on all passengers. Such data would include the passenger’s address, credit card number, whether the ticket was purchased in advance or shortly before departure, names of people with whom he is traveling, whether he rented a car, made hotel reservations, and how long he intends to visit his destination. From that information alone, the airlines would make the determination as to which passengers would most likely be a security threat. The Gore Commission also wanted to add passengers’ criminal history records and other law enforcement data.

Second, Gore’s plan would include the use of "BodySearch" Contraband Detection System. The BodySearch system is an infrared system that while scanning a fully clothed person, shows the naked image of that person on the operator’s screen.

Last year, Northwest Airlines tested the Gore plan by installing a computer system that collected over 40 pieces of information on each passenger, whether they voluntarily gave that information or not. In addition to knowing who you may be traveling with or what hotel you’re staying in, Northwest also recorded how often you fly with them and how frequently they keep in contact with you at your current address.

In short, the Gore plan would make travel points citizen security check points. Already, airport officials now have the right to decide who will be permitted to board an airplane based on a computer profile.

This idea was merely a proposal in 1997 but because there was little objection from Congress or grassroots America, that plan is now a Federal Aviation Administration regulation that went into effect on January 1, 1998.

Blatant Grabs for Orwellian Control

n October 1, 1997, President Clinton announced his new National Directory of New Hires that will contain personal information including the name, address, Social Security number and income of every person who is hired by every employer.

The purpose, the President claims, is to be able to track parents who owe child support when they move from one state to another or change jobs. According to Bill Clinton, through this database the federal government now can track parents who move out of state. Employers will be notified immediately if their new employee is a "deadbeat parent" and his wages will be withheld immediately.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, this database will be one of the largest ever kept by the government on its people. They claim that through the use of it, the federal government will be able to gather information on over 60 million new employees each year. Since employers must report wages to the government quarterly, Health and Human Services expects to receive hundreds of millions of wage reports every three months.

While placing our names and personal information in a database that can be accessed by federal bureaucrats is a blatant assault on personal liberty, perhaps the greatest attack on our privacy is in the area of encryption. A system which protects electronic information such as computer files, e-mail, telephone conversations and fax data from unintended recipients, encryption is not unlike the keys to the front house of your door.

Under Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh’s direction, the Clinton Administration is covertly pursuing its single most intrusive policy initiative to date. His proposed encryption policy would:

  • Force Americans to adopt a "key recovery" policy, making it a requirement for computer owners to keep their computer "keys" with the government. This would allow the government to intercept electronic communications without a search warrant, court order or notice to the person being monitored.
  • Foster international key-sharing agreements that would allow foreign governments to access U.S. keys without a search warrant, court order or notice, thereby giving foreign entities access to our private information.
  • Encourage foreign governments to require that U.S. companies and citizens keep keys on file directly with them.
  • Limit (for now) Americans to encryption devices that can be broken in .005 seconds or less by a government computer.

Portraying encryption as a mere "Internet issue," as the news media has done, is incorrect. Clinton Administration cryptography policy deliberately opens the door to government surveillance of all electronic communications and all electronic transfers.

Louis Freeh’s plan would expand the FBI’s eavesdropping ability by building into every word-processing program, e-mail program and web browser a component to enabling law enforcement officials to snoop on us without a warrant. A major potential problem is that these controls on encryption, supposedly designed to enable the government to protect us, could actually provide technologically savvy terrorists the means of gaining quick access to the computer systems of critical national infrastructures for banking, electric power and air traffic control.

Our liberties, which have been and are now being eroded by a cloistered liberal elite bent on maintaining its power over individuals, should be of great concern to all Americans. The government possesses too much power already. Law-abiding Americans do not need any more intrusions into their personal lives. But once the federal government obtains information on our lives, there is no telling how it will be used to increase bureaucratic power and complicate our lives.

To protect our liberties and privacy from outside intervention, there must be a nationwide effort and it must start with grassroots America. It is the responsibility as well as the right of every American citizen to stand up and protect his liberties when his government and elected officials are failing to protect them.

Many American citizens believe that their voices are not being heard by the regulators and elected officials, including Congress, on important issues. The more we raise our voices and form alliances with like-minded citizens concerned about our diminishing liberties—especially where new technology is concerned—the more influence we will have on the elected officials who are supposed to represent us. Elected officials need to hear from constituents who understand what is happening to our liberties and who will make clear in no uncertain terms that they will do everything possible to preserve our nation which was founded on the principle of freedom. NJ

Lisa S. Dean (lsdean@fcref.org) is vice president for governance and technology at The Free Congress Foundation in Washington, D.C. This article is reprinted by permission.


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