January 16, 2003 9:38 AM PST
ACLU: You're being watched
In its new study, "Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The Growth of an American Surveillance Society," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blames the unchecked use of technological tracking features for an increase in surveillance by both the government and the private sector.
"The explosion of computers, cameras, sensors, wireless communications, GPS (Global Positioning System) biometrics and other technologies in just the last 10 years is feeding a surveillance monster that is growing silently in our midst," the authors wrote.
The organization cites several trends that are leading to an advanced "surveillance society," including video surveillance, the capturing and marketing of personally identifying data, new data-gathering technologies that take advantage of cell phones and other devices, and stepped-up government efforts to maintain databases containing information about citizens.
The study points out some of the latest methods to track people, including radio frequency identification tags, tiny chips that let objects communicate with each other which could be used by marketers to track people's movements. The study also blasts the Total Information Awareness program, a plan to develop a massive centralized database of personal information in the name of fighting terrorism.
"Unfortunately, the Sept. 11 attacks have led some to embrace the fallacy that weakening the Constitution will strengthen America," the ACLU said.
In the report, the ACLU paints some disturbing hypothetical scenarios that could stem from the increase in surveillance technology. In one case, the organization said a black man from the central city who attends a co-worker's barbeque in an affluent suburb could be subject to questioning about a crime that took place there if face-recognition technology were to indicate he "didn't belong" in the neighborhood.
In another case, the study said a woman who stops to gaze in the window of a sex shop could later be embarrassed in front of her family when the shop's new "customer identification system" detects a signal emitted by her driver's license and sends her some marketing materials mentioning her visit.
But the study said Americans can reverse the trend by paying attention, pushing new privacy laws, and renewing support for the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
"It is not too late to take back our data," the study said.
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