THE INTERSECTION — Now that my idiot fellow citizens have voted to remove those video cameras that would take pictures of motorists who like to run red lights and kill the rest of us, I’ll wait till long after the light has changed to green or I’ll get T-boned. Odd. There still seems to be cameras mounted on poles, like they are taking photos of my license plate.
“They are taking photos of you license plate,” says this story from AP. The pictures also contain information on when and where the photos were taken. They can be shot from cameras mounted on poles, police cars, buildings, bridges or just as an app on a cop’s cell phone. Yes, just when we thought there was no more of our privacy to be violated, we discover that police departments, other local law enforcement agencies and probably the George Zimmerman Neighborhood Watch Patrol have been taking pictures of our vehicles on public streets and in public places. Then the agencies share the information with other law enforcement branches, and our federal tax dollars are paying for it.
Minneapolis authorities snapped 4.9 million license plates in eight months last year, including 41 shots of the mayor’s car. And until recently, anyone could ask the Minneapolis police for a list of which particular car plates were taken where. An astute blackmailer could move there and make a fortune. Jersey City, New Jersey, has a population of 250,000 but its police department collected more than 2 million plate shots in a year. Now we have the Spies of Texas: our local cops are doing the same, just in case some authorities may need that information some day, some where, some how. The Mesquite PD has license plate photos going back to 2008. We can only speculate how the DPS files a plate that reads AGGIE or HOOK’EM.
The ACLU, that group of commie bomb-throwers, has filed suit, saying this massive picture taking of license plates belonging to ordinary citizens minding their own business is an intrusion into our privacy. The ACLU, what a bunch of wimps — they are also opposed to torture, need I say more? But this time they may have allies in Americans who think enough is enough. It was Edward Snowden who revealed the National Security Agency, or NSA, has a record of every phone call we’ve made since 1917, including time, date, who called whom, from where to where, length of the call. The spooks assure us they don’t actually listen to, or record, the conversations themselves, if you can really believe that. I don’t, but with all their info they pretty well know what we were talking about anyway.
We also know the NSA has another eavesdropping program called PRISM. (“Good evening, Mr. Bond.”) It requires Yahoo, Google and the rest of Silicone Valley to regularly turn over to the NSA materials including on-line search history, the contents of emails, file transfers, live chats, our innermost thoughts and dreams. And any letter or parcels you mail is recorded, and be careful of mail carriers who are also stamp collectors.
But to tape our brain waves (are those black helicopters back again?), the public is protected by judicial review, right? I mean, the NSA snoops need a court order to go through our garbage cans. The Fourth Amendment says so. Our roadblock against tyranny is the 11-member secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, which has, in the words of one government official, “quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come.” That’s spooky. FISA rubber stamps (are judges rubber stamp collectors?) any request by the feds for permission to do something otherwise unlawful. Why not? The judges only hear the spooks’ side of the story and not a word from anyone else. It’s like a trial where only the prosecution is allowed to present its case. Guilty, we rule! How often do the judges agree with the feds and approve a surveillance request? 99.98 percent of the time. That’s better than the results of a North Korean election.
Just who comes under suspicion? Known terrorists like relatives of Osama Bin Laden, or their relatives, friends of their relatives and, obviously, relatives of their friends. Also people with Mid East connections, such as those who smoke Camels, have a children’s sand pile in the backyard, or deal in Saudi oil and gas, which includes most of Texas and all of Houston. Do you hear a strange click on you phone? We can only assume you shop at Burkas R Us. You can own a poodle, pit bull or Rottweiler, but Afghan owners are subject to a body search. Are you one of the million troops who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan? Your life story is on file. Falling under suspicion and therefore automatic surveillance are people with funny names, like Regis Philbin, Lady Gaga and Barack Obama.
Every time you check out at the grocery store using your plastic card that makes you a Preferred Customer which reduces the price of a sack of Fritos by 14 cents, NSA’s top-secret Clean Up on Aisle 5 Dept. gets a copy. Prescriptions filled? The CIA has a copy. Did you actually touch the Touch Tone at the bus station? Your fingerprints are on file. It’s not paranoia. It’s patriotism.
Some say we shouldn’t be worried about the government reading our mail, tapping our phones and hacking our laptops if we don’t have anything to hide. If you feel that way, send me copies of your bank accounts, stock portfolios and a list of what you keep under your mattress. Also, video tapes of your kinky life. What’s that? You say it’s none of my business? Could you speak a little louder?
We all work for the CIA and NSA, but most of us just don’t know it.
Ashby spies at firstname.lastname@example.org