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The Expanding Surveillance State

IP-8-2001 (October 2001)
Author: Mike Krause

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Executive Summary

“To be governed…is to be watched, inspected, directed, indoctrinated, numbered, estimated, regulated, commanded, controlled, law-driven, preached at, spied upon, censured, checked, valued, enrolled by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so.”
– Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

As a whole, we citizens routinely hand over large amounts of personal and intrusive information to the state as a matter of law. Whether to obtain a license, to comply with the police officer who has just pulled you over, or to tell the tax man how much money we make, it seems that we are always handing over another bit of information about ourselves. The Colorado legislature last year introduced us to the next generation of surveillance technology, facial recognition, in a nation already under intense scrutiny.

Indeed, the amount of government-compelled information on citizens, gathered not as part of any criminal investigation but rather as a matter of routine, has become immense. In a recent Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute (www.cato.org) briefing paper, “Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans” (http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-069es.html), Boise State University Professor Charlotte Twight provides a partial list. This list includes employment histories, income, childhood and subsequent educational experiences, medical histories (including doctors’ subjective impressions), financial transactions (including copies of personal checks written), ancestry, rent and mortgage payments just to name a few.

Here in Colorado, the Department of Revenue bundles up and sells government-compelled information. This includes names, addresses, dates of birth, driving records, restrictions and other information associated with your license and vehicle registration. (www.i2i.org/Publications/Op-Eds/PersonalFreedom/driverdata.htm)

Nearly all of this government-compelled information is now keyed in to the Social Security number, as a “unique identifier.”

Every new database, every new surveillance tool is usually accompanied by the promise of some new benefit. It will make us safer, fight fraud and other crimes, stop illegal immigration and make government more efficient. And of course, privacy concerns are always assuaged with the promise of strict oversight.

Yet invariably, these measures are used for purposes other than those promised. Rather than making government more efficient, they instead fuel the growth of ever bigger and more intrusive government.

In ‘Watching You’, Professor Twight shows how this works. With the expanding Surveillance State has come routine “data swapping” by various government agencies. Some of the agencies routinely exchanging information about us are:
· The IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA)
· SSA and the Health Care Financing Administration
· The Postal Service and the Department of Labor
· The Justice Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs
· The IRS and state social services agencies
· The Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services
· The Social Security Administration and State Courts

It is not clear that the net effect of all this is more efficient government or less fraud, crime and illegal immigration, but rather more general scrutiny of the population by their government. Law Professor Paul Swartz is quoted in ‘Watching You’, “Americans no longer know how their personal information will be applied, who will gain access to it and what decisions will be made with it…Individuals whose personal data are shared, processed and stored by a mysterious bureaucracy will be more likely to act as the government wishes them to act.”

This matters because, in America, the government is supposed to be the servant and not the master.

The promises of facial recognition have been the usual: fight fraud, reduce crime, stop illegal immigration, etc. But interestingly enough, its proponents have spent as much, if not more time explaining how it will not be used as they have expounding on its virtues. This is evidence that more and more people, including many in government, are questioning the need for a new expansion of the Surveillance State.

This paper will examine the potential use and abuse of facial recognition in conjunction with existing government databases, its efficacy, its place (or lack thereof) in a free and open society, and the proposed use of facial recognition in Colorado.