Monday, November 28, 2005

Review Of "No Place To Hide" By, Robert O'Harrow Jr.

I have just finished reading "No Place To Hide" by Robert O'Harrow Jr. This book laid out in detail the post-9/11 joining of private data and technology companies with goverment anti-terror initiatives. It showed how the goverment now depends on these private companies of information about almost every damn aspect of our lives to promote 'homeland security' and fight the war on terror. It is really quite freaky how our privacy is diminishing without our knowledge. Being a very private person myself, I found this book informative, yet disturbing. Here's some examples from the book:
"When you use your cell phone, the phone company knows where you are and when. If you use a discount card, your grocery and prescription purchases are recorded, profiled, and analyzed. Many new cars have built-in devices that enable companies to track from afar details about your movements. Almost anyone can buy a dossier on you, including almost everything it takes to commit identity theft, for less than fifty dollars."
These private companies such as ChoicePoint, Viisage, Biometric Sysytems,etc sell the goverment, police, etc your information. Now they have come out with fingerprint analysis, face recognition, etc. For example, at the 2001 Super Bowl, spectators were unaware that the Tampa police secretly recorded the faces of all 72,000 of them. Viisage's FaceTrac Software matched the images of fans against a load of criminal photographs they had downloaded from area authorities. The computers and cameras found 19 people whose photo's had been entered into the system beforehand and deemed troublemakers by police. No arrests were made, but the Tampa police were thrilled!
And with the USA Patriot Act, the goverment's ability to eavesdrop and snoop with little public oversight dramatically expanded. I was especially disturbed by police across the country being caught checking out the backgrounds of attractive women, a practice known to them as " running plates for dates".
It's just way too much information, with the high probability of abuse- which according to this book, happens more times than not.
I know that the goverment's excuse is 9/11 and homeland security, and to some degree I understand limited uses. But few people understand the true scope of their efforts. Some assume pictures don't lie and that sophisticated technology won't fail us. But the mix of those two, coupled with human error, can be misleading and dangerous for the people under surveillance. Senator in the 70's, Sam Ervin said, " When people fear surveillance, whether it exists or not, when they grow afraid to speak their minds and hearts freely to their goverment or to anyone else, then we shall cease to live in a free society."