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Frankly, the USA has got your number

Frankly, the USA has got your number

An Act of Congress purports to permit the USA spookdom to spy on all the world’s communications transiting any American junction box. Loosely defined, that’s virtually every byte of data – phone, voice, document, video, photo, music, etc – on earth. As the US Supreme Court has just ruled they can spy on Americans in the the same way, the biggest bully on earth just got bigger.

Frankly, the USA has got your number

By BILL ROWLINGS, CEO of Civil Liberties Australia

One nation on earth gave us this memorable line: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn1

That nation has once again demonstrated clearly, by a ruling of its highest court, that it doesn’t give a damn for anyone anywhere in the world.

Not for it the rules of international law or the privacy of communications: other countries are inferior, good for bullying only. Now even its own citizens have lost the freedom to communicate unrecorded.

The United States Supreme Court has decreed that the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendments allow broad, secret surveillance and interception of the international communications of anyone – including an American – who is a party to any traffic whatsoever that passes through the USA or which the USA can access.

America is now legally, according to its lights, Big Brother, the creepiest nation on earth. Basically the US Administration – all the spook agencies and the military – can record and use any two-way communication from or to anywhere in the world, if there is the slightest link to the USA.

American supporters of liberties, freedoms and personal privacy had claimed, seemingly incontrovertibly, that the US Government’s secret spying on foreigners should not apply to US citizens. They averred that the US government does not have licence to also capture B-party phone conversations, emails, texts, faxes, photos, documents and data within the USA on the other end of the comms device from the foreigner. At least, the spooks should not gain access without securing judicial warrants based on reasonable suspicion of a terrorism act or major crime.

But the good guys have lost. The Supreme Court decided 5-4 in February 2013 that Americans can be spied on at will by their government within the USA.

The New York Times thunders in an editorial that this is ‘Unbridled Secrecy’. More columns will emanate out of publications and blogs from the east coast to the west, the Gulf to Gnome. Much starry, striped angst will ooze. Radio and TV waves will pulsate indignantly. At least, I hope so.

The irony is that the Supreme Court ruling simply puts Americans on the same footing as citizens of Elsewhere.

In a question not even raised in the US Supreme Court, Elsewherians would like to know who – or what – gave the USA the right to surveil all foreign communications in the first place. Who empowered America to pass a FOREIGN Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008 that targets every ‘other’ person on the planet. How can a nation which purports to be a good international citizen unilaterally declare – without consulting global forums – that it is the world’s communication gatekeeper?

Perhaps we should ask: does the USA think China has the same right to intercept, record and use all communications in its ken?  Or North Korea? Or Iran?

What is the difference between the USA deciding that it can intercept anything passing electronically, and WikiLeaks deciding that it can leak anything stored digitally? Each is a unilateral decision with global impact based on no formal agreement with anyone else. Please don’t confuse me by claiming that one acts from good motives, the other from bad motives.

Why would the US be scuttling around the world claiming an urgent need for national “cyber security” when it has an Act of its own Congress which removes all privacy and security from all cyber communications in any way connected to America? Nation states, foreign militaries, and major corporations are not exempt from the USA’s Big Brother laws.

This extraordinary US Supreme Court decision, narrow of nature and number, simply strips American citizens of their privacy rights in tune with citizens outside America. In one way, it  is a decision for equality…it means everyone is sitting at the back of the bus. But for those Elsewherians who think this doesn’t matter, just consider:

  • your music library is probably catalogued in America: videos too, maybe;
  • the applications on your phone, tablet and computer probably emanate from there, and are updated regularly by logging on your communications devices, whereupon a world of information is available to Spy Central;
  • phone calls and net traffic to places nowhere near the USA may be routed through the USA;
  • international travel bookings you make will interact with at least one American-based computer: your planning to travel will be recorded well in advance;
  • paying via an American online payment system exposes all your transactions to US surveillance (and law): what you chose, when, where, how much, the card/bank you use, etc;
  • any GPS positioning device you use allows US spy agencies to pinpoint your precise position, on what day at what time: a great many phones and cameras have GPS locators installed, and they are becoming common in cars;
  • America probably controls your ‘cloud’ data, and all communications around it; and
  • do you use Twitter or Facebook or Google or online photo storage? Guess what, all made and housed in the US of A, so every item is logged by Big Brother’s data bank, the institution taking more deposits daily than any other.

The nation that used to be the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave has become the Land of the Bully and Home of the Naive who think a smidgeon of personal freedom is still possible. No longer! Not now that America, by an Act of Congress backed by a Supreme Court, controls the world’s communications, including that of its own people.

Who or what is this faceless, frameless, gormless entity that now controls the world’s intercourse?  Big Brother sounds too benign. The CorpMil Conspiracy? That’s better, but does anyone have a worse name, more in keeping with the evil being done to us?

More important than any other question: how do we ever unwind this travesty?

See NYT: and see: Cyberwafare?

 1.Clark Gable, in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind

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