The U.S. as Surveillance Society


We’ve read of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras dotting the streets, buildings and byways of our cousins’ land across the Atlantic.  We’ve heard tales of how Britain has steadily been converted to an Orwellian surveillance society.  What we’ve little realized (although I’ve tried to warn of precursor developments) is just how advanced the U.S. is along those paths.

Comes now a landmark article in The Washington Post, “Monitoring America,” part of its “Top Secret America” series, which explores just how Orwellian has become this land of constitutionally protected freedoms and government minimalism (!).  Begins the article:

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

I cannot do justice to the article here, except to say that, if anything, it exacerbates conclusions I’ve already reached, and that you should read it.

When you have, then read two supplemental pieces commenting on the state of affairs described in “Monitoring America”:  “Monitoring America: The Government’s Development Of A Vast Panopticon Spy Network” in, and “The government’s one-way mirror” in

In addition, friend Geoff sent me this link to last night’s MSNBC segment about the Post article.  At 4:28 MSNBC’s invited expert mentions photographers and videographers, whose activity may be deemed “actually … innocuous and ubiquitous” all the while likely to be reported as part of the “suspicious activity” regime described in “Monitoring America,” sometimes leading not only to harassment, but to arrest.


ACLU Follow-Up Department

The ACLU blog has begun profiling its clients in the challenge to Customs and Border Patrol questions directed at Muslims.  The first is of Hassan Shibly, a U.S. citizen.  The best way to approach this (and I presume other instances to be detailed in days to come) is to substitute questions related to your own beliefs, travels, associations and possessions, and then consider how you would feel if a CBP officer, standing between you and your welcoming family and friends, were to ask such things of you.  Generally, while CBP may require you to show them anything you are bringing back into the country, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident answers to these kinds of invasive questions may not be made a precondition of being admitted to the U.S.


Coming Late to the Party Department

It’s another of those pseudo-spontaneous feel-good flash mobby events, and it’s been viewed over 23 million times in fewer than 40 days (before I came across it), but like “Do Re Mi” performed in the Antwerp Train Station this video provides a good lift this time of year:


Snow Department (Again)

Yesterday was another 3-6 inches, so we are shaping up for one of the snowiest winters in recent history.  Here’s the infrared satellite view as of 4:30 yesterday afternoon:

Band of snow, 12/20/10, 4:30 p.m.

That’s a lot of snow, and it didn’t end until well into the evening.  More forecast for later this week.  No question about a White Christmas this year.


Lauren in a now-discontinued photo.

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Music, Uncategorized, War on Photography and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The U.S. as Surveillance Society

  1. Lin says:

    Good article – and the linked articles were excellent too.
    Sadly I See little difference between the U.K. and the U.S. nowadays. We have both gone down the totalitarian route.
    Questions I would like to know the answers to are:
    Will there ever be a way back from all this?
    Will our governments (present or future) ever reverse the creep towards total surveillance?
    And if not, how do we escape it all? (Because clearly this is no way for free people to live. I mean – seriously – can you imagine living like this for the next thirty years?)

    • Stephen says:

      Good questions, Lin, and if I knew the answers I could probably publish a significant article somewhere. So far, if we stay home, we escape. If we drive long distances, we are less likely to be surveilled outside of metropolitan areas. If we walk and wear hats, we probably can remain anonymous. Otherwise? I fear privacy and anonymity are things of the past.

      A problem is that 99% of the populace, even in the U.S., do not worry about such things — they will only notice when something happens that directly affects them and points up the fact that Big Brother had been watching them.

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