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Supervisor Joe Simitian (District 5) was the host of a timely forum entitled “Privacy, Security, and Public Safety in the 21st Century” held at the Lucie Stern Community Center, Palo Alto, on October 27, 2013. The panel members were Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (Former member, House Permanent Committee on Intelligence and current member, House Committee on Energy and Commerce), Nicole A. Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of CA, and Deirdre Mulligan, Assistant Professor, U.C. Berkeley School of Information. An estimated 250 individuals attended. After the presentations, a lively question & answer period occurred.

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“IS BIG BROTHER WATCHING?” Should we care? Do we care? The recent unauthorized release of classified NSA documents by Edward Snowden, who is still in Moscow, Russia, surprised many- that American intelligence agencies were collecting that much communications raw data. In addition to collecting intelligence, NSA (National Security Agency), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and 14 additional agencies are performing surveillance and eavesdropping operations all over the world. There must be overlaps and duplications. The cost of these 16 agencies exceeds $10 billion per year. And much of the information is not critically analyzed until a specific need arises. Many of these special intelligence operations were established by the George W. Bush Administration as ‘Anti-terrorism” efforts prior to 2008. When President Obama assumed office, a broad-brush orientation was provided which left out many of the details. As usual, the devil is, and was, in the details.

Now American’s foreign relationships are impacted by these eavesdropping and surveillance revelations. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quite upset that her cell phone conversations were captured by NSA’s surveillance. The information technology being used enables these agencies to monitor the cell phones of 35 national leaders who are all outraged! It recently came to light that this has been going on for some years without informing the Obama Administration! This is outrageous and totally unacceptable! Even a “secret federal court” had been set up to review surveillance proposals and issue ‘search warrants’. There soon must be an assessment and evaluation of all these surveillance efforts to establish current needs. And, more importantly, to establish required monitoring and transparency standards. Conservative and liberal members of the U.S. Congress must act in a bipartisan manner to establish appropriate limits to what is now going on without being monitored or guided by national security requirements.

According to Nicole A. Ozer, ACLU, there is an erosion of privacy which is enabled by information technology and its recent innovations. Both government agencies and corporations are able to collect ‘profile information’ which is useful in marketing and promotional efforts. The surveillance capabilities have out distanced the standards of lawful conduct. There is a great need to update all privacy regulations and laws pertaining thereto. All of these issues fall under the “Bill of Rights” 4th Amendment’s ‘Search and Seizure’ codes.

The 4th Amendment text is recorded as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Congresswoman Eshoo opined, “If we do not follow the law, what is the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’?” Corporations are able to collect scary amounts of personal data today from use of credit cards and phones. The Electronics Privacy Act of 1986 has become ineffective in its application to today’s IT sophistication. Privacy is protected by government’s inefficiency today. However, individuals such as former VP Dick Cheney, FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, and General Patreus were experts in accessing available information. Information and its use end up giving a person a powerful advantage. It helps one understand how a person would respond to situations.
Nicole A. Ozer, ACLU, asked, “What kind of society do Americans want to have?” It is possible that all sorts of activity and location data generated by one person is being captured automatically by sensors, transponders, and cameras, and is being stored in perpetuity. How far can we trust government to treat that personal information with appropriate consideration and respect? Up to now, we see that the ‘checks and balances’ are not being applied to the collection of information, much of which is private. The LAW, as it exists today, is our privacy policy. It must be updated soon!

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