Choose Privacy Week: ACLU's Mike German on Freedom from Surveillance

American librarians have launched Choose Privacy 2012 Week on their site Privacy Revolution. The ACLU's Mike German discusses 'Data Mining, Government Surveillance, and Civil Liberties' in the first 'Freedom from Surveillance' video series.

Did you know this is Choose Privacy Week? The American Library Association said, "Choose Privacy Week is a new initiative that invites people into a national conversation about privacy rights in a digital age." On a site called Privacy Revolution, the librarians wrote, "In the spirit of civic values that allow people to freely seek information in all formats without fear of retribution or exploitation, it's time to reclaim our right to privacy."

It was the ACLU that posted about Librarians for Privacy, quoting the explanation from Privacy Revolution, "Librarians feel a professional responsibility to protect the right to search for information free from surveillance. Privacy has long been the cornerstone of library services in America. Why? Because the freedom to read and receive ideas anonymously is at the heart of individual liberty in a democracy. Librarians defend that freedom every day."

It was the librarians who featured a video presentation by Mike German, the ACLU's Senior Policy Counsel for National Security and Privacy, as part of Choose Privacy Week. The theme for Choose Privacy Week 2012 is "Freedom from Surveillance." The video titled 'Michael German on Data Mining, Government Surveillance, and Civil Liberties' was the first of a series of three videos exploring "the growing impact of government surveillance on our civil liberties."

Mike German was a former FBI agent, who specialized in domestic terrorism and covert operations, turned ACLU attorney. When I had the pleasure of interviewing him, German said the feds routinely spy on citizens.

In the video above, he starts talking about the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. But even after Congress "killed" the funding, it didn't kill the idea. Intelligence agencies were "bewitched" by idea of collecting all that juicy data and continued with their own versions of TIA. He mentioned that, in 2008, the FBI Data Warehouse had stored "1.5 billion records." Then German said, "Things are actually getting worse."

Privacy laws are outdated, he explained, and many are based on how technology worked in the 1970s. With the way tech is used today, it leaves "gaping holes in privacy protections." German added that after 9/11, the government engages "in an awful lot of suspicionless collection where they don't have any probable cause . . . or even a reasonable belief that there is particularized information about somebody that they've done something wrong. They can pretty much grab data without any suspicion."

The ACLU previously told Congress the cancer of government secrecy is killing America. German also touched on secrecy poisoning, the fact that private companies also collect data on us and then secretly sell it to government agencies as a subscription. While the theory behind stockpiling all this data on all of us is supposed to help find and stop terrorists, bad actors and violent criminals, German said the problem with that is "it's not scientifically possible."

A group of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences proved in 2008 that it's not feasible to use datamining to hunt terrorists. German lists reasons that were proven such as there are not enough incidences to build an effective profile pattern. Another problem is avoiding false negatives, meaning saying a person is okay when in reality that person is a terrorist. It is the false positives that impact our privacy. Unlike a credit card company's false positive, when they call you to see if a purchase was actually made by you, and it was, the government won't call to ask if you are a terrorist.

"Those false positives can't get cured," German stated, "because once the government suspects you of doing something wrong, because you fit in that pattern, there's no way to fix it. That suspicion lingers. And even though they can show you haven't done any terrorist acts today, that doesn't mean you're not going to do something bad tomorrow."

German mentioned that, in March of 2012, the National Counterterrorism Center changed their domestic spying guidelines to basically claim we are all potential domestic terrorists. By using the fight against terrorism as a justification, the counterterrorism database now stores info on Americans for five years. German mentions that CT database and the collection of info "regardless of the fact that there is no suspicion that anybody has done anything wrong." The government can also data-mine that personal information "in whatever ways they choose, even for non-terrorist purposes, and disseminate it however they choose, even for non-terrorism purposes. So it's actually a growing problem and unfortunately they are not following the recommendations of the National Academy of Science."

In closing, German says if you concerned about privacy then then it is recommended that you should contact your local, state, and federal representatives in Congress. Tell them that "you do care about privacy and you want to make sure there are strong limits on government surveillance and government datamining programs to ensure that people's personal information isn't collected without a strong government purpose."

Disregarding the fact that I write here quite often about abuses of government surveillance, I've called my representatives and voiced my privacy concerns about SOPA and CISPA. So is that enough to land an American in that landslide of false positive data collected and dumped into the counterterrorism database? I surely hope not because I choose privacy every day, not only during Choose Privacy week.

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