You’re a Criminal in a Mass Surveillance World – How to Not Get Caught

Sometimes you just get lucky. I was in Amsterdam when the Snowden story broke. CNN was non-stop asking politicians and pundits, “Is Edward Snowden a traitor?” Those who said he betrayed America also said something else: Mass surveillance is only an issue if you’re a criminal. If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to fear. The Snowden story hit me upon my return from – of all places on earth – the Secret Annex of the Anne Frank House. The Secret Annex is where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years. It was during this period of hiding in terror that Anne wrote her world-famous diary. In it she confided, “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met.” I say I was lucky because the cosmic unlikeliness of my Secret Annex visit coinciding with Snowden’s mass surveillance revelations led to some revelations of my own. My understanding of law, criminality, and mass surveillance coalesced into a horrifying picture. It turns out we’re all criminals in a mass surveillance world. The only question is whether we’ll get caught. Let me explain. What Makes a Criminal? Merriam-Webster defines crime as “activity that is against the law.” Law is defined as a “set of rules made by the government.” Thus a criminal is someone who breaks government rules. The law as a whole is an ever-expanding collection of rules that politicians (“lawmakers”) decree and occasionally repeal. Laws are as moral as the politicians who make them. Simply put, laws are the rules politicians make up, and criminals are people who break them. It floored me to realize: Anne Frank was, in fact, a criminal. She was a fugitive of the law. We can express outrage at the designation since Anne did nothing wrong. And we can debate which rules of any particular regime are tolerable or repugnant. But our opinions don’t change the fact that “criminal” is a government-defined standard imposed on us, the governed. A law-abiding citizen was obligated to turn Anne into the police. To assist her was a crime. In America the Fugitive Slave Law obligated law-abiding citizens to turn in runaway slaves, and assisting them was punishable by 6 months in jail and a $28,000 fine (in today’s dollars). In early colonial America masturbation, blasphemy, and homosexuality were crimes punishable by death. Virtually any act you can think of has been criminalized by one regime or another. Being a law-abiding citizen only means you comply with whatever rules politicians have imposed on you. Throughout history we observe only a slight overlap between the endless supply of laws governments impose on people and the handful of acts we all agree are morally wrong: theft, assault, rape, murder. The American Crime Complex To understand why we’re criminals requires a basic overview of how law is created and enforced. Every law hatches a new crime with an associated punishment. A law is both an order and a threat, for if a law carries no threat of punishment, it’s not a law. It’s a suggestion. Politicians mince words by using different labels for their rules – laws, regulations, statutes, bills, acts, ordinances, et cetera – but they all fundamentally mean the same thing: Obey or be punished. Every year American politicians create thousands of new laws. They are incorporated into volumes consisting of hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese. The laws are grouped into “codes” such as the CFR, USC, IRS Code, and codes for every state. These codes, along with the Constitution, executive orders, ratified treaties, county and city ordinances, and rulings from district courts to the Supreme Court comprise U.S. law as a whole. Although the law is incomprehensible to the governed, ignorance of the law is not a defense when you’re prosecuted by the government. Suspicion of committing even the most trivial crime subjects you to arrest at the discretion of a law enforcement officer. The Supreme Court has ruled that it’s legal to arrest people for crimes such as driving without a seatbelt or having unpaid parking tickets. Arrest can result in imprisonment for months or years without ever being convicted of a crime. In America the punishments for not obeying politicians’ rules may include monetary fines, property confiscation, imprisonment (including de facto rape and torture), and execution. The application of these punishments is wildly inconsistent and often horrifically arbitrary. The minimum sentence for first degree murder in Illinois is 20 years, but in Indiana it’s 45 years. Compare 20 years for murder with 15 years for having sex on a beach. Or 5 years for stabbing a man to death. Or 5 days (yes, days) for raping a 14-year old girl. Victimless crimes often carry far harsher sentences than raping and killing people, such as 25 years for selling painkillers to a friend. The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that it’s legal for prosecutors to threaten you with catastrophic punishment – even life imprisonment – for a minor crime if you don’t forfeit your right to a jury trial. (In the landmark case prosecutors secured a life sentence for forging an $88 check because the defendant refused a plea bargain.) Because prosecutors wield such enormous power, almost everyone takes a plea bargain. Getting your day in court is a myth perpetuated in TV shows and movies. Innocent people often agree to plead guilty and suffer the punishment rather than risk having their lives destroyed. The system is rigged against you, and your chance of conviction at trial is around 90%. This government prosecutor explains to new prosecutors that the goal of jury selection is to pick people who “are as unfair and more likely to convict than anybody else in that room.” Given this set of facts, it’s no surprise that millions of Americans today are caged and millions more are on probation or parole. The “land of the free” is the most imprisoned nation in the world on both a total and per capita basis. The prison-industrial complex is booming. The Secret Annex Back to our heroic criminal, Anne. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933. Otto started a successful spice and pectin business. In 1942 the family went into hiding from the Nazis in the rear section of Otto’s building. Anne called it the Secret Annex. It’s a cramped, makeshift living quarters whose hidden entry is masked by a swinging bookcase. The feeling was overwhelming as I slunk through the space: I am disgusted by my species. This little girl and her family spent two years living with a noose around their necks knowing the floor could drop out at any time. Then one day it did. An informant tipped off the police. They were arrested and sent to death camps, which were described as “labor camps” to its victims. “Work will set you free” it said above the gate at Auschwitz. The Franks were healthy enough to be put to work rather than gassed straight away. Are you female? Imagine yourself as a 15-year old being stripped naked by guards, having your head shaved, getting tattooed with a serial number, and then being forced into non-stop hard labor. Take a moment and imagine having a daughter who suffered this fate. We’re members of a species that does this. Not as an act of spontaneous insanity, but deliberately and methodically. Let us remember: It was legal. Only Anne’s father Otto survived. His wife and two daughters perished despite the substantial measures he had taken to avoid this horrific fate. They left Germany early on, and he even put his business in a gentile’s name to stay out of government filings. As things got worse, he applied for visas to bring his family to America or Cuba, but they were rejected. How did his family end up trapped in Amsterdam? Laws. Miep A heroic woman named Miep Gies rescued Anne’s diary before the police confiscated everything in the Annex. Miep returned the diary to Otto after the war ended. She was one of six souls who risked their lives as outlaws in order to keep them in hiding. Miep not only rescued Anne’s diary. She never read it out of respect for Anne’s privacy. When Otto published it, Miep said if she’d read it she would have felt obligated to destroy it since it was filled with damning information, including her name and all the others who helped the family survive, including an (illegal) underground supply network. The dramatic irony of Miep not reading Anne’s diary made me cry. Here is an act of human decency which epitomizes everything government is not. Miep not only risked everything trying to keep these people alive. She not only saved Anne’s diary, one of the world’s most powerful pieces of literature. She not only didn’t read it despite its owner getting shipped off to a death camp. After the Franks were arrested, Miep went to the police station and offered the arresting officer a bribe for their release. As fearless as that was, it didn’t work. She escaped punishment because the officer had a soft spot for her being from his home town, Vienna. If it’s possible to love a dead woman you’ve never laid eyes on, I do. Miep, thank you for showing people that human decency springs from following our conscience, not the law. Millions blindly follow orders. The bravest heroes in this world are law-breakers. A Single Piece of Data Walking from Anne’s Secret Annex into CNN’s nothing-to-hide mass surveillance chorus provided a rare moment of clarity in my life. Her father’s disclosure a decade earlier of a single piece of data, their religion, destroyed his family. The disclosure was a legal requirement to be issued a passport. To apologists of mass surveillance, what did Anne Frank have to hide? I ask because the person credited with popularizing the nothing-to-hide argument is none other than Joseph Goebbles, Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda for the Third Reich. (Back then the word propaganda didn’t have a negative connotation. It meant public relations.) After examining the Frank family passports in the Secret Annex, it later struck me how much more information is extracted by the US census and annual American Community Survey. Where were you born? Are you “Black, African Am., or Negro?” Are you Pakistani? Latino? Are you unemployed? What is your profession? How much money do you make? Do you own or rent? How much do you spend on utilities? Who lives with you? Do you have children? How well do you speak English? Do you speak another language at home? What is your marriage status? Have you been divorced? Where did you go to school? Have you been employed by the U.S. military? Which wars did you fight in? And on it goes… All information explained away as needed to hand out “government benefits.” Collect.It.All. Minister Goebbels would have wrung his hands with delight at having this depth of data on his regime’s citizens. But this data is absolutely trivial compared to what the U.S. government actually knows about you. Thanks to William Binney and Edward Snowden, we know that the U.S. regime has for many years been secretly constructing the means to monitor and record every aspect of our lives. Snowden put it in terms everyone can understand: “Even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded.” Thankfully we don’t have to take Snowden’s word for it. The government’s agenda was laid bare in this secret NSA slide from 2011: Sniff It All – Know It All – Collect It All – Process It All – Exploit It All. Share It All is in reference to swapping surveillance data with New Zealand, Canada, Britain, and Australia – the so-called Five Eyes who are de facto military protectorates of the United States. Turnkey Tyranny Snowden nailed the Collect-It-All endgame in a single phrase. “Turnkey tyranny.” As is the case with most propaganda, the NSA reveals its intentions in a cloak of misdirection. The cloak here is security. “National security” isn’t about your own personal security, as comforting as it would be to believe. It’s about the security of the government, no matter what the government is today or becomes in the future. In fact every time you see or hear the word national, just think government. When politicians beat the national security drum, they’re referring to regime security, not yours. (You’re more likely to die falling out of bed.) The NSA is in essence the Government Security Agency. The national anthem is the government anthem. When you pledge allegiance to the flag, you’re vowing to serve the government, not family, friends, neighbors, or customers. The government’s motives are reflected in its symbols. Here’s a sampling: The NSA bird holds a key to unlock everything that is not public – in other words, what is private is the government’s business. Know It All. Collect It All. Exploit It All. The Earth-sucking octopus represents one of a fleet of NROL surveillance satellites. Total Information Awareness is a program set up years ago that had the same agenda as the dystopian film Minority Report: arrest people before they commit a crime. The sinister inspiration for the Total Information Awareness logo is echoed on the one dollar bill, which features the all-seeing eye of God. Understanding the motives helps us see every justification of mass surveillance for what it really is – a veiled threat: If they don’t do it, terrorists will kill you. Terrorism, the mortal danger to civilization which kills fewer people than autoerotic asphyxiation, bathtub falls, toddlers, and lightning. A Noose Around Our Necks Mass surveillance equals perpetual uncertainty. No matter how honest and benevolent you consider the current American government, no one knows what laws a future regime will impose. Otto Frank never would have disclosed his family’s religion had he known it would lead to the murder of his loved ones a decade later. His family would have fled Germany and attempted to illegally immigrate elsewhere, as millions have done throughout history. Living under mass surveillance is living with a noose around your neck. You can’t know what circumstances will cause you to hang. History is loaded with never-saw-that-coming catastrophes. The 20th century alone is an inconceivable horror – 262 million corpses engulfed in various government wars and genocides. That’s equivalent to every single adult living in America today suddenly perishing. All the nightmare regimes of the past that kids study in school predate the era of computerized mass surveillance. The ability to lock down people’s lives instantly… to track them, analyze them, trap them, financially paralyze them, impersonate them, frame them, and apprehend them is unprecedented. Governments always seek to control the governed, but mass surveillance is the most powerful weapon of control ever devised. Because of its novelty, invisibility, and deep complexity, many people can’t comprehend its implications and therefore don’t defend against it. Why You’re a Criminal We unknowingly commit crimes, including felonies, in our day to day lives. The fact that we haven’t been caught is a matter of detection – namely, surveillance. As mass surveillance expands, the government’s crime detection capabilities increase exponentially. “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.” This warning is from John Baker, a retired law professor who tried in vain to count new federal crimes created in just the past few years. The same message comes from attorney Harvey Silverglate in his book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. Because politicians have made us criminals, what the government knows about you can cost you your freedom. Understanding that is so important that you shouldn’t take anybody’s word for it. See for yourself. Into the Abyss Most federal law is aggregated into the United States Code (USC) and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Let’s start with the CFR. Go here, select a year from the menu, and click Go. A list of 50 Titles will appear. Click on the Text link for any Title and start reading. You’ll see that some Titles have several volumes. For example, here’s Volume 1 of the 2014 Banks & Banking code, the first of ten volumes for that year alone. If you’re anything like me, after a few minutes your brain will attempt to revolt. Push on and do your best to even vaguely understand what Congress – the lawmakers – demand of Americans. You’re up against literally hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese. Much may not apply to anything you’re currently doing in your life, but finding out what applies to you now and has applied to you in the past is, quite literally, impossible. And with thousands of new rules being created every year, you won’t know when you break new laws in the future either. Need a breather? Have a laugh with me at the sinister humor of the CFR web site’s slogan: “Keeping America Informed.” How many Americans have even heard of the CFR, much less read a single sentence of its laws? What could possibly better illustrate the essence of propaganda double-talk than this slogan? When you tap out on the CFR, give the USC a browse. But wait, there’s more. Thousands of pages more. The IRS Code is, shockingly, 74,000 pages. When the IRS decides you’ve done something wrong, you are presumed guilty unless you manage to prove yourself innocent. Anyone who’s dealt with the IRS knows that the process is its own punishment. Now that tax forms are filed electronically, artificial intelligence and data mining increase the power to detect non-compliance exponentially. You’ve seen it first-hand: The law is truly unknowable to the governed. Being a law-abiding citizen is a myth. Of course this is just federal law. Any adult can be prosecuted for a federal crime, but what about state crimes? State law is another incomprehensible morass – tens of thousands of pages of legalese per state. Cross an invisible line and the same act may no longer be a crime – or it may have twice the penalty. Wade into California’s legal code for a sample, or look up your own state and see for yourself. The abyss goes even deeper. There are thousands of county and municipal laws too. Catch-22 This demonstration wasn’t meant to depress you. Truth just sucks sometimes. In this case ignorance is anything but bliss. Every single day ignorance of the law costs people their savings and their freedom. And here’s the awful Catch-22: Ignorance of the law is no defense, even though it’s literally impossible to comprehend what the government demands from us. Good people everywhere have been turned into peaceful outlaws by politicians. We live our lives trapped in a ubiquitous but invisible scaffolding of rules. There is literally no aspect of our lives not subject to politicians’ orders. Everything that’s not forbidden requires government permission. What kind of society is this? Crime Detection Is the Killer App As criminals we already have a noose around our necks. Crime detection is the terrorizing question that hangs over us. That millions of Americans are behind bars makes one thing clear: The government is zealous about enforcement. New prisons are being built every day. Prosecution isn’t a constraint either since only a handful of cases see a trial. Crime detection is law enforcement’s biggest bottleneck, and that’s where Collect-It-All surveillance changes everything. Police already track you by wide-area surveillance, thousands of networked street-level cameras, auto-scanning license plates, drones, and spy planes, but that is primitive compared to what’s coming. Computerized face recognition is already extremely accurate and fast. You can be matched against a nationwide database instantly. This technology will be integrated with the body cameras police now wear. You will be cataloged and tracked by your Universal Control Number (UCN). Yes, that’s really what it’s called. A friend of mine is an Auschwitz survivor. You can still read the “control number” tattooed on his arm. Military contractor Lockheed Martin has for years been designing biometric surveillance systems to track us by our hand prints, face, voice, and walking gait. Their use for crime detection is unlimited. Anything that can be electronically measured can be the basis for automated crime detection. For example fingerprints can now reveal drug use. Going forward mass surveillance will be combined with robotics to create law enforcers who will automatically scan and crime check you. The military-industrial complex is leading robotics development. As with bug-sized drones and MRAPs, the technology and equipment will cross-pollinate with domestic law enforcement. Hopefully this glimpse of what’s coming makes it clear. Mass surveillance isn’t about having nothing to hide. It’s about hiding whatever we can. Mass Surveillance Cheerleaders The highest profile shills for mass surveillance are the usual suspects: politicians and mega-corporation execs who have the most to gain. Former U.S. Senate majority leader Trent Lott: “What are people worried about? What is the problem? Are you doing something you’re not supposed to?” Google chief hypocrite Eric Schmidt defines privacy as an excuse to hide wrongdoing: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Google employs many brilliant people who no doubt mean well, but the simple truth is this: Google’s business is, literally, mass surveillance. Google is a major contractor to the US government, including the NSA, as well as several military contractors. Snowden revealed the NSA has direct access to Google’s servers. Google’s vast offering of services equals the world’s biggest surveillance roach motel. There’s a reason the room and board are free. You’re the product, not the customer. The Death Star Is in Utah Mass surveillance is not only Collect-It-All recording of your life. The totalitarian power of mass surveillance comes into focus when one sees how years of data can be summoned in the future for purposes you can’t predict. Five or ten years from now your surveillance records could be used as the basis for advanced interrogation, criminal prosecution, bail-ins, property confiscation, blackmail, stalking, humiliation, horrific medical procedures, internment camp, deportation, and yes, even execution. None of these is without historical precedent. The technology enabling Collect-It-All surveillance perhaps seems vague since we don’t have any practical reference for what it takes to implement. Here’s a glimpse. Snowden’s revelation of the Collect-It-All blueprint was the prelude to the completion of a 1.5 million square foot complex called the Utah Data Center. The original name of the complex – Massive Data Repository – is more ominously instructive. Imagine a stadium-sized complex filled with the world’s fastest super computers and endless racks of digital storage space so vast that you literally can’t comprehend how much information can be stored. The power and cooling required for the complex is staggering. It consumes 1.7 million gallons of water daily to operate. This is the mass surveillance equivalent of the Death Star. Last year it went fully operational. Consider this in light of Anne Frank. In the pre-digital time of the Nazis, they had a miniscule quantity of information about the Frank family compared to what would be known today. And the little information they had was stuffed in filing cabinets. The difference between filing cabinets and the space-age technology of the Utah Data Center is almost impossible to describe. In terms of speed, it’s like comparing a tricycle with a supersonic jet. In terms of search power, it’s like a magnifying glass versus the Hubble telescope. In terms of data storage, it’s like a hot tub versus Lake Michigan. And yet, it’s worse. Weaponized Data Mining There simply is no comparison to be made in the pre-digital era when it comes to data mining – using the power of computers to find patterns across vast quantities of data. The Utah Data Center is weaponized data mining. Collect-It-All surveillance means that if the government wants to target you, it can comb back through years of your life in minute detail. As we’ll see shortly, coming up with a crime in order to prosecute you is easy. There are so many laws in existence today that legal experts agree that anybody can be prosecuted for crimes they aren’t aware they’ve committed. Even if you didn’t commit the crime you’re being prosecuted for, mass surveillance guarantees that innocents will be targeted because data mining can’t tell whether a pattern is intentional or coincidental. Say there’s an enemy of the government being tracked by the feds. You coincidentally are on the same flight sitting next to him, use the same car service, stay in an adjacent room at the same hotel, eat at the same restaurant, and then take the same flight the next day to another city. Now you too are a target. If you happen to also be Muslim (1% of the U.S. population), good luck. U.S. law is clear on what might happen next. Perhaps men show up and interrogate you. Or they secretly tear apart your life down to the smallest detail looking for any charge to pin on you. Maybe they destroy your reputation and monitor how you respond. Or maybe you get disappeared. Under the NDAA, American citizens can legally be kidnapped, imprisoned in secret without charges or access to a lawyer (indefinite detention), and subjected to torture programs developed by doctors. The Torture Triumvirate To design the US government’s torture program taxpayers paid over $81 million to Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen and another $31 million to Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman is a man who achieved fame by repeatedly shocking dogs until they completely gave up trying to avoid the shock, even when presented with the opportunity to do so. This state of hopeless surrender is what he coined “learned helplessness.” These three were not paid $112 million to suggest sleep deprivation or waterboarding (both of which have been used for centuries.) The public has no clue what the real torture program is. But given the government’s history of using drugs to torment people, I suspect drugs are the holy grail of modern torture as they break no bones and leave no scars. Imagine being inflicted with a drug-induced migraine and then getting locked in a cell with blasting heavy metal and flashing strobe lights. What would you say to make it stop? Centuries ago you’d confess to being a witch. Death From the Sky? Legal. If being kidnapped, caged and tortured without trial isn’t sufficient for the government’s purposes, the president also claims legal authority to summarily execute US citizens. Four Americans, including a 16-year old boy, have already been executed by drone strike – no charges levied, no trials, no evidence presented, no opportunity for defense. Just sudden death from the sky. If you think “kill lists” are only about Muslims and therefore don’t affect you, count yourself among Germans in the early years of the Nazi regime who said these laws are unfortunate but only affect a few Jews. By the time the general public felt things were really getting out of hand, to speak out was to risk your own life. So let me repeat: The government has granted itself legal authority to summarily execute American citizens. Just because you’re not a target, don’t delude yourself. This is turnkey tyranny. The data mining power of the Utah Data Center will find all sorts of extremely unlikely coincidences which will be used to cage or kill innocent people. The old way to do that was to torture people into making false confessions, frame them with planted evidence, or convict them based on faked forensic science. Even supposedly ironclad one-in-a-million DNA evidence has been exposed as unreliable. With weaponized data mining, no fabrication will be required to put innocent people away. Much like the IRS process of finding you guilty unless you can prove your innocence, you’ll be in the crosshairs trying to explain an extraordinarily unlikely coincidence. A one-in-a-million coincidence is common when the world’s fastest supercomputers are searching for patterns among quadrillions (that’s thousands of trillions) of pieces of data. Trying to establish your innocence will be like trying to prove a negative. Mass surveillance is ushering in a brave new world of crime detection. The vast majority of crimes in the past have gone undetected. A Collect-It-All mass surveillance apparatus is an all-seeing eye which untethers crime detection from manpower constraints. Law Is Codified Hypocrisy My definition of a bad guy is a person who purposely harms or threatens to harm others or their property. I used to think of crime as the stuff that bad guys do. Bad guys are criminals, and criminals are bad guys. Makes sense, right? After all murder is a crime. Theft is a crime. Assault is a crime. Cartoons, TV shows, and movies I’ve seen from childhood have reinforced the only-bad-guys-do-crime message. And my teachers were explicit: Good people obey the law. Be a law-abiding citizen. Yet millions of Americans who are not bad guys have criminal records. Victimless crime accounts for an estimated 86% of the federal prison population. My day in the Secret Annex taught me that it’s a trap to equate crime with morality. While I think it’s always preferable not to harm people or their property, neither my nor your preferences should be conflated with laws. That’s because most laws have nothing to do with actually harming others or or their property. Sure there are plenty of bad guys who are criminals, but there are also millions of Americans who have been convicted of victimless crimes. They simply broke a politician’s rule, often unknowingly. Meanwhile many bad guys aren’t criminals because the law doesn’t apply to them. Every day peaceful people and their property are harmed by government employees acting in a fully legal capacity. That’s because those who govern us are permitted to do the very things the governed are forbidden from doing. If you are carrying out government orders: Legally maiming and killing thousands of people who haven’t harmed anyone isn’t mass murder. It’s collateral damage. Legally caging a person for consuming something the government doesn’t approve of isn’t kidnapping. It’s corrections. Legally siphoning all the money out of someone’s account isn’t theft. It’s civil asset forfeiture. Legally blockading a country from receiving desperately needed goods and services isn’t economic warfare. It’s foreign policy. (Don’t forget, the dead children are collateral damage.) Legally using insider information to rack up stock market profits isn’t insider trading. It’s Congressional investing. Legally transferring hundreds of billions to Federal Reserve banking cartel cronies isn’t fascist economics. It’s quantitative easing. Legally forcing interest rates to zero so that savers lose purchasing power and banks clean up isn’t price fixing. It’s monetary policy. Legally spending trillions to create the most militarized society in history isn’t totalitarian insanity. It’s defense. Legally demanding your money under threat of imprisonment to pay for all these things isn’t extortion. It’s taxation. What is criminal for the governed is legal for the government. (If you’re a government employee or contractor, thank you for being open-minded enough to read this. When one’s salary depends on believing something, considering other perspectives is as difficult as it is rare.) I’ve focused on the U.S. government because that’s what I know, and it tends to do these things on a broader scale than other regimes. But every regime follows the same pattern of outlawing the very same behavior it exhibits. Some just do it more aggressively than others. Generally the larger the regime, the greater the victimization of the governed. Even when a law applies both to the government and the governed, it’s not enforced equally. Martha Stewart went to prison for lying about a stock trade, and Marion Jones went to prison for lying about using steroids. But General James Clapper, czar of the government’s mass surveillance complex, wasn’t even prosecuted for the felony of lying under oath to Congress about mass surveillance. General David Petraeus walked free despite lying to FBI investigators and leaking top-secret information. Members of the government’s Federal Reserve bankster cartel were exempted from punishment for committing multiple felonies. What enables this codified, self-perpetuating hypocrisy? The institution of government is defined by its monopoly on both the creation and enforcement of law. This means the government can do whatever it wants, from double parking to mass slaughter with essentially no repercussions other than “regime change” through elections. Who in their right mind believes this is a good way for society to operate? If there were ever a monopoly to break up, it’s the one government protects with all its might. Learned Helplessness As pieces of the picture came together for me, I felt depressed and wanted to throw my arms up and say, “Forget it. There’s nothing I can do to change any of this.” Then it hit me: “There’s nothing I can do” are the magic words every power-hungry person longs to hear. Learned helplessness – the conviction that you are powerless to change whatever’s being done to you. Those who watch Game of Thrones know the show has much to teach about those who seek power. The pitiful character Reek is the personification of learned helplessness. Even with a razor at his barbaric captor’s throat, he is incapable of doing anything but obeying. When his sister risks her life to rescue him, he clings to his cage and refuses to go. That’s the essence of learned helplessness. The Greatest Weapon of Oppression in the History of Man Every regime uses physical violence to force compliance with its rules, but physically breaking people who resist takes considerable effort, resources, and manpower. Mass surveillance gives those who seek control a vastly more powerful, far-reaching weapon. This article was inspired by Ed Snowden’s own words to Laura Poitras in Citizenfour. He warns her that the government’s Collect-It-All mass surveillance apparatus is “the greatest weapon of oppression in the history of man.” It’s a War of Terror that’s being waged on us. In a mass surveillance world where the law is unknowable, we live our lives wondering what crimes we’re committing and when we’ll be detected and prosecuted. This has a chilling effect on how we live. We censor ourselves to suppress the underlying anxiety of knowing we’re criminals who are being watched and recorded. The end-game of mass surveillance is self-imposed subjugation. Threats and cages are no longer required because people believe resistance is hopeless. When we know we’re being monitored by those who have the power to beat, cage, and kill us, we imprison ourselves in our own fear. I refuse to live that way. I hope you do too. When people self-censor out of fear, they erect their own walls, saving government the effort. The governed avoid inquiry into controversial issues. They censor what they read at the library. They censor the web sites they visit. They censor their browser search terms. They censor what they write in emails and texts. Free thought and inquiry into the most important matters get suffocated as we live under perpetual anxiety about whether what we do is acceptable to those who govern us. Fear leaks into our consciousness like black ink. I recently joked with a friend that he’s addicted to Coke, and he nervously wrote back clarifying “to anyone else reading” that it was Coca-Cola. People censor what they say on the phone, on Skype, on Google Hangouts. Surveillance software automatically transcribes your words into text. Your conversations become instantly searchable and trigger key word alerts. (If you’re thinking of organizing or attending a police brutality protest, know that a trigger word list leaked years ago includes the terms cops, police, authorities, and law enforcement amongst hundreds of others. Furthermore, these events are tracked by the government.) People censor what they share with friends on social networks. They increasingly limit posts to selfies, photos of food, and opinions about approved topics like sports and movies, rather than information or opinions that can land them on a terror suspect list. They shy away from protesting and see the often brutal treatment of those who do. They hear about domestic black sites. Signing a petition opposing a government program is like handing the government a suspect list. People come to know that political affiliations can make you an IRS target or trigger a home invasion. They read that withdrawing cash from a bank account is cause for criminal investigation. Yet if they don’t put cash in the bank, they risk outright confiscation as has happened over and over. They see the persecution of whistleblowers and the crushing of business owners who won’t compromise their customers’ security. Innocent people end up on terrorist watch lists. They see the mainstream media’s bipolar twitching between terror-mongering and titillating celebrity scandals. This all brings on a chilling sea change in our daily lives. The message becomes unmistakable. The government is off-limits to meaningful criticism or resistance to whatever it dictates. Authority as a Conditioned Response Obeying authority is what we’re taught to do from childhood. You don’t want trouble, do you? Then don’t complain. Follow the rules. Abide by the law. We’re raised to follow orders and pledge allegiance to authority. We are conditioned to comply. Chain of command is a principle which pervades our society, not just the military. The apex of command is of course the head of the government, the Commander-in-Chief. What comic irony to call this individual “leader of the free world.” What’s the upshot of our perpetual compliance conditioning? “Just following orders” and “Just doing my job” routinely precede the most atrocious acts perpetrated against other human beings. What about those with enough self-awareness and independence of thought to see the pattern at work? The realization that mass surveillance makes you a perpetual suspect and non-compliance with any government rule makes you a criminal silences meaningful opposition. It doesn’t take many horror stories to roll a fog of fear over an entire population. Especially when people know they’re being continually watched and recorded. Learned helplessness will get you if you don’t brace yourself and think clearly. You can’t change the system, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. You don’t have to be a victim. We as individuals can take simple steps to impede the government’s dragnet recording of our lives. We can encrypt our calls, our texts, our emails, our phones, our computers. We can show our friends and family how to do the same. It’s really just a matter of quiet resolve. Most people like to read articles that confirm what they already believe. But beyond venting to friends, people are generally too lazy to take action unless they feel immediate danger. Here’s where we must differentiate mass surveillance from every other threat. Mass surveillance is a silent, invisible war being waged against us. The only time you’ll actually feel immediate danger is when it’s too late. The Action Mindset Are you in an action mindset yet? If not, here’s my last loving nudge. I’m begging you – seriously, I truly am begging you – to overcome inertia and take action. If nothing else has convinced you, then do it to keep government employees from oogling your genitals. Or if you think government isn’t and never will be a threat to your well-being, then do it to protect against identity theft, fraud, blackmail and doxing by free agent bad guys. People don’t understand just how much risk they’re taking by not securing their computer and smart phone. Your life can be ruined. If you’ve already secured yourself, please encourage others and help friends and family. This site has aggregated almost a quarter billion accounts which have been breached (aka “pwned”). Many more accounts than that have been compromised, so if you check to see if you’re on the list and come up clean, be aware that it’s no guarantee you’re secure. If you’re a parent with kids using computers, you need to know how to protect them. Kids are curious, and the more dangerous, forbidden or risky the topic, the more inquisitive they tend to be. What if your son comes home from chemistry class and wonders, just for the sake of curiosity, how to make a bomb? What if he’s watching Breaking Bad and starts browsing around wondering how Walter White made meth? What if a friend comes over and as a prank searches for how to join ISIS? Are these the sorts of things kids might do? Of course. And it can turn your entire family into a target, including getting your home raided by men with automatic weapons who will shoot your dogs and take your computers, phones, and papers. Implement the enclosed anti-surveillance guide to protect your kids from getting your family in a world of trouble. It’s All You No matter what it is that motivates you to take action, the important thing is that you follow through. The best thing about the government’s bald-face lying about mass surveillance is it dispelled any notion that it will be “reformed” (whatever that means). A few months before the Snowden revelations broke, James Clapper, czar of all U.S. intelligence agencies, replied under oath to this question (which he received a day in advance of his testimony): Richard Nixon, after secretly bombing Cambodia (which brought the genocidal Khmer Rouge to power), persisted in lying to the public about it. As he told his aides, “Publicly, we say one thing. Actually, we do another.” True to form, shortly after Snowden came forward Obama was in full-on denial mode. The lie below was from his appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Literally nothing the government says about mass surveillance is credible. Every public relations gambit to make it look like “something is being done” is aimed at deterring us from taking responsibility and acting for ourselves. Don’t be fooled by political theater. It is nothing but two-faced gamesmanship. Update: The horrific warantless surveillance bill known as CISA has just been slipped into the omnibus $1.1 trillion spending bill and is now law. Mass surveillance programs are built in secret and they operate in secret. Remember that what little we know is due to an act of treason (as defined by the government of course). And it’s only the NSA we know something about since that’s what Snowden had access to. The CIA, FBI, DEA, DHS, INR, DIA, NGA, NRO and other agencies have their own surveillance programs. Even the IRS has joined the spy brigade. Any NSA policy change will be publicly heralded by politicians as a great victory while other programs silently spring up or continue operating under different code names or different agencies. As with mass surveillance obliterating the 4th Amendment, all Constitutional violations are not only predictable, they’re inevitable. Trusting the government is like trusting pit bulls to guard a pile of pork chops. Thankfully Edward Snowden gave us the guidance we need. Snowden’s Inspiration Snowden’s most important insight is not that we’re being recorded in a Collect-It-All panopticon. It’s that we – as individuals – have the power to free ourselves from the surveillance noose: “We have the means and we have the technology to end mass surveillance without any legislative action at all, without any policy changes.” We have the power, but only if we exercise it. What does that amount to in practical terms? Being willing to use some free software. After a couple hours you’ll have taken action that can literally save you from the worst kind of trouble, including criminal prosecution, blackmail, and kidnapping. You may even save your life. Same goes for any friend or family member you can persuade to take action. And you’ll sleep better knowing you’re no longer enabling mass surveillance. Some might object and say that taking defensive action is an unnecessary act of paranoia or ‘Murica hating. Those people may just be doing their job. Others may be fact-resistant humans. Fear of real risks is not paranoia. It’s motivation. Only the most fact-resistant among us would deny that there are individuals and extraordinarily powerful institutions who are actually out to get you one way or another. Most people prefer to feel rather than think. I know I’d feel much better pretending all this is much ado about nothing. Even if you’re not the fact-resistant type, the temptation to abdicate responsibility and hope politicians will “fix the system” is as tempting as it is delusional. The system we live under was built by people who want it to work this way. To those in control, it’s not broken. It may not work for you, but it works for them. And you work for them. The only hope we have for change is to do it ourselves. The U.S. regime is the alpha dog of mass surveillance, mass incarceration, and mass media propaganda. But all governments aspire toward ever greater control over their populations. China, Russia, England, all of them. The bigger the government, the more they squeeze. It’s just a matter of money, manpower, time, and technology. Smaller countries are often laughably ham-fisted in their approach, like making it a crime to insult politicians. Big-Ass Disclaimer Perfect security does not exist in digital or physical life. A house has a continuum of steps you can take to secure it, but it will never be secure from a determined adversary. A lock on your door is better than nothing, but most locks can be defeated in seconds by people who are trained. Even if you have great locks, what about the door itself? Can it be kicked in? What about your windows? Anybody can break a window. Alarms are useful, but they have several vulnerabilities. Plus they don’t actually keep people out of your home. (By the way, your home is now see-through to the government thanks to radiation blasts from mobile X-ray vans.) Just as perfect home security is impossible, there’s no such thing as perfect digital security. No matter how many precautions you take, there are too many “known unknowns” you can’t protect against. Software like your operating system, drivers, and web browser have faults which get exploited. Some of those faults are honest human error, and some are purposely engineered to weaken your security. Those who pretend to protect you are leading the charge to purposely undermine the security of products we rely on in order to track everything we do online. Now that the Internet is regulated – meaning, controlled – by the government like a utility, things will only get worse. The very hardware you use – computer chips, routers, hard drives – also have exploits which you can do nothing about. The CEO of Intel refused to answer, with good reason, a question about whether Intel places “backdoors” in its chips. The biggest tech companies in the world are American, and they must comply with orders in the name of national security while being gagged from disclosing said orders. Bottom line: America’s tech giants are surveillance proxies for the government. The government is also typically their biggest customer. This is the essence of the military-industrial complex. We almost never hear about it because to say something is a death wish, but corporations also employ NOCs (non-official covers) who carry out government directives. Modern computers have become so complex it’s practically impossible to know everything that’s happening “under the hood.” Even TVs can record you, translate your speech to text, and beam it to third parties. Computer chips the size of a dime and cheaper than a Big Mac can do all that and more. Really just about any electronics device in range of a wifi signal can be reconfigured into a surveillance device. That includes seemingly innocuous things, like a keyboard or USB thumb drive. I’m not trying to dishearten you. It’s better to see things as they really are than to be ignorant of real risks. The truth is we’re being attacked from all sides. The only shining light in all this is the free and open source software (FOSS) movement. Open source means publishing a program’s source code online so that anybody can inspect it, audit it, compile it, and test it. The complete transparency of FOSS stands as our best safeguard against purposeful sabotage of our security. Our Goal The way most people use computers and smart phones is equivalent to leaving your doors and windows wide open with a neon COME ON IN! sign blinking in the front yard. We’re going to close the doors and windows, install curtains and quality locks, and toss the sign in the dumpster. But know that if you’re ever individually targeted by the government as a person of interest (for example a journalist or whistleblower), pretty much everything you do on a computer or phone likely will be in the regime’s hands unless you have extremely specialized skills like Ed Snowden. As he said, “If there is a warrant against you, if the NSA is after you, they are still going to get you.” If you think you may have been individually targeted, run Detekt as a first step to check for malicious software commonly used against journalists and activists. The goal of this guide is not anonymity. Anonymity is not possible because it requires control of many factors that are simply beyond our control. Our goal – Snowden’s plea to us all – is to stop the dragnet collect-it-all recording of our lives. As peaceful outlaws living in a mass surveillance world, the most effective act of self-preservation we can take is to render the greatest weapon of oppression inoperable. If you don’t act, there will have been no real point in reading this. You’ll probably sleep less soundly, and mass surveillance will continue metastasizing. The reality is that to not take action is to enable mass surveillance. And remain highly vulnerable to hackers, stalkers, and fraudsters – threats which seem hypothetical until you get humiliated, blackmailed, stalked, or ruined. ANTI-SURVEILLANCE GUIDE The following guide is 10 basic steps which involve using free software. It’s followed by a list of essential security practices. The guide is intended to be a “minimum effective dose” of security against hackers, fraudsters and mass surveillance. It may seem like a lot, but if anything I went light because I don’t want people to get overwhelmed and do nothing. This is an incremental process. If one of these steps is too difficult or intimidating, don’t bail on everything else. Every step substantially decreases your risk exposure, so don’t feel as though you need to treat the following guide as all-or-nothing. Good security is a habit more than anything. What may initially seem like an inconvenience will eventually not even be noticed, just like locking the door to your home. Suggestions for improvements and updates are welcome and appreciated. STEP 1 – CLEAN AND PREP Why: There’s a good chance your computer is already infected with malicious software (malware). Unfortunately malware attacks are a never-ending plague. You can’t spend time online and not be at risk of infection. This includes viruses, keyloggers (which secretly record everything you type, like GROK or Magic Lantern) and various other programs that track you and send your private information to bad guys. There are thousands and thousands of malware programs out there with new ones being launched daily. It’s not just hackers, fraudsters, or governments who create and spread malware. Huge companies that you’d think would be fiercely protective of their reputation, like Sony, will infect you. Lenovo, the world’s largest personal computer vendor, is under fire for selling 43 models with pre-installed malware which dramatically undermines your computer’s security. This site shows if you’re infected. If you are, here’s how to fix it. ***For Apple desktops and laptops only*** Install and run the following programs: CCleaner – Download the free version. After you’ve run a scan and fixed any problems it finds, close it and then move onto the next program. I suggest running CCleaner once per month. Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition – This program is free. Install and run a scan to make sure you’re clean. Macs are much less virus prone than Windows PCs, but infections are still possible. I recommend this program because phishing attacks keep getting more and more sophisticated, and it’s pretty easy these days to be tricked into clicking malicious web site links and opening malicious files. If you already have another anti-virus program installed, update and run it instead. That said, if you use AVG, it’s preferable to uninstall and switch to Sophos since AVG changed its privacy policy in order to collect user data to sell to advertisers. ***For Windows PCs and laptops only*** First, let’s make sure your copy of Windows is up to date. Microsoft is constantly releasing security patches to fix security vulnerabilities, and your computer should be set to automatically install important updates. If you don’t know how to check if important updates have been installed, see this if you’re running Windows 7 and this if you’re running Windows 8. Windows 10 installs updates automatically. But Windows 10 users, BEWARE! Windows 10 is a surveillance nightmare by default. It tracks just about everything you do. To quote their end-user license agreement: “We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.” Good faith? Microsoft is an NSA contractor, and its biggest customer is the U.S. government. Be sure to change these Windows 10 settings to reduce Microsoft’s surveillance and the amount of personal data sent to them. A way to do it quickly is to use one of several free privacy apps designed for this purpose, such as O&O ShutUp10. Let it create a Restore Point when it asks you, and then under the Actions menu, select “All recommended and limited recommended settings.” The whole process takes less than a minute. Second, see if your anti-virus scanner is up to date and then run a scan. Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10 come with free anti-virus software. If you already run a third party anti-virus program, update and run that instead. If you haven’t installed any third party anti-virus software, on Windows 7 load Microsoft Security Essentials and do a scan. If you don’t have it, install it free here (ignore this if you run Windows 8). For Windows 8, run a scan with Windows Defender (see here if you need help). In Windows 10 also uses Bit Defender, and these are the steps to run a manual scan. Don’t continue until the scan is finished. Virus scans can take a while (10-20 minutes), so it’s a good time to grab a drink or a snack. If you find any infections, quarantine or delete them. Third, we’re going to install and run four free programs that protect against malware. They all work a bit differently and catch different infections. If you already have other anti-malware programs you use, you can decide whether to delete them and go with this suite or stick with what you have. Reboot your machine if it’s been on a long time. (A fresh restart is generally a good idea when installing a bunch of new software.) Then install and run the following: CCleaner – Get the free version. Make a backup of your registry when it asks. After you’ve run a scan and fixed any problems it finds, close it and then move to the next program. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – Get the free version. Check for updates before running the scan. Fix any problems it finds and continue to the next program. Spybot Search & Destroy – Get the free version. Check for Updates and run a scan. After it’s done and you fix any problems, Immunize your system. Immunization blocks your computer from communicating with a long list of known malicious sites. Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit – Get the free version. This program shields your browser from sudden attacks that malware companies don’t yet know about called zero-day exploits. You don’t need to do anything. Just install and it will work in the background. I suggest running CCleaner, Malwarebytes, and Spybot scans once a month. You should also do it immediately if you suspect that you’ve made a mistake like following a link to a shady-looking site you didn’t mean to visit or opening a suspect file. STEP 2 – REPLACE YOUR BROWSER WITH FIREFOX Why: (If you already use Firefox, skip to the add-on section.) People get attached to web browsers, so please consider my reasoning if you recoiled in horror at this suggestion. Google’s Chrome is the most popular web browser in the world. That image of Google’s boss and Obama gives an indication of how closely tied Google is to the government. Google is not only one of the government’s key business “partners.” It’s the juiciest target for the government to infiltrate. Snowden showed us that it has. You can virtually guarantee that NOCs work at Google. Google’s business is literally mass surveillance. It collects more data about more people than any other company in the world. The business model is simple. Google tracks and records you and then turns you into a profile that it sells to advertisers. As Eric Schmidt said, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” The reason Google’s services are free is because you’re not the customer. You are the product. As Google itself says, “Our customers are over one million advertisers, from small businesses targeting local customers to many of the world’s largest global enterprises…” It’s biggest customer is of course the U.S. government (federal and state). In contrast, Firefox doesn’t track you and sell you as a product. The developers of Firefox are highly vocal about being anti-surveillance. Firefox is open source, meaning any programmer can audit the code to see what it’s doing. And Firefox has add-ons that are necessary to thwart tracking and surveillance. (Chrome has add-ons too, though many of them contain malicious code.) Bottom line is the Firefox people aren’t in the surveillance business. If you’ve been using Internet Explorer, know that it’s being phased out by Microsoft and has been plagued with security flaws. And it doesn’t support important add-ons needed to protect you. If you’re on Mac, I recommend Firefox over Apple’s Safari browser as a matter of diversifying trust. At the end of the day we’re trusting all software we use not to exploit us. But Firefox doesn’t have the financial incentive like Apple does to track you. And while Firefox is open source, Safari is not. Also Firefox has a more robust collection of add-ons. What to do: Install Firefox and set it as your default web browser. After you have Firefox running, click the Options button (the gear icon), click the Update tab, and select “automatically install updates.” Then install these security add-ons. (Each add-on puts an icon in the Firefox toolbar for quick access to its settings.) HTTPS Everywhere – (click “Install in Firefox”). This increases the difficulty of bad guys intercepting what you see in your browser and makes it harder for them to set traps that can give them access to your computer. uBlock Origin – uBlock not only blocks ads and prevents companies like Google and Facebook from tracking you even when you’re not on their sites. It also protects you from thousands of sites that can inject malicious software on your computer. The more popular ad blocker, AdBlock Pro, was removed from this guide because it is not open source like uBlock Origin, and because companies can buy their way past AdBlock. Privacy Badger – (click the ‘download for Firefox’ link). This add-on pays attention to when you’re being tracked by a browser … Continue reading You’re a Criminal in a Mass Surveillance World – How to Not Get Caught