Sunday, August 31, 2014

The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post. We can't let them make up the rules

Innocent people’s lives are being ruined. Why isn’t anyone watching the watchlist? 

facebook surveillance illustration
Reasonable suspicion is based on a circular logic – people can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists – that is ultimately backwards, and must be changed. Illustration: Joelle L / Flickr via Creative Commons Illustration: Joelle L / Flickr via Creative Commons
The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.
As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.
This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.
The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.
Of the 680,000 individuals on that FBI master list, roughly 40% have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”, according to the Intercept. These individuals don’t even have a connection – as the government loosely defines it – to a designated terrorist group, but they are still branded as suspected terrorists.
The absurdities don’t end there. Take Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a population under 100,000 that is known for its large Arab American community – and has more watchlisted residents than any other city in America except New York.