Surveillance

Feds Give Americans the Frog Treatment

DHS looking to collect social media info from immigrants just the latest development in the surveillance society.

|

You've probably heard the adage about how to cook a frog. If you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it will jump out. The trick is to put it in cold water and raise the temperature slowly. Then the frog won't notice.

Most Americans didn't notice an item in the Federal Register the other day. It announced a plan by the Department of Homeland Security to collect social media information on American citizens, including their "handles" and even their search results.

The proposal extends existing government investigation and surveillance of individuals who go through the immigration process. That includes anybody with a work or student visa, lawful permanent residents, and persons who have sworn an oath to support and defend the United States as part of becoming a naturalized citizen.

The proposal to track the social-media activity of U.S. citizens shows just how far the surveillance state has come in the past couple of decades.

After 9/11, Congress and the Bush administration authorized sweeping new surveillance powers through the Patriot Act and executive fiat. Back then, warrantless wiretaps, demands for library records, the use of national security letters, and the like struck many people as alarming steps toward a police state, and they became the subject of endless news coverage.

Partisanship drove some of the concern, naturally. Republican presidents are assumed to be warmongering fascists who hate civil liberties until proven otherwise, and the expansion of the surveillance state conveniently confirmed that suspicion about George W. Bush. But the spike in domestic spying alarmed many small-government conservatives, too, and the concern produced occasional efforts to dial the needle back.

Scrutiny of domestic spying fell off the cliff around Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Obama took the oath of office. But the new administration did not improve upon the old one and was even worse in some respects. Warrantless electronic surveillance through "pen register" and "trap and trace" authorizations skyrocketed under Obama, for instance. The Democratic president also not only signed extensions of the Patriot Act, he pushed Congress to pass them and, at one point, sought an even longer extension than House Republicans were seeking.

All of this attracted less notice, less concern, and less coverage. When it did get coverage, it often appeared in the "vitamin pages"—B12, A16, etc. So domestic spying continued apace. And it did so even after Edward Snowden blew the lid off secret programs such as PRISM, through which the NSA vacuums up vast amounts of data about Internet traffic.

The Trump administration has turned the knob another couple of clicks. Until public outrage forced it to retreat, the Justice Department was demanding that an internet web-hosting company turn over personal information about more than 1 million American visitors to an anti-Trump website that had been used by a couple hundred activists to disrupt Trump's inauguration. "The government values and respects the First Amendment right of all Americans to participate in peaceful protests," the Justice Department now says, "and to read protected political expression online."

The government has not yet backed down on its demand for social-media information about Americans and American residents. And since the proposal primarily targets immigrants, it likely will encounter less resistance than a broader measure would.

But a narrow measure that primarily targets foreigners while including some Americans can set a precedent, making broader social-media surveillance of all Americans later seem less radical than it otherwise would.

In response to concerns like these, some might ask: What of it? What's the big deal? If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.

That is an easy argument to make in the abstract, but how many people would apply it in their own lives? You probably have nothing to hide at home, for instance—no illegal drugs, no caches of automatic weapons, no schematics of federal buildings marked up with potential bomb locations. Still, are you comfortable allowing the police to search your house—anytime they want, without a reason, and without your knowledge? (And even if you are, why should your comfort trump the discomfort of a neighbor?)

At its most basic, liberty consists of the right to be left alone. A government that subjects its citizens to pervasive surveillance without cause is not leaving them alone. And citizens who grow used to it over time allow their liberty to dissipate until—one day, when it's too late—they realize they're cooked.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

27 responses to “Feds Give Americans the Frog Treatment

  1. Fun fact: if you actually try to cook a frog the way the adage describes, the frog will jump out when it gets uncomfortably warm. It takes a human intellect to rationalize away the evidence of the senses and stay in the pot.

    1. People never heard of lids?

      1. Things were a lot harder back in the olden days.

        1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

          This is what I do… http://www.startonlinejob.com

  2. I’m pretty sure the FedGov doesn’t need ‘permission’ to cyberstalk your Facebook page, but I’m sure the NSA can drill a lot deeper than your average internet yokel.

    Honestly, the entire conceptual framework behind Facebook is that people are more than willing to create a digital trail of themselves that anyone can follow, let alone the government, without anyone twisting their arm over it. It’s strange, but true, that people willing breach their own privacy to everyone who cares to look. So, perhaps it’s not that surprising that ‘most’ people don’t really care if the government does this.

    Ultimately, perhaps the narcissist in them feels honored that the government is snooping on them. After all, they are Edgelord. Well, until the hammer gets dropped. Then they’re going to cry about it.

  3. mmmmm… frog legs.


  4. like Stanley implied I’m startled that people able to profit $5278 in one month on the
    computer . Find Out More


    ?..????????????

    Trump”s New Opprunuties See Here


  5. like Stanley implied I’m startled that people able to profit $5278 in one month on the
    computer . Find Out More


    ?..????????????

    Trump”s New Opprunuties See Here

  6. Hold my beer

    In the disturbing footage below (around the 1 minute mark), a woman can be heard saying “I don’t know what to do,” just as the camera catches an unidentified man in a black t-shirt standing with his arms fully outstretched yelling, “Come on, pu**y!” in the direction of the gunfire…

    Clutching a can of beer, the unnamed man can be seen standing up searching for the source of the gunfire – while everyone else takes cover.

    The crackling noise of automatic fire can be heard but because of the echo it is unclear where it is coming from, leading to confusion about where to safely run to.

    Meanwhile as the man continues to stand up and look for the shooter another person begs him to “get the f*** down.”

  7. a plan by the Department of Homeland Security to collect social media information on American citizens, including their “handles”

    DHS should be entertained by this site.

    1. Fuck the DHS and their treasonous behavior to the constitution.

  8. After 9/11, Congress and the Bush administration authorized sweeping new surveillance powers through the Patriot Act and executive fiat.

    I was told by commentors here that our vast surveillance state is really Obama’s fault and that the GOP is for small government.

    1. Obama dismantled it, didn’t he?

      1. Because not dismantling a huge new department is worse then creating it with Congress?

        Yes, I heard that bullshit a lot.

        of and Libya is worse than Iraq!

        WORSE!

        1. Obama and LBJ are famous for what?

          Both had the USA involved in war during their entire terms as president.

        2. Maybe not, but expanding it would put it close to par.

          1. Government never contracts.

            You should know that by now.

            1. I do.

              Those who expand it are just as guilty as those who create it. No only do they approve of what was there, they think they can make it better by expanding it.

      2. Um, no. He expanded it. But since his name was Obama and not Bush, liberals didn’t care

    2. Didn’t Obama run on a platform for government transparency and then expand the surveillance state?

      1. Yes, Obama said a lot of things that sounded pretty good to younger-me while running for office. Then, of course, it turned out he was ‘just kidding’ about every last one of those things.

        The Obama who was running for office the first time around sounded like a great guy (mostly), especially by comparison. The left never really caught on to the fact that he was a massive liar, but independents that thought he might actually do what he said figured it out pretty fast.

      2. Let us never forget that he accepted his “transparency award” behind closed doors in a meeting that wasn’t even listed on his daily calendar.

  9. As one of those targeted by this new bullshit security theater piece I’m not REALLY worried, but (however realistic the froggy metaphor might or might not be) I do think this is yet a further widening of the wedge (to invoke a different metaphor).

  10. RE: Feds Give Americans the Frog Treatment
    DHS looking to collect social media info from immigrants just the latest development in the surveillance society.

    Is it just me, or is it Big Brother is constantly watching my phone, my social media outlets and going through my mail?
    Nah.
    That can’t happen in this country.

    1. In our country there is no longer any privacy, no longer any expectation that government will respect our freedom to express our views.

  11. The government has done the same thing with the income and other taxes, the war on drugs and a thousand other erosions of our former rights.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.