Throughout human history the ruling elite have gone to great lengths to track the activities of enemies abroad, as well as potential enemies coming from within their own borders. And while the concept of domestic surveillance is not new, the technology useful for spying has changed immensely over time, and never nearly as much as it has in the last 20 years.
The Greek tyrant Dionysius who ruled over the Western Greek colony of Syracuse, Sicily until 376 BC housed prisoners in a cave that was strategically carved to funnel sound into the guards' chambers. The cave, which Italian painter Caravaggio later dubbed the Ear of Dionysius (Orecchio di Dionisio) was apparently so well designed for it's acoustic purpose that even the prisoners' whispers could be heard by spying guards.
Now fast forward past pivotal spycraft advancements in camera and bug microphone technology to 20th century East Germany where from 1950 to 1989 the Stasi police were responsible for overseeing what's still now considered one of the most effective and repressive domestic surveillance campaigns of all time.
The Stasi counted over 174 thousand employees among their ranks. But even more impressive was the number of citizen informants the Stasi could count on to monitor their fellow comrades. Numbers vary, but historians estimate that anywhere from 174 thousand to two million informants volunteered their services. As many as one informant for every seven citizens willingly conspired with the Stasi to monitor the activities and attitudes of every person living in East Germany. Today in the U.S. There's a popular adage people like to recite when defending the virtues of domestic surveillance. "If you're not doing anything wrong, then you've got nothing to worry about," they say. However, this wasn't always the case in Soviet East Germany. Millions of law-abiding East Germans were ensnared in investigations and had government files kept on them for any number of superfluous reasons.
No matter that the Stasi's highly invasive system of domestic surveillance netted a large number of innocent Germans, because justice was not a part of their endgame. Their objective was was to ensure that the public remained afraid and submissive, reluctant to speak against the state for fear that a guest at a dinner party or a co-worker might report them.
The latest and arguably most invasive example of domestic surveillance comes from right here in the U.S. And the Stasi ain't got nothing on the NSA. as reported in the article "Inside the Matrix" in this month's issue of Wired magazine, the NSA is currently building a $2-billion-dollar facility known as the Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah that will store and analyze all of our phone calls, e-mails, Google searches, and financial transactions as well as any other information they can possibly capture by digital means. There your digital information will be stored and studied by super computers that hunt for buzzwords and trends, and raise red flags whenever they find something that doesn't fit within the parameters of acceptable behavior. The facility won't be up and running until September 2013, but don't worry, they've got all of your old digital information too.
Maybe it's our own fault. Many of us unwittingly welcomed the Trojan Horse the cellphone into our lives. When it comes to smart devices I don't think that it's overly paranoid to err on the side of caution and assume that the GPS is always tracking, that the microphone is always hot, and that the camera is always rolling. We didn't know that by buying the latest and greatest gadgets we were also apparently providing the NSA with all the permission they need to track and analyze our daily activities. As far as the NSA and their handlers are concerned we're all potential enemies of the state until proven guilty.
You might wonder how the NSA is possibly going to store all the digital traffic in the U.S. as well as everything they can retrieve about our neighbors abroad. Consider that a terabyte of information can now fit on a drive the size of your pinkie nail, then consider that the Utah Data Center will house over one million square feet of computing technology. When it comes to computer capacity the Department of Defense now speaks in terms of yottabytes. If the Utah Data Center collects a yottabyte worth of information it would be roughly enough to fill 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pages of text.
Former NSA official William Binney has gone on the record to expose the Stellar Wind program, which he worked on and had the task of channeling billions of phone calls and e-mails to NSA databases. Binney left the NSA after deciding that their activity was unconstitutional. Congress doesn't share Binney's sentiment, however. The Wired article mentions that in 2008 our U.S. Congress passed their FISA Amendments Act, which largely made all of the NSA's domestic surveillance perfectly legal.
None of this should come as any real surprise. The writing was on the wall back in '49 when George Orwell published 1984 and gave us the concept of the ubiquitous watchful eye of Big Brother. Orwell's guess might have been off by a few years, but he made a very good guess about how the ruling elite would benefit from future advancements in domestic spycraft technology. But not even Orwell could fully conceive of the exponential leaps we'd make in computer technology, or the exact ways that governments would use that technology to leverage their people.
Things are changing quickly now, but maybe it's time to slow down and think twice before inviting every twittering thing that comes along into our lives. LOL, you know I'm just kidding, see you on FB :) !!!