America's Surveillance State

America's Surveillance State

2014, Politics  -   62 Comments
Ratings: 8.82/10 from 176 users.

This six part documentary series, America's Surveillance State, dissects the United States' present surveillance condition. The thesis statement of the series is that privacy as we understand it is an antiquated fantasy - that we need to adjust our way of living to factor in that someone, somewhere is very likely watching our every move for one reason or another. The US Government is often attributed with being the most usual subject for leading the charge on invading its citizen's privacy, but the film quickly points out that there is every bit as likely a chance that a corporate entity is snooping around in your digital sandbox with the intent of turning a profit on the knowledge they seek to amass.

That stated, the first installment spends a great deal of time looking at the government's efforts. Notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden is often mentioned for having done so much to bring this issue into the public eye. A government programmer, Brad Sumrall, who worked extensively in a similar position to Snowden, is interviewed about his experience sifting through mountains of data whether it was relevant to national security or not. That is the chief debate about these agencies' objectives - whether or not there is genuine validity in their reasoning for examining and compiling data from any source they see fit, including the average citizen. The surface justification is safety, but critics insist that is simply not the case.

Since the historic events of 9/11 realigned the US approach to homeland security, a $60 billion a year industry has come to be. 70% of that, around $42 billion annually, goes to private contractors. That spells an awful lot of private, fiscally-driven interests in maintaining this costly approach to intelligence gathering and analysis, which in turn means there is $42 billion dollars of corporate motivation to be listening in on phone calls and reading emails regardless of whether there is any actual safety-oriented purpose for doing so.

The series maintains this trajectory throughout, scrutinizing the National Security Agency (NSA) and similar entities and programs in hopes of at least posing the question of whether US citizens are better or worse off in having a watchful eye on them at all times.

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62 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Solatle

    They are telling us that we are being watched and asking us, "What are you going to do about it?" They had to create "Snowden" character to rub it in our face.

  2. Jon Jonzz

    The inside joke is: NSA stands for No Such Agency. A wise person once stated that, "Democracy has within it the seeds of its own destruction". People need to control Govt. Not the other way around.

  3. tom doe

    A lot I do not understand but I was really amazed how fast the people were caught as a result of surveillance.

  4. Toby Blake

    We have eyes and ears too!

    1. Alexander

      But we lack the emotional intelligence to act.

  5. SpinalTrap

    Is it so tough to realize that all we need to do is generate lots and lots of false data? Have pictures that say, Nice try, ***hole" with nasty images? Easy. :)

    1. Trauma`d

      perfect idea, because what are they going to be able to do? confront you with anything as you simultaneously expose their crossing of ethical, most likely legal, lines? .......and what you've recommended, I've been doing for years

  6. Daniel Jordan

    God Bless America!

  7. deliaruhe

    This must have been the very last thing Danny Schechter ever made, as he died a few short months later. He was a great contributor to the effort of the best of America's media critics to get Americans to pay a lot more attention to the way their government manipulates print, video, and electronic news media. This series is a crowning achievement of that effort.

    I hope the series' availability on this website means that many more Americans will get themselves informed, as this film will no doubt jolt them out of their complacency. The "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument really does need deconstructing. The excellent starting point is the fact that this argument can be traced back to Josef Goebels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda.

    It should also be noted that the pressure on all civil servants to snitch on their colleagues -- under threat of punishment if they are discovered to know something they're not reporting -- was a strategy of both the Gestapo and the Stasi. In fact, there's currently an article on this question vis-a-vis the Stasi on the Der Spiegel website this week.

    Today, it's worth following the debate between the NSA and the tech companies over end-to-end encryption, and the industry's argument against building backdoors into it for the convenience of the surveillance community -- either that, or provide the community with a key to unlock it. Of course, the American surveillance state will be the first to whine and complain when the Chinese or the Russians find those backdoors or those keys equally convenient and help themselves to a treasure trove of American secrets.

    1. JohnHannah

      It didn't start with Goebbels - it's throughout history -- Monarchies, the Church, gangs, city-states, tribes...on and on...

  8. Crypto Kid

    Wouldn't it be great if everybody used PGP and anonymity networks, then we could all just sit back and laugh at the sight of agencies like the NSA and GCHQ crying with their thumbs up their asses.

  9. Airvaulting for Girls

    This is a long series, involved, requiring that you do your best to maintain your concentration throughout. But if you haven't been paying enough attention to these issues, you really do owe it to yourself and those you care about to give this as much undivided attention as you can muster. The implications really could not be more enormous, and there is not one iota of hyperbole in that claim, I'm afraid I have to say.

  10. Terry "OldFox" Seale

    OMG, Amy Goodman, Bracky eBola, who wants to listen to these obsolete dinosaurs from LBJ's wet-control-freak-dreams?

    1. Airvaulting for Girls

      Probably just about everyone who is concerned about covert violations of the 4th amendment.

    2. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      You mean like Bill Moyers who really only cares about the First Amendment and the fanciful "Journalist's Privilege" which allows some people to obstruct justice, defame innocents, and pretend to want justice. He was the "mouthpiece" and eager apologist for the Establishment of LBJ that drove hundreds of thousands out of the country, instituted Cointel, bugged Martin Luther King, imprisoned the heavy weight champion of the world, caused violent radicalization of the Black Panthers, Weather Underground, Jane Fonda, the most extreme CIA excesses, the Chicago 8, Mayor Daly, the 1968 Convention Police Riot, Judge Hoffman, and on and on. Bill Moyers was the PR man for the War Machine and the persecutors of dissent. He is the American
      Joseph Goebbels.

    3. Airvaulting for Girls

      And how does any of that make what is happening now okay? Stop looking at this issue along party lines... This is a major part of the whole dilemma.

    4. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      AfG, what this film describes is NOT okay. My point is that most of the people complaining in this advocacy piece (Amy Goodman, vandenhuvel, Moyers, ACLU, etc.) are total hypocrites because they mostly all supported Obama, Harry Reid, Eric Holder and others of the Left who advocate totalitarian governance. Obama went farther than anyone before in sicking the NSA, DHS, EPA, ATF, IRS, and his entire pantheon of surveillance enforcement agents in an adversarial stance toward the citizens.

      The best way to fight these outrages is to shrink the government and deprive the beaurocrats of the ever-increasing funds they spend on building their empires and amassing more and more power. We need to remove their power, facilitate citizen lawsuits, and protect whistleblowers.

    5. Airvaulting for Girls

      You have a point there, alright, I have to admit. But I do think that all these folks would never have believed the route Obama has continued to lead us down, made so much easier by that insidious "Patriot" Act crap; I know I never would've believed it... The exact opposite of the way things are supposed to be in this country is becoming more and more the norm, namely, and obviously, that more and more of what they do gets to remain hidden, while more and more of what we do must be in the open for them to potentially make unconstitutional use of. Probably the part of this whole series that worries me the most was that dealing with the serious attempts to "legally" rein in the press, which is really the only way, or at least certainly the best way, to make sure as much as possible that a democracy functions like it should. Seeing efforts like those being made against that institution tells you a whole hell of a lot of what you need to know about the hypocrisy on all sides here. I don't trust any of them to any degree whatsoever anymore, and can only wish that, among several other things, every incumbent be voted out who has in any way been complicit in putting these treasonous policies into place. I honestly don't think there's been a greater need for a genuinely great president to come along now since the Civil War.

    6. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      Thanks, AfG, I enjoy your passion and thoughts. I'm an old guy and have seen a lot. Let me just quote an interesting blurb from a course catalog:

      "'Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.'
      These words are no less insightful today than they were when he wrote them in 1985. Despite our best efforts, we are all vulnerable to believing things without using logic or having proper evidence—and it doesn’t matter how educated or well read we are. Our brains seem to be hardwired to have our beliefs come first and explanations for our beliefs second. And although we are skilled at recognizing the cognitive biases in other people’s thinking, we often have blinders on when it comes to our own.
      "But there is a method for avoiding these pitfalls of human nature, and it’s called skepticism. By using rational inquiry and seeing subjects from a scientific perspective, we can approach even the most sensitive claims with clear eyes to ultimately arrive at the truth. And today, the need for skepticism has never been more dire as superstition and magical thinking experience a resurgence in our society and around the world."

    7. Airvaulting for Girls

      Both of those good quotes remind me of a bit more succinct one I've liked for a long while, finding it (typically) witty, obviously insightful, broadly applicable, and a little unnerving:

      "Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one." - Voltaire

    8. duke-rules

      Sure, then the corporations can run it all with no 'interference' from a pesky government.

      To see how this might work out for you, you may want to re-watch Rollerball.

    9. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      duke-rules, I don't know if I've ever seen Rollerball but I'll look for it. Than you.

      No, there are vast other alternatives to control-freak govt regulation enforced by armed federales who raid great guitar factories at 3 AM in Tennessee and letting "the corporations ... running it all with no interference from a pesky government," as you say.

      That is a distortion caused by all-or-nothing thinking which is either a deliberate logical fallacy for rhetorical purposes or an inadvertent good-faith logical fallacy. Guilty or innocent, it is a fallacy.

      Government regulation generally sets up parameters and limits which can be enforced frequently only by government agencies. Many of them outlaw private rights of action. Milton Friedman was eloquent about the corrective and remedial benefits of free market capitalism. Much more than I can approximate, but he urged the ability of private lawsuits to protect consumers and taxpayers, citizens, and villagers as far superior to any executive branch regulator.

      True there are many problems with the legal system--like the loser not having to pay the winner's legal fees under the American system unless provided by statute--but 42 USC 1983 and 1985, Civil RICO, and Florida's Little RICO civil actions for criminal acts are not any of them. They are wonderful corrections to corporate and government misconduct.

    10. Eric Strayer

      Hi Terry. I'm a bit of an old "F" myself. Now you and I know you are playing with these young'ns. They might not get that you are joking here. Pulling their leg to get them to think more critically. But good on ya for trying to point out that this is a multi-faceted issue deserving careful and critical comments and should not be reduced to the level of ad hominem attacks.

    11. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      Thanks, Eric. I'm not joking at all. Moyers is exactly to the Monster LBJ what Goebbels was to Adolph Hitler. A propagandist that declared we could have "guns and butter," that "just a little more troops will do it," that the "Tonkin Gulf Resolution" was sufficient for war and based on true facts, that LBJ was not complicit in the murder of JFK (probably with Hoffa and the Chicago mob), that he did not oppress, persecute, and attempt to destroy Mohamed Ali, one of the greatest patriotic and athletic Americans of all time that put the final nail, once and for all, in the coffin of the unfair Draft. Moyers is a villian and there is no joking about it.

  11. James Fortner

    We are already beginning to self-censor our commentary when we start looking over our shoulders. Subtly, surely we are toning down our rants and muting our opinions as if we were in the grip of an unseen fist or an invisible vise that traps our typing fingers and nips our telltale tongues.

    Soon we will be alone and under siege within the citadel of our minds, our ramparts bombarded by the collective arrows of law and religion and society, each catapulting a stone of conformity through our castle walls and all conspiring to raze to the ground our free and sacred selves,.

    1. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      There's a vivid metaphor! Thanks.

    2. James Fortner

      With the Right in power we'll need more than metaphors to unseat our monied masters and their
      Foggy Bottom minions. Money is the root of evil saith the sage and until the lure of lucre is extracted like a abscessed tooth from the maw of democracy, pangs of hunger will afflict the body politic now living on a diet of lies.

      Issues of privacy, of equity, and of representative democracy will founder in the flood of money that today swamps congressional offices like blood to a tumor, malignant and deadly. Recent rulings by the Supreme Court giving the Constitution to corporations must be reversed by grassroot activism. Each of us needs now to make our voice heard.

    3. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is THE LOVE of money upon which evil roots itself. I would add the LOVE of power ranks a fast 2d place.

      If we LOVE our families, our nation, and our Lord, there will be no space left for money love.

    4. Prudence Noble

      that is simply one of the most beautifully articulate and incisive descriptions/summations of this entire disturbing issue.

  12. Airvaulting for Girls

    I have a strong feeling, bordering on absolute certainty, that the Founding Fathers would have supported the intentions of Edward Snowden a hundred percent. To my mind, the fact that the country is nearly split down the middle about what to make of him clearly goes to show just how uneducated Americans have become regarding what our country is supposed to be, even if we've seldom been able to live up to it. But this here sh-t, ya'll, has really gotten completely out of control, and the people need to deeply come to understand that the ultimate power really is in their hands, at the end of the day, despite all the resources of the high percentage of psychopaths who have connived their way into positions of authority over them.

    edit- Yes, I understand the possible implications of what I said, and neither do I especially give a damn.

    1. dewflirt

      Sounds like your country is having a UKIP moment. My sympathies ;)

    2. awful_truth

      I completely agree with everything you have said with one exception. The ultimate power is not in the publics hands, or the psychopaths would have never connived their way into positions of authority over them. It would seem that the combined whole is not as intelligent as we would believe. (the more things change, the more they stay the same) Great job expressing your thoughts AFG.

    3. Airvaulting for Girls

      Well... power in sheer numbers, should it have to come down to it... But what I was really getting at was akin to Churchill's comment about the best argument against democracy being "a five minute conversation with the average voter." So we all, including myself, need to get a lot more educated about our candidates, stop voting simply along party lines, which so many in this country do, and, in fact, as far as I'm concerned, start voting in droves for candidates other than Reps or Dems, especially in local elections. I know this latter will never happen, or not for a long time, but... a man can dream, I suppose. An even crazier dream would be getting the lobbyists and the money out of our political system as far as possible, but, hey, the king sure as hell isn't going to lead himself to the gallows, is he?

    4. bringmeredwine

      Canadian here: I've been thinking along the same lines as you, when it comes to our government's shenanigans and our voting habits.

    5. awful_truth

      Hey, haven't heard from you in a while bmrw. Just wanted to say that I completely agree with your assessment regarding our voting habits, and political shenanigans. Take care, and have a merry Christmas. (cheers)

    6. bringmeredwine

      Hey, so nice to hear from you.
      I've been laying low. Too many doom and gloom docs had the effect of dragging my weary heart through cement.
      I should take another browse around soon and find some happy subject matter.
      Cheers to you too, Dear:)

    7. awful_truth

      Sounds like a great time for a new comedy. (I am looking forward to the seeing the new Dumb, and dumber) In the mean time, stay away from those nasty docs, and remember, life is what we make it. (refreshments and good company help) Best wishes bmrw.

    8. awful_truth

      If you get a chance bmrw, check out a movie called 'Sneakers' with Robert Redford, Sydney Potier, Dan Ackroid, etc. It has a great story line, and is quite hilarious. (a sleeper hit)

    9. bringmeredwine

      Thank you, I'll do that.
      One of my favorite comedy's is "Very Bad Things". It's dark but I really enjoyed it.
      "Clifford" is fun too, for something the whole family can watch, if you like Martin Short.
      Sorry mods, it's almost Christmas and I'm trying to be cheerful.

    10. lulu

      Maybe you put too much faith in the founding fathers and we the people dont seem in a major hurry to break our chains of bondage as we have been carefully and deeply indoctrinated.

    11. Airvaulting for Girls

      Sure, by 'manufacturing consent,' to put it shortly. But from what I know of the Fathers, I can't think of a single one of them who wouldn't have been appalled to the core by what has happened to this country, and in recent years, especially. Remember only one or two of the things Jefferson feared would happen to the nation, if the people didn't maintain constant vigilance of elected officials:

      "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

      And the probably better known:

      "I sincerely believe... that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies."

      In reality, all of this incredible apparatus of surveillance has been put in place by the monied, courtesy of the lowly taxpayers, to protect and promote their interests, far above and beyond any intention of protecting the welfare of the common people, and I think a good many of us are aware of the sham of it, while wrongly feeling that we're essentially powerless to do anything about it at this point.

    12. lulu

      Well we seem to have a few on our side, but where are the fledgling groups to effect real change? Not voting on party lines is ridiculou since there is only one party which has two heads both looking in the same direction. We the people need to take down the system before 1984 brings us completely to our knees. Re-boot!

    13. Airvaulting for Girls

      In my opinion, the fledgling groups for real change, should they really start to sprout wings, are having a close eye kept on them by... well, we don't even really need to say it, do we? This, so that they can probably be discredited in some way, should their advocacy, say, for reining this crap back in from where it's most certainly heading start to finally sink in in significant numbers among the solid bone-heads of our country's proudly anti-intellectual population. Good God, we certainly wouldn't want to be known for using our brains to our best capacity, would we?! You know, I get so cynical about the whole thing, sometimes, that I'm tempted to recommend moderate to heavy drinking... but I won't. What I will say is, and I really mean this: If you do feel as strongly about these things as you seem to, don't forget the necessity to emotionally step away from them, from time to time, for your own peace of mind. There's only so much any one person could ever hope to do, anyway, in the end. But to quote another, and, in my opinion, probably the best overall of our Founding Fathers, "Gentlemen, either we all hang together, or we shall all hang separately." This is really what it's going to take to make things better, even if the hanging part this time around is more metaphorical than literal...

    14. lulu

      thanks for your reply including advice. Which founding father was that?

    15. Airvaulting for Girls

      Benjamin Franklin.

    16. bringmeredwine

      Have you heard of jounalist Laura Poitra's new doc CitizenFour? She directed it while Snowden was debriefing reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskil , for 20 hours from his hotel room in Hong Kong.
      It's the third film in a trilogy about America post 9/11.
      I'd like to see it.

  13. Danny

    What is technologicaly possible is going to be done. The NSA uses that big big data and so do all big industry players and also other powerfull countries like china. I think there is no way to stop this. Anyway the solution I would suggest is, that the technology should be kind of open source. I mean, if they record all this information it should be accessible for everyone. That would be fair and drive the economy and could be really helpfull not only for advertising but for all kind of research aswell, also it would let you check what information about yourself is out there. It would need a kind of new global law wich would state that every information collected on the internet must be publicly accessable and anonymized. So companies who gather data can be controlled and it can be made sure that they do not collect any personal data and or private information. A company which does so anyway and gets caught could be held responsible this way.

    Just my 2 cents.

  14. DigiWongaDude

    I'm starting to wonder if we can choose? I mean I'm choosing to post this right? And choosing not to really consider the potential consequences of actually doing so. Oh what a deceptive web we weave.

    But suppose I did weigh it all up and make an informed decision not to comment - a silent protest; a refusal to participate. Going virtually unnoticed as the data collection cogs gain pace; eternally, patiently, relentlessly gathering.

    It's a collective choice, if anything, that will count for change. But the interested parties that govern collective choice have that sewn up. Or at least it would appear as though they do? The vote for Scottish independence, recently, seemed (to me) to be predictably steered in the last few days, trumpeting the illusion of free choice, "The people of Scotland have spoken! Ok people, move along please, nothing to see here."

    The obvious irony is that the government hasn't 'issued' all citizens with monitoring devices that must be carried at all times like identification documents, as Orwell might have expected. No, we rejected that notion outright as abhorrent. Yet we actively queue up for latest device upgrades and pay good money for them. We've demanded to be watched in order to feel safe. Orwell would have wretched!

    Sigh... but even being aware of this farce, comment here I do, from a tablet with a tracked location, with internal, freely given permissions to do things any virus would be proud to accomplish and the odd flagged keyword for the machines to dissect.

    Next time I'm caught on camera nothing will be done, no alarms will sound and no-one will approach me for a little chat. But quietly my file will be appended, cross checked, analysed and sold. Orwell's 1984 missed the subtly of today's world, but perhaps he would just wink and say "Oh, give it time. Subtly is just good foreplay."

    Perhaps one day my file will appear in someone's IN tray and no single person alive would know why. The only questions to be asked being those neatly itemized on the front page of that file.

    1. dmxi

      a near beautiful essay,me ole chap!

    2. Airvaulting for Girls

      Indeed, I agree you've got it pretty well pegged here, ol' chap. Who would ever have guessed that Huxley's soma would pretty much turn out to be a little thing you hold instead of swallow?

    3. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      You say "the govt hasn't 'issued' all citizens with monitoring devices that must be carried at all times..."
      I wouldn't be so sure, however. RFID chips are embedded in your driving license, pistol permit, and passport, that links to all the files they need to watch you, locate you, and discover who you hang out with. Privacy died within the same generation that learned "privacy" had a "penumbra" of a Constitutional Right.

    4. awful_truth

      Great post DWD. Aside from RFID chips, I was just going to add that 20 years ago, governments talked about tracking the population by implanting chips. (Since many people don't even like needles, it was going to be a hard sell) Ultimately, they got wise and got everyone to love their chips instead, and called them cellphones, with games, and apps to keep you distracted. Not only can they can track your every movement, they can listen in without the phone even being activated.
      Note: To prevent this, you would have to pull both batteries.
      As it stands right now, people like ourselves don't pose a threat since we can be blown off as conspiracy theorists, and with so many voices speaking at the same time, we are a mere silent whisper in a giant orchestra. With that said, just stand up for something righteous that threatens the wrong person, and hell; they will make up something just to bring you down. ( I have heavy doubts regarding North Korea corrupting Sony - sounds like wag the dog to me)
      Of course I could be wrong, but that is what happens when they cry wolf blitzkrieg way too many times. (do they tell the truth about anything?) My only advice is to enjoy the moment, and be thankful we are one of the sane ones! Happy holidays DigiWongaDude, and best wishes!

    5. DigiWongaDude

      A pleasure to read friend. Best of the fest to you too.

  15. a_no_n

    pffft, you know nothing John Snow...You should see England, you can barely turn around without hitting your head on a cctv camera.

    1. Fabien L

      Yeah, at least in the US, they can buy guns to shoot at the cams, you are pretty much screwed in the UK :P

    2. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      Well, when there is more than one cam, and there usually are (especially red light cams), your marksmanship can be captured by another camera and used against you. I like the idea of using Paint Guns to blind the cameras. The fuzz will still take offense but it is nothing like discharging a firearm within city limits. It is arguably "civil disobedience."

    3. Fabien L

      Is it illlegal to publicly wear a mask out there?
      Or maybe a nikab or a burqa :D

    4. Terry "OldFox" Seale

      Yes, most states have statutes declaring that wearing a mask in public is a misdemeanor. Naturally, children, stage actors, football players, hockey goalies, and baseball catchers are generally given a pass at the patrol officer's encounter.

      Similarly, state statutes specify the darkest tint permitted on motor vehicles, on the obnoxious assumption that police should be able to see inside your car just in case you are a wanted fugitive, naked, or fondling a child. "It's for your own good!"

  16. dmxi

    .....& our generation thought that g.orwells '1984' amalgamated into
    huxleys 'brave new world' were a 'hirngespinst',conjecture of
    misanthropic minds (disregarding the warning) deploring future
    scientific betterment's as pure denial towards an unavoidable,we stand at the gates of aforementioned predictions &
    still can choose which path we shall climb...