In 2049, when the 100th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell political novel “1984” will be celebrated, it will be recalled that the immediate post September 11, 2001 period marked the beginning of a gradual decline in personal liberty and freedom, especially in the United States but also elsewhere, and the emergence of a great information-obsessed Leviathan. Freedom rarely disappears in one fell swoop. Its disappearance is rather the end result of a thousand encroachments.
Pushed to the extreme and without clear democratic oversight, it becomes the mark of a totalitarian state, when authorities feel that they never have enough information on the people. It is because information is power and state bureaucrats and politicians naturally like to be in control; on the one hand, releasing as little information about their own actions through an imposed secrecy, and on the other, accumulating as much information as possible about the citizens.
And today, modern governments have all the tools to transform their country into a creeping police state, more so now then ever before, in this electronic age. They have access to information technology that previous full-fledged “police state” governments could only have dreamed about.
Nowadays, with super computers and revolutionary new models to gather information and build databases, governments, i.e. bureaucrats and politicians, are in a position as never before to accumulate and correlate tremendous amounts of personal information on their citizens, from public (federal, state and local) as well as from a plethora of private sources. Government intelligence on each and every citizen is thus rendered much easier and, I would add, much more frightening. Indeed, the potential for abuse is enormous.
In 2002, for example, retired Vice Admiral John Poindexter proposed that the U.S. government create a tracking and monitoring system called “Total Information Awareness”, in order for the U.S. government to gather information in a preventive way about individuals from widely varied sources, including tax records, telephone calling records, credit card charges, banking transactions, airline or ship reservations, and various biometric databases, without taking into consideration civil liberties or a citizens’ right to privacy, the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974, or without having to request search warrants and without having to give prior notice to the persons involved. —The pretext was to allow the government to thwart possible terrorist activity, thus creating an unlimited appetite for information.
Well, there are clear signs that this massive data mining system on individuals is now solidly in place and is in full operation and can be expected to grow over time. George Orwell must be turning in his grave.
First, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s network of fusion centers, launched in 2003, has allowed the government to centralize a host of previously disparate information about Americans and foreigners alike, whether related to personal and business records, drivers licenses, local taxes, local infractions, police records, etc., through a host of coordinated information-sharing networks. (N.B.: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established on November 25, 2002 and is the domestic equivalent of the Department of Defense.)