“The privacy questions raised by the new Telecommunication Age represent the single most important issue facing Congress today,” said John Shattuck, ACLU Director. Shattuck’s observation is not without merit based on our technological sophistication and the apparent modification, interpretation, and willful ignoring of our privacy laws by the U.S. Government.
Advances in computer technology have now made it possible to monitor the computer or telephone transmissions of thousands of private citizens at one time by programming the eavesdropping computer to pick-up key phrases, selected buzzwords, peoples names, addresses, or phone numbers and then routing these calls to the human eavesdropper or recording them for future reference. These sophisticated super computers can develop “Personality Profiles” on the unsuspecting telephone user using “non aural” techniques.
In 1983, a federal appeals court ruled the National Security Agency could lawfully intercept messages Between U.S. citizens and people in foreign countries, “Even if there is no reason to believe that the Americans are foreign agents.” The National Communications Section, a federal agency, has drafted revisions to the Communications Act of 1934. “If these revisions … become law, they will make it possible for the President, without congressional consent, to force any private communication agency to provide services and equipment to any government agency even in peacetime.” Also, because computers turn transmission into “Digital Bits,” a loophole in the 19,68 Wiretap Law makes it lawful for any government agency to monitor and intercept such transmissions without a search warrant.
Again, in 1983, the Reagan administration gave the okay to “randomly require government officials to submit to lie detector tests, even if no unauthorized disclosures are suspected. The “New Order” requires officials with Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances to sign agreements binding them, for life, to submit writings that might contain “Sensitive Information,” even if unclassified, to government censors. Despite Congressional protest and understanding that the latter requirement had been eliminated, government employees continue to be required to sign such agreements.
Despite all the protestations that George Orwell’s 1984 did not arrive, it would seem that Big Brother is somewhere and listening very quietly to what we are saying.
INFOWORLD, four part series starting April 4, 1983, Technology and privacy: Reach out and tap someone,” by John Markoff, Michael Singer, and David Weir; NEW YORK TIMES, 12/28/83, “Loophole in the law raises concern about privacy in computer age;” and WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL WEEKLY EDITION, November 7, 1983, “Random Lie Detector Test,” by George Lardner, Jr.