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How the U.S. Government Forged a Surveillance Society

Written by Tom DeWeese

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On September 12, 2001, President George W. Bush invited members of Congress and the media for a meeting in the cabinet room of the White House. The mood was understandably anxious, somber: The World Trade Center lay in rubble, the Pentagon had a hole gouged into it and shock and awe had settled over the United States. One of the most extraordinary periods of American history – what would come to be known as the “Post 9-11 Era” – was beginning.

(Related: Scanners - No Place to Hide    and  RSN Database Search REAL ID)

The president gravely laid out the situation and the steps his administration would take to secure the homeland, but during the course of the meeting he also made this significant declaration: “We will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms.”

Those were heroic words of principle and patriotism in a traumatic time, but history would show that government’s reaction to the terrorist threat was the exact opposite than the protection of freedoms. Instead, government rushed in with a massive plan to create a surveillance society, intending to watch and document every action by the American people as a means of ultimate security.

First, Congress passed the Patriot Act, giving law enforcement powers to circumvent many Constitutional guarantees to personal privacy and home security. Then Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The department immediately became an army of more than 170,000 employees by combining twenty two existing federal agencies, including the

Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Secret Service, FEMA, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection, Federal Protective Service, FBI’s Computer Incident Response Center and several more lesser agencies of the same type. In the middle of this rush for security, Congress created the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). Also born in this Post 9/11 era were state fusion centers with the intention of combining federal, state and local law enforcement agencies into instant response teams, intending to eliminate bureaucratic overlap and red tape, in case of another terrorist attack or Hurricane Katrina-type disasters.

Finally, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, promoted as an attempt to standardize the process and format for creation of all state drivers’ licenses to achieve increased security. Proponents argued that, under REAL ID, we will know that anyone carrying a drivers’ license is legal in this country and therefore not a threat.

What most Americans do not know is that the blue print for REAL ID did not originate in the United States, but in the backrooms of a United Nations organization called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). That organization is tasked with the goal of creating a once-size fits all international identification system using massive data banks that contain individual biometric information on nearly everyone in the world. Biometrics is defined as measurement of the body. One might correctly think of fingerprinting, iris scans and facial recognition as biometrics.

In compliance to this goal, REAL ID mandates a certain picture quality for all drivers’ licenses. Those photos are to comply with the ICAO’s Document 9303 biometric format. Your photo taken by a local DMV is run through special software which measures and analyzes the unique identifiable characteristics of your face. The process results in a unique numeric code which identifies a person according to facial measurements. In other words, under REAL ID, using the adopted standard of the ICAO, your face is reduced to a number code, a number which is read by a computer and be tracked by surveillance cameras worldwide.

Why would the United States agree to implement such a system? What happened to the promise that we would not let the terrorists change our way of life? How did the United States move from a free society, bent on preserving our freedoms in a dangerous terrorist-driven world to one of total surveillance over the actions of every citizen? What was the unseen hand that led to such decisions?

The international focus on drivers’ licenses through REAL ID came as a result of plans for international biometric passports. Passports, of course, are a control device of travelers both coming and going through US borders. Discussion regarding the use of E-Passports started soon after 9/11. It was not until the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 that our federal government put in place the framework for the issuance of E-Passports. E-Passports utilize both biometric technology and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology.

Focusing on passports, however, was about to create an international problem for the US government that would force it to accelerate and expand its surveillance plans, leading to a global surveillance system beyond what most in Congress intended.

Using the excuse that the US government wanted to learn as much about Al- Qaeda as possible, the US began to dictate to foreign governments that they also needed to implement E-Passports. Without them, said the US, their citizens would not be able to enter the US. In addition, the US wanted those nations to provide all information they had on Al-Qaeda members.

Meanwhile, the United Nations set up a committee named simply “Al-Qaeda”. Again, the stated goal was for all nations to cooperate in an Al-Qaeda clearing house of information. Each government was to provide the names of the members of Al-Qaeda that the respective governments were aware of.

What became obvious to many in our government was, if we expected information about citizens of other countries our government was also going to have to “ante up” and provide information about our citizens to the other nations. This is when things started to get out of control. Global information sharing was seen as a necessity. All “chips” were on the table. For the system to work the personal and sensitive information, including the biometrics of all citizens in all countries, had to be made available to intelligence and law enforcement people around the world.

Other nations resented the United States telling them that they must supply information about their citizens if the US wasn’t willing to do the same. The US was forced to comply with its own dictates. And so the drive was on for the creation of an international surveillance system. REAL ID, while not recommended by the 9/11 Commission, became the center piece for the drive to document each and every American and placed their biometric records in international data bases.

The Real ID Act of 2005 was signed into law in May, 2005. The rulemaking process took roughly 2 1⁄2 years to be completed. During that 2 1⁄2 years over six hundred groups and organizations came out against the law for a variety of reasons. These groups covered a broad political spectrum from the far right to the far left. Religious organizations representing all major religions spoke out against the Real ID Act.

Among the reasons for such overwhelming opposition is that Real ID is an unfunded federal mandate; the federal government intervening in the issuance of state driver’s licenses; the unfettered power Real ID provides the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; a variety of privacy concerns; First Amendment religious concerns of which many were by Christian evangelical ministries; the state driver’s license would become a de facto national identification card; and the requirement that each driver’s license applicant would provide biometric samples.

In order for a state to be in compliance with the law, each state has 18 “benchmarks” they must complete or satisfy the Department of Homeland Security that the state is working towards completing the individual benchmarks. Opposition has been strong as 25 states, either as a result of law or resolution, opposed the Real ID Act. Because of the opposition, the Real ID Act implementation date has been postponed twice. However, proponents are determined to force implementation anyway and DHS demands that states comply by May, 2011.

If enforced, Americans will find what the saying “under government’s thumb” really means. Biometric documents will be required for nearly every action Americans take. A digital/electronic footprint will be the only way to access bank accounts; accessing transportation (at any level); purchase of goods and services; obtaining employment; and so forth. Every one of these actions will be stored in databanks and transferred to international databanks for storage.

Along with REAL ID, more legislation is pending in Congress to create even more control, all sold as just another way to keep us secure. One piece calls for a “National Worker’s Identification Card” and Senator Lieberman wants a new biometric social security card. If these proposals are passed into law and Real ID or anything else similar is in place it will be “game over”. Employers and retailers will have to have biometric readers and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) scanners.

In addition, American law enforcement is being changed and with it, America’s unique justice system is being changed too. Once law enforcements mission was to catch criminals after a crime was committed. And even those captured were protected as“innocent until proven guilty.” That Constitutionally-protected rights made American justice unlike any other in the world. It has been one of the cornerstones of American freedom and security over freedoms and the less-certain future they offer.

We must remember that the stated goal for the total surveillance system has been that the world would be as one, carrying the same documents to assure everyone is equal, everyone is known, and everyone is legitimate. Under the system, say the proponents, security can be guaranteed.

So now the surveillance system is nearly fully in place. What are the results? Are we safer? The fact is, with all of the biometric data bases being established, RFID chips, Closed Circuit TVs, Automatic License Plate Readers, National Security Letters, State Fusion Centers, the Patriot Act, and the establishment of the behemoth Department of Homeland Security, we are not any safer than we were on the day before 9/11.

Why? First, while the government increases surveillance over every individual in he name of protection from terrorists, our borders remain wide open. Anyone wanting to do harm to the United States is able to simply walk into the country and be aided by an entire network providing shelter, money, weapons, and access to American programs for money, schools and jobs. They can illegally purchase counterfeit birth certificates and social security cards and obtain state drivers’ licenses in any state. Only three states have the ability to authenticates birth certificates.

Programs like E-Verify, sold as a way to guarantee that only legal residents get jobs, actually aid those entering illegally. It makes the Social Security Number the most valuable commodity in the nation – a valuable prize. That makes it profitable for underground criminal networks to obtain and produce them. Terrorists networks have the means and the money to lead that effort. In addition, a study commissioned by DHS and performed by Westat reported that E-Verify is wrong more than it is right when dealing with a person in our country illegally is vetted out. In these situations E-Verify is wrong 54% of the time and right only 46% of the time.

And there is one more fact that renders the entire surveillance effort worthless in the fight against terrorism. Back to those E-Passports and the US demand for other nations to comply. The whole

Under REAL ID and the growing surveillance society, however, law enforcements mission is emerging to be one of “crime prevention” before it occurs. The only way such a policy could work is for government to be able to observe our every action, including monitoring phone calls, opening mail, monitor our financial transactions, monitor who we associate with and monitor our travel. The government has programs to achieve each and every one of these things. DHS and National Security Agency (NSA) have both engaged in domestic spying. The Defense Department had a program called “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) that was designed to combine and access all of the video cameras now in place in nearly every store, shopping mall and parking lot to monitor every move we make. Now on the back burner, TIA could be reactivated at any time. All that is missing is the final requirement that all Americans must carry in their pockets the document tying them into the system – the REAL ID drivers’ license.

Once fully implemented, REAL ID means a “one-size fits all” policy, leading to the end of Constitutionally- protected First and Fourth Amendment rights. Proponents believe “safety” trumps “freedom” and any cost. With full implementation of REAL ID, government will finally have the laws, technologies and the ability governments throughout history have always sought to exercise total control over the people. Yet many Americans still refuse to be alarmed, seeking safety program depends on honest, reliable governments producing honest, reliable, secure documents on their own citizens. They don’t.

Many Moslem countries in the Middle East consider the US to be their enemy.Pakistan’s government, for one, while pretending to be our ally, is full of government workers who are either friends or members of Al- Qaeda. They have helped hide Al-Qaeda leaders since the inception of the war on terrorism. It is a known fact by US intelligence agents. Any effort made by the US to coordinate strategy with such governments fails because plans are immediately shared with the enemy by such government workers. The internal politics of these countries put the governments in an untenable position. If the leaders of these countries are perceived to be working with U.S. intelligence officials there is blowback against them for working with the “Infidels” of the United States. As a result, information from these nations, to this day, is at best questionable and unreliable.

To rely on such countries to provide honest documentation for citizens by way of passports or other identification is pure folly. It is easy for government employees to provide Al- Qaeda operatives all the “legitimate” documentation they need to travel freely inside the surveillance bubble that has been established to supposedly catch them.

Any honest observer or government leader dealing with the situation on a daily basis has to know the truth – that REAL ID and its fellow programs are not about protecting us in the war on terror. So what is the real purpose? What are we really doing?

The fact is Real ID is designed to enroll every citizen into a single global system of identification and financial control. Doubt that – then consider these words of Robert Mocny speaking for DHS when he said, “information sharing is appropriate around the world,” and DHS plans to create a “Global Security Envelope of internationally shared biometric data that would permanently link individuals with biometric ID, personal information held by governments and corporations.”

Meanwhile, Julian Ashborn speaking as the Chairman of the International Biometric Agency said, “What information do governments share? With whom is my data shared and why?” All of these questions need to be addressed by an agency with global powers”

These officials are telling openly telling us what they plan – global governance. Americans are just not listening. The truth is we are not safe. And such a system will never make us safe. But what we have done in the name of safety is to create an international surveillance system that destroys the unique American system of liberty and justice, “harmonizing” us into the same totalitarian system that controls so much of the rest of the world.

It can be stopped now- before it is fully implemented.

But once REAL ID is enforced in every state through compliant drivers’ licenses, it will be too late. Every American who cherishes their Constitutionally- guaranteed rights have until May of this year to demand that their state governments stand strong and continue to oppose compliance with this international straight jacket. Our protests postponed it for several years. We must do it again.

Call now or understand that, once in place, there will be no way for this generation to pass freedom to the next. REAL ID is that great a threat.

Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence. Go to americanpolicy.org for more information

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